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Bangladesh’s tourism sector returns to pre-Covid 19 period

Imtiaz Ahmed  || risingbd.com

Published: 21:33, 26 April 2024  
Bangladesh’s tourism sector returns to pre-Covid 19 period

The tourism sector of Bangladesh has returned to the pre-Covid 19 period as the country attracted a record 6.5 lakh tourists in 2023 as expat Bangladeshis living in different parts of the world visited the country, sources said.

Out of 650,000 tourists, some 300,000 Indian tourists visited Bangladesh, according to the data prepared by the Special Branch of the Bangladesh Police.     

Bangladesh attracted some 529,000 tourists in 2022 and the Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) has set a target of wooing some seven lakh tourists this year.  

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has set a target of attracting 10 million tourists and a revenue of 8.00 billion US dollars by 2041 as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has set a vision of turning this country into a developed one.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Tourism Board has prepared a master plan on the country’s tourism sector in cooperation with IPE Global Limited.

The Tourism Master Plan of Bangladesh government sets a goal of attracting 10 million tourists by 2040, with an annual revenue target of $8 billion. This can be accomplished by a significant shift in government planning and coordination, strict exclusive (and exclusionary) zoning, visa policy liberalization, massive incentivization of foreign investment etc. 

Momentum seems to be picking up and enthusiasm is returning within the master plan team and in the tourism industry generally, as swift progress is being reported in the activities of the project. Industry and private tourism enterprises are optimistic that this plan will bring in some structural reforms which will result in meaningful changes in the way tourism is administered in the country. This might just be the impetus that Bangladesh needs in order to emerge as a welcoming and sustainable tourism destination with a global appeal.

Bengamin Carey, team leader of Preparation for Tourism Master Plan for Bangladesh, said that Bangladesh should target regional tourists to boost the tourism sector.

He said political will of South Asian leaders is important in context of easing and relaxing visa process in promoting the tourism sector. He said time has come to introduce on arrival visas to tourists of South Asian countries. 

Bengamin Carey, a Scottish citizen, said Bangladesh should target tourists of Seven Sister States of India —Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.

He, however, said less integration and distrust are also barriers to the promotion in the South Asia. 

He has expressed the hope that contribution of the tourism sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) will be around 10 per cent which is now only 3 per cent of GDP.

Given tourism’s position as a top export sector and creator of employment, UNWTO advocates the need for responsible growth. Tourism has, therefore, a place at the heart of global development policies, and the opportunity to gain further political recognition and make a real impact as the Decade of Action gets underway, leaving just ten years to fulfill the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Bengamin Carey said tourism sector will be one of the important revenue generating sectors in Bangladesh.

The year 2019 saw a new record for international tourist numbers, with 1.5 billion arrivals recorded, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

He said the number of international tourists in South Asia is still low compared with rest of the global tourists.

Realizing the vast potential and multi-dimensional benefits of tourism, the present government of Bangladesh has laid huge emphasis on developing it as a major economic sector of the country.

Former Chief Executive Officer of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) Javed Ahmed said “The National Tourism Council (NTC), the apex body for tourism headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, gave a clear instruction to prepare a tourism development master plan. Following this, Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), the National Tourism Organization (NTO) under the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, was given the responsibility to prepare a Tourism Master Plan in the 7th Five Year Plan period. 

Pursuant to this, BTB selected a reputed international Tourism Consulting Firm to prepare a short-term, mid-term and long-term Tourism Master Plan.”

With this background an internationally reputed consultancy firm, IPE Global Ltd. was selected through competitive technical bidding process and were mandated to develop the Tourism Master Plan for Bangladesh, the CEO of the Bangladesh Tourism Board said.

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi tourist arrivals in India in 2023 posted over 60 per cent growth the previous year 2022 as some 20,56,880 Bangladeshi tourists visited  the neighboring country in 2023 as compared to some 12,55,960 Bangladeshi tourists in 2022

Bangladeshi tourists (22.27 per cent) also retained the top position in neighbouring India during the January-December period of 2023, followed by the United States (17.79 per cent), the UK (9.68 per cent), Canada (9.68 per cent) and Australia (4.05 per cent, according to the data of the Tourism Ministry of the government of India.

Foreign tourists arrivals (FTA) during the period of January- December, 2023 were 92,36,108 as compared to 64,37,467 in January-December 2022 and 1,09,30,355 in January-December, 2019 registering a growth of 43.5% and -15.5% with respect to 2022 and 2019 respectively.

Besides tourists, several thousand Bangladeshi students are pursuing higher education, in elementary schools and several lakh to get better treatment in different part of India.

The percentage share of foreign tourist arrivals in India during January- December, 2022 among the top 15 source countries was the highest from USA (22.19%), followed by Bangladesh (20.29%), UK (9.98%), Australia (5.96%), Canada (4.48%), Sri Lanka (2.87%), Nepal (2.19%), Germany (2.01%), Singapore (1.89%), Malaysia (1.88%), France (1.79%), Russian Federation (1.54%), Maldives (1.14%), Portugal (1.10%), & Italy (0.97%).

Meanwhile, India is considering to issue on-arrival visas for Bangladesh nationals, said Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pranay Kumar Verma said in a meeting with Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Faruque Khan at his office at the secretariat in Dhaka recently.

He said that the High Commission of India had issued some 16 lakh visas in favour of Bangladesh citizens last years. It is increasing day by day. "We have raised our capability to issue visas in favour of Bangladeshis in time. New Delhi is also considering to issue non-arrival visas to Bangladesh nationals in future."

The Indian high commissioner said several Indian entrepreneurs showed keen interest to invest in Bangladesh's tourism industry.
Meanwhile, State Minister of Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said that India should issue on-arrival visas to Bangladeshis, particularly to patients seeking treatment in the neighboring country.

A top leader of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) said that High Commission of India should increase the manpower and ease sufferings of thousands of Bangladeshi visa seekers.

The writer is a senior journalist