Tourism has become one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the world over the past six decades. Many developing countries -- Thailand, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Kenya -- have reconstructed their economy by properly utilizing and managing their tourism industry.
Bangladesh possesses a vast potential of becoming a leader in this area. It is a land of natural beauty.
According to the 2010 Bangladesh Economic Review, our revenue-generating activities can be divided into three sectors: Manufacturing or industry, agriculture, and service.
Tourism falls in the service sector. Although tourism’s contribution to our national income, or gross domestic product (GDP), was only 7% during 2004-05, it increased to 9.44% by 2009-10.
However, the share of tourism to GDP fell sharply in 2014 to only 4.1% and slightly increased in 2015 to 4.7% of total GDP.
Ideally, each farm would offer a unique and memorable experience suitable for the entire family
This irregularity may seem discouraging and even unconvincing after the assertion that tourism can indeed be a significant and steady source of revenue; but that is only because we have not yet managed to mobilize enough political will and commitment, which would lead to systematic planning, marketing, and implementation.
Tourism will certainly contribute significantly to economic development if there is political will and if proper strategies are implemented.
Finding the right kind of tourism
Tourism can be broadly classified into a number of different types based on the nature of activity, location, duration of stay, and so on.
Some examples are: Heritage tourism, cultural tourism, historical tourism, geo-tourism, adventure tourism, eco-tourism, agro-tourism.
In order to attract tourists and maximize returns, Bangladesh has to find out where its comparative advantage lies and choose that type of tourism as our selling point.
Then we can invest in the tourism industry with a proper direction and promote it accordingly.
Agro-tourism is a style of vacation in which hospitality is offered on farms where activities may include helping out and learning about farming, picking fruits and vegetables, riding horses, tasting honey, and the opportunity to buy local and regional produce or hand-crafted gifts.
Many people are interested to learn how their food is produced. Parents, in particular, view these kinds of vacations as highly valuable and educational for their children.
In many western countries, for instance, people regularly visit ranches, vineyards and wineries, go apple picking, go fishing, etc for fun.
Ideally, each farm would offer a unique and memorable experience suitable for the entire family.
Positive impacts of agro-tourism
It is necessary now to cultivate land in a sustainable way for our future, since Bangladesh is especially vulnerable to climate change and land-erosion.
Foreign and domestic agro-tourism can help raise awareness among local farmers regarding how to reduce climatic impact on land, water, forest, health, and fish resources.
Tourists and indigenous groups can exchange knowledge on farming and agriculture.
The revenues from tourism can be used to fund more research on sustainable and eco-friendly farming.
Some entrepreneurs have already established sustainable local farms -- poultry, goat, buffalo and cow -- to help eradicate poverty. It’s a lesson for others on how eco-friendly farming can reduce unemployment and improve our quality of life.
Capitalize on regional attractions
Different parts of the country are suitable for different crops and agriculture.
The soil in Kushtia is ideal for tobacco, Mymensingh for paddy, Chandpur and Barisal for fish, Sathkhira for prawn, Jessore for flowers, Dinajpur for wheat and so on.
Farmers can move from one district to another for a specific time to promote agro-tourism.
In particular, the use of geographical information systems (GIS) is imperative for developing agro-tourism. Through these systems, our tourism authority can easily sell agro-tourism products and indigenous farming tools, give a preview to potential tourists by showing a realistic glimpse of the locality, wildlife, flora, and fauna, detail geo-demographic characteristics, and describe in plain words our cultural variety and rich history.
Moreover, GIS is used widely in developed countries to improve public safety, services, and public administration.
The success of agro-tourism in Bangladesh depends entirely on proper planning, coordination, and organized and systematic execution.
Various government agencies should work together in concert, and businesses and financiers have a critical role to play as well.
The government can initiate a project to support the indigenous capacities of our farmers to protect land, while the Bangladesh academy for rural development can help to promote agro-tourism.
University and college students can take up organic farming as an extra-curricular activity and community service. They can use their creativity to find ways of incorporating organic farming in rural areas. In order to encourage them, schools can give extra credit or give scholarships to students who show an interest.
As for promotional strategies, we need to publish attractive and creative advertisements in travel guides, magazines, and spread the word through overseas tour operators, travel agents, and travel writers.
A better future
Bangladesh has many options to choose from in the promotion of agro-tourism and its contribution to the national economy.
We have the capacity to compete with other SAARC countries.
Bangladesh can easily increase its agro-tourism promotional budget up to 4-5% of its total earnings from this sector.
In conclusion, agro-tourism could be an excellent source of income for Bangladesh -- a country of fertile land and a population heavily dependent on the agriculture-based economy.
It has the potential to help us achieve sustainable production, protect our environment, create employment and thus build a better future for Bangladesh.
Shishir Reza is an environment analyst and associate member of Bangladesh Economic Association.