Service providers will need a license to operate
All tour operators and tour guides in the country from now on will have to be registered.
A bill titled “Bangladesh Tour Operators and Tour Guides (Registration and Operation) Act, 2021” has recently been introduced in the parliament, currently residing with the Parliamentary Standing Committee awaiting inspection.
If passed, all tour operators and tour guide companies in the country will have to be registered in the following three months, with license renewal after every three years.
However, the authority responsible for the registration has not been decided yet. Businesses in the sector are divided—some feel it is convenient to register with the Bangladesh Tourism Corporation (BPC), whereas others prefer the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism.
Bazlur Khan, owner of a registered tour and travel company, told Dhaka Tribune that there are multiple facets interconnected within the tourism industry.
There are hotel bookings, plane ticket bookings, guide bookings, transportation bookings, insurance facilitation, and many other services involved with the sector. It would be redundant to jump from one ministry to another, to acquire licenses for services entailing multiple sectors such as hotels, aviation, banks, etc, he also said.
However, he thinks if the law is passed, it will ensure much-needed monitoring required in the tourism industry due to a rise in unregistered social media-based tours and travel service providers as well as global competitors.
No tour operator will be able to do business without registration if the law is enacted. They will only be able to operate following registration, even if they have existing trade licenses.
Md. Rafeuzzaman, president of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), told Dhaka Tribune that service providers would have to have physical offices as well.
A physical office, a working staff, trade license, TIN certificate, and office rental agreement— things that are needed to monitor and keep track by relevant authorities—will be required to operate as a tourism service provider, he also said.
These are essential to ensure consumer rights and monitoring and to conduct data-centric surveys by governments and relevant research bodies in the future, he added.
At present, TOAB has six members.
Apart from this, some other organizations are involved in the tourism business. Additionally, subject to government permission, Agoda, booking.com, and other world-renowned operators will be able to do business in this country with registration.
However, if foreign tour operators are allowed to do business in Bangladesh, domestic operators will suffer. Domestic companies will not be able to compete with companies like Agoda and Booking.com. Foreign tourists will take the services of those well-known institutions, according to the President of TOAB.
According to TOAB sources, about 1 crore tourists visit the country every year. 90% of people traveling abroad take packages from tour operators. About 100% of the foreigners who come to visit this country take the help of local tour operators.
Additionally, there are hundreds of pages of tour operators and guides on Facebook. These groups arrange sightseeing in the country in exchange for money. Almost every month, these groups organize various types of tours that are more popular among the country’s youth.
Registration will be mandatory for these Facebook-based tour operators and guides.
Social media or Facebook-based tour groups may fall into disrepair, as people will have to travel through registered tour operators. Under the proposed bill, tour operators or guides who provide service without registration will face jail time.
Imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months and a fine not exceeding Tk2 lakh has been proposed in the bill.
With the barrage of lockdowns over the last two years, the local tourism industry has been in peril, with the country's tourist destinations being closed down. Prior to the pandemic, the tourism industry exhibited potential.
According to a study by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), in the 2016-17 financial year, the country's tour operators sold tour packages worth Tk2,522 crore. These packages cost Tk2,340 crore to buy various services, including travel, hotels, and food. The tour operators got the remaining Tk181 crore.
According to BBS, tour operators add an average of Tk220 crore to gross domestic product (GDP) every year. The amount has been increasing every year.
According to a BBS survey, a total of 2,843 people, including tour managers, accountants, and guides, work in 520 tour operators. Their average monthly salary is Tk14,505. The cost of salaries and allowances is Tk45 crore in a year.