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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Unprecedented surge: Bangladeshi tourists flood Indian cities

  • Historic surge comes amid ‘India Out’ campaign
  • Modi wrote to PM Hasina ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr
  • Nearly 8% of projected annual visitors in one week
Update : 16 Apr 2024, 10:10 PM

The Indian Bureau of Immigration has revealed that from April 8 to 14 alone, an unprecedented 10,000 to 12,000 Bangladeshis streamed through the Benapole-Petrapole border each day, setting a record. 

Thousands more embarked on journeys via air or other land borders like Hili, Dawki and Akhaura, traversing to bustling hubs like Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai.

The numbers tell a compelling tale—an estimated total of 150,000 Bangladeshis made their way into India by road, air and train within this one-week timeframe.

Bangladeshis usually visit India throughout the year for different purposes, including tourism, treatment or shopping. But Indian officials said the massive influx in those seven days had never been seen before.

This development is significant against the backdrop of some online activists and political leaders in Bangladesh championing an “India Out” campaign and urging a boycott of Indian goods.

The flood of visitors during the holidays and festive season proved that people-to-people ties were intact and soaring to new heights every day, a senior government official in India said.

Modi’s Eid letter to PM Hasina

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina just before Eid-ul-Fitr, conveying his greetings to the people of Bangladesh on the occasion on behalf of the people and government of India.

The Indian High Commission in Dhaka made a post on X, formerly Twitter, about the letter on April 10, the day before Bangladesh celebrated Eid.

The Indian prime minister greeting the citizens of a foreign country on the occasion of a religious festival is a rare occurrence. But India did not hesitate to take this step and Modi made time for it despite being busy campaigning for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. 

Visa processing rush

An official of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that as the number of visa applications from Bangladesh had increased long before Eid, “we predicted that there would be a rush of tourists during the Eid and [Bangla] New Year holidays."

"Officers at our missions in Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi processed all these applications working round the clock, and perhaps we have never approved such a large number of visas in such a short period ever before."

The official described Modi's letter to Sheikh Hasina as a “recognition of mutual love and respect” between the peoples of the two countries.

Trend analysis

Bangladesh had overtaken the US as the leading source country of foreign tourist arrivals in India before the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, approximately 1.8 to 1.9 million Bangladeshis journeyed to India, with many making repeat visits.

The subsequent years, 2020 and 2021, witnessed a slight decline in numbers due to pandemic-induced lockdowns. However, by 2022, there was a resurgence, and by last year, tourist arrivals had rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

Assuming that roughly 1.9 million Bangladeshi nationals will go to India this year as well, given the historical trend, almost 8% (around 150,000) did so in the aforesaid one-week period alone, a virtually unprecedented phenomenon.

Preferred destinations

While Bangladeshi tourists have traditionally favoured destinations like Delhi, Agra and Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan, locales such as Kashmir, Ladakh, Darjeeling and Sikkim have also gained popularity in recent times. Nevertheless, Kolkata retains its crown as the most alluring destination for Bangladeshi travellers. Kolkata's New Market, its adjacent areas, Sudder Street and the nearby hotels hold a special place in their hearts.

The proprietor of a hotel on Sudder Street said every lodging in the vicinity had been fully booked for several days, with 90% of the occupants hailing from Bangladesh.

This surge in occupancy extends beyond the mid-range and budget-friendly accommodations in central Kolkata. Prestigious establishments like The Oberoi Grand and The Peerless Inn also predominantly hosted Bangladeshi clientele.

Moreover, hospitality industry insiders in Kolkata revealed a notable uptick–double compared to previous years–in reservations by Bangladeshi visitors at the city's upscale five-star hotels, including Taj Bengal, ITC Royal Bengal, Sonar Bangla and Hyatt. 

“For a seven-day family holiday from Dhaka, we spend merely half of what it would cost to travel to Bangkok, Singapore or Malaysia and stay in a five-star hotel in Kolkata. Furthermore, the city offers opportunities for affordable shopping. So why would we not choose Kolkata?" That was how a Bangladeshi garment businessman, requesting anonymity, explained the appeal of the city, before catching a flight back to Dhaka from Kolkata on Monday.

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