60% of the buyers are from Bangladesh who are not visiting now due to travel restrictions
Most of the markets in West Bengal, particularly based in Kolkata, are open to the public now but usually have a deserted look due to lack of buyers.
The markets have been open to the public from June; however, most of them are missing the usual crowd as they are receiving only local customers. The larger number of buyers – Bangladeshis – are missing currently as travel restrictions are imposed on them for the Covid-19 pandemic.
One such example is Khazana Sarees, a famous saree shop at Barabazar Market in Kalutolla area of Kolkata, India.
The brand has many branches in West Bengal, including one in Kolkata New Market, which are very popular among Bangladeshis. It is receiving only 30% of customers right now.
“The Bangladeshi buyers, who are 60% of our total buyers, flock to our showrooms throughout the year and become 80% during Eid or Puja. However, we missed them in the last few months leading to heavy loss to our businesses,” Laltu Pandit, a staff of the showroom, told this correspondent via WhatsApp.
“The branches have been open since June, but there are no tourists,” said the frustrated trader.
The situation is quite common for most Kolkata shops who are missing buyers particularly from Bangladesh. They are going through an extreme crisis due to the lack of buyers.
There are more than three hundred big and small residential hotels in different areas of Kolkata which are affected as well.
Marquis Street, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, Park Street, Free-School Street, Barabazar, Razabazar, SN Banerjee Road, Chowringhee Place, Rash Behari Ave, Gariahat, Jawaharlal Nehru Rd Taltala, Netaji Subash Rd, Behala Old Bazar, Chitpur, Metiabruz, Sealdah, Howrah, New Market -- are the most popular areas among tourists.
Even many foreign money-exchange shops are closed now due to lack of tourists.
As Kolkata’s traders are largely dependent on Bangladeshi buyers, Bangladeshis are also dependent on shops of Kolkata -- not only for clothing or jewellery but for many essential items too.
Borhan Uddin Sagor, a lawyer, has been buying medicines for his mother, a heart and diabetic patient, from Kolkata since 2014.
“We used to buy medicines for three-four months, everytime. Now we have to rely on third parties to bring the medicines. The cost is double than the usual cost ofTk30,000 -- for medicines for three months,” said Borhan.
Shanaz Afrin, who owns an online shop, said for the last 10 years, her family has been visiting Kolkata twice a year for the purpose of shopping and travelling. The price of sarees is half in Kolkata than in Bangladesh, based on which she opened an online shop to sell products of Kolkata.
“But I am in trouble too,” she added.
How large is the number of Bangladeshi tourists in India?
One in every five tourists to India is from Bangladesh, with most tourists traveling to the country for holiday and recreational purposes.
Around 2.15 million and 2.25 million Bangladeshi tourists travelled to India in 2017 and 2018 respectively, while the number was at 1.38 million in 2016, according to the Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) data compiled by the Ministry of Tourism of India.
The data says visitors from Bangladesh usually stay for 14 days.
Mita Munshi, who owns Munshi Fashion at Kolkata New Market said tourists from Bangladesh -- the highest tourist generating country -- mostly stay in areas close to New Market.
“In my 20 years of experience, I have seen their huge attraction for Kolkata's sarees, kameez and jewellery,” he said, adding that the shops usually have sales of over Rs 1 million a day during Puja and Eid.
Leaders of different traders’ associations of Kolkata New Market told Dhaka Tribune via WhatsApp that markets are down due to pandemic and the scenario is same all over India as international flights are restricted.
However, they expect that customers will arrive surely if borders are opened -- centering the upcoming Puja holiday.
The losses faced in the last few months can be recovered to some extent if the borders are opened for this season, they said.
The Indian High Commission in Dhaka issued 1.5 million visas to Bangladesh nationals in 2019, the highest for any single country.
Adi Mohini Mohan Kanjilal, Suisse sarees, Bengal Silk sarees and many other saree brands are very popular among Bangladeshi customers. Kolkata’s Banarasi sarees have a special reputation.
For several years, there has also been a trend of shopping from Kolkata for wedding ceremonies.
Farhan Liaz, a prospective customer of Indian markets, said: “My wedding was postponed for three months as I wanted to do the shopping in Kolkata. We waited during the lockdown and later the ceremony was held casually at home.”