The little experience I have of tourism from visiting a few places in Bangladesh and India has always made me give a thought to the tourism sector of the country. Tourism has been one of the fastest-booming industries around the world, which many economies are making money from.
Several countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have become attractive destinations for a huge number of tourists every year. With similar landscapes to ours, some other Asian nations also are drawing in a significant portion of them.
However, we are way behind these economies in this respect, despite the fact that we have some clear advantages which could help us expand this sector.
Bangladeshis are a hospitable people, having a unique landscape of blue and green; of planes, hills, meadows, forests, rivers, and the sea. We also have many beautiful small islands and the longest uninterrupted beach, mesmerising songs, and fascinating poems.
We have our own arts, distinct lifestyle, culture, cosmopolitanism, scientific outlook, and universal, humanist values.
The glory is lies not in selling, but in sharing this beauty with the rest of the world.
Tourism, like the internet, can bring together people from distant settings, bridge cultures, and strengthen the ties of nations.
The market is becoming more globally integrated; the mode is capitalistic. Meanwhile, the Bengali middle class has grown enthusiastic about travelling, since they have gotten a taste of new places through scholarships, opportunities, or migration. They are more connected to the world than ever before.
The Bangladesh government also has a clear drive to boost the sector. They are increasingly allocating resources for its development. Indeed, Bangladesh can open up more and host greater numbers of tourists every year.
We don’t have to be like everyone else, but we need to attain the basic standards that tourists look for
I had the opportunity to talk with many who came to Bangladesh for various purposes, including for tourism itself. Almost all of them acknowledged that this is a nice country to be in and visit.
Then why is Bangladesh not a hot spot for tourism?
A Nepalese student once replied, when I asked him what makes his country such a reputed destination to so many tourists: “We have a different land. But every land is unique, in a sense, and what the tourists want is to see it.” He said: “You just make them feel comfortable and free to look around.”
My observations from visiting some renowned tourist spots in India and Bangladesh, and from reading about other places, is that what attracts tourists to a place are the arrangements and management. This includes infrastructure and accommodation.
I learned from some foreigners of some of the major disincentives of visiting Dhaka. Most of them emphasised cleanliness and hygiene, pointing to some common individual practices that need to be given up, like littering or spitting.
It is always important to make a society one of respect. The prevalence of crime and discrimination within a society is something that people would not like to find in a new place.
I can mention an experience in Pondicherry. One of the most fascinating things there was that the tourists didn’t have to worry about losing anything.
People would be surprised if you asked them about theft. It is definitely a reputation that has developed over time.
Some sensible steps have to be undertaken to transform a setting suitable for tourism, like improving the standard of living, building infrastructure, and promoting cultural activities.
Another major thing tourists seek is assurance. Law enforcers or the other government bodies concerned need to be vigilant as well as cooperative.
Tourism is extremely beneficial to the state, not only in monetary terms, but also for the reputation of the country, creating many incredible opportunities and ties with the global community.
We don’t have to be like everyone else, but we need to attain the basic standards that tourists look for.
I can give one example of Patuakhali, a fascinating beach, which has remained almost unused, largely unknown to the world, with all its potential to be a great destination. This site could well be turned into a world standard tourist destination with investment in the right places.
The people living in the area are largely unaware of the benefits. They could collectively build an industry over there, which definitely requires public and private sector attention.
A word of caution: Too many visitors can spoil the pristine beauty of an area, so measures must be taken to keep the area clean.
Mohammad Abu Bakar Siddique is a journalist at the Dhaka Tribune.