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Does Bangladesh need foreign tourists?

  • Published at 11:55 pm July 9th, 2019
Photo: BIGSTOCK
Photo: BIGSTOCK

Maybe we’re better off attracting domestic tourists first

Does Bangladesh need foreign tourists? If you ask me, I would say no. The answer might sound shocking to you. Let me explain. 

Syed Rashidul Hasan, professor of tourism and hospitality management at Dhaka University, found that in the year 2016, only 100,000-200,000 foreign tourists came to Bangladesh. By contrast, 1.5 to 1.6 million Bangladeshi tourists visited other countries. 

More and more Bangladeshis are now opting for leisure trips abroad than any time ever. Our domestic tourism industry, however, has also seen rapid growth in recent years. 

Why is tourism important for any country? Tourism generates jobs, brings economic growth. A flourishing tourism industry is a big boon for the development of any country. 

There are scores of countries around the world whose economy is mostly reliant on foreign tourists. As for the Maldives in South Asia, for instance, the small nation makes up 43.9% of its economy from tourism. 

Sadly, Bangladesh receives only a wee number of foreign tourists. More notably, the country is steadily failing to attract its own tourists. The country’s sole holiday paradise is Cox’s Bazar. Poor infrastructure, lack of recreation, and lack of entertainment facilities are the main reasons people are disinclined to visit other tourist destinations across the country. 

It is inconceivable that for a 160- million plus population and with the rising middle-class, Bangladesh has very little to offer to her holiday-makers.

High cost is another consideration. Think about a four-day family vacation in Cox’s Bazar, or in a resort in Bandarban. It’s not inexpensive at all. Also, what can you do there after two days? Not much to explore. Calculating the total trip cost you might end up thinking it’s rather better to go to Thailand. 

Yes, you have to spend a bit more. But you will definitely have a good time, and you will come back with a happy smile on your face. Apart from neighbouring India and Nepal, for Bangladeshi holiday-makers, Bhutan, Malaysia, and Indonesia have become increasingly popular.

Taking a short or weekend holiday inside Bangladesh could be an onerous job. Allow me to share my last holiday experience with you, which we took recently in Srimangal.

Normally, whenever there are a few days off ahead, my wife and I start talking about it: Where could we go to spend it? We have family, travel buddies, who we normally go with and travel together. First off, we look at our choices inside the map of Bangladesh. Hill Tracts? Sylhet? Where else? (We keep Cox’s Bazar off the list; everybody has been there several times.)  

If we seem to be interested in a place, the very big question comes up: How will we get there? Our ground transportation, as always, is in a battered condition. We can’t take a bus, because we have kids with us. And you know how harrowing a long bus journey can be in this country. There is traffic on roads, of course. But except that, bus drivers honk all the time and they are always in an overtaking race. 

A bus journey in a developed country and a bus journey in Bangladesh are totally different. There, you wouldn’t feel anything. The drivers drive at a constant speed. But, here, the speed changes all the time. You never know when the driver will brake hard and all of a sudden your head will bash the seat in front of you. The journey will give you a vomiting and dizzy feeling.

In November last year, we toured Srimangal. It takes only four to five hours to get there by train. If you take a morning train, you will reach there before 12. However, we couldn’t buy tickets online. Then a colleague of my wife said she would purchase our tickets; she knew a ticket scalper. A booking was made in a resort; advance was paid through the card. 

Two nights before the journey, we faced troubles getting our train tickets in hand. The ticket scalper wouldn’t pick up our calls (we’d already paid him, including his charge of Tk500 extra on each ticket. So for a ticket price of Tk512 we had to pay him Tk1,012). Albeit, around midnight, the morning before the journey, he informed us that our return tickets are fine, he couldn’t manage the first-class tickets for the outbound journey. Would we be interested in travelling in the second-class compartment instead? 

The second-class compartment means there won’t be any seating arrangement. First come, first served is the seating policy there. We can’t risk travelling five hours standing in the compartment with our kids. Now we had two options -- either cancel the trip or get a bus journey. At eleven that night, we decided to take a bus journey (we wished there were air routes between Dhaka and Srimangal).

We boarded a bus from Fakirapool in the morning. There is no AC bus service. The regular bus line there is actually neither direct nor local. The ride was, as expected, perfectly frustrating and discomforting. But we made it. We spent two days in a resort, had fun, and returned to Dhaka taking a smooth train journey. 

Bangladesh aims to be a middle-income country by 2021. The country has huge potential to make money from its tourism industry. 

We do not need foreign tourists at the moment. Just focus your attention to our domestic tourists -- those 1.5 to 1.6 million Bangladeshi holiday-makers who go abroad. 

We have a long way to go to improve this sector. 

Rahad Abir is a writer.