Enlivening the Tourism Industry in Bangladesh
The country has immense potential in the aviation and tourism sector owing to its high population density, strategic location and renowned tourist spots, analysts said.
“Bangladesh presents a lot of opportunities but to leverage them a lot of issues need to be fixed first,” Kazi Wahidul Alam, editor of Bangladesh Monitor, a fortnightly travel magazine, said.
Foremost among the issues is the lack of infrastructure, which the government must look at on a priority basis, Toufiq Uddin Ahmed, president of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh, said.
All tourist attractions are outside of Dhaka and getting out of the city itself takes five hours, which is very off-putting for foreign visitors, he said.
To that end, Alam urged the government to make an integrated policy. The Bangladesh Tourism Board, for instance, can identify the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, as a tourism product and then develop the product by improving road, accommodation and other facilities.
Once it is done, it should assign tour operators to promote the spot globally by participating in international tourism fairs, said Alam, adding that the process should be replicated for other tourism products. “Cox’s Bazar alone will not attract tourists,” he added.
Sam Issac, chief adviser to Regent Airways, which began international flights in July last year, said many foreign tourists do not want to visit South Asia due to the cumbersome visa process.
Bangladesh will be immensely benefitted if it can introduce tourist visas that would give access to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka as well, he said, while suggesting running a pilot programme with the nationals of the US, UK, EU, Japan and Australia.
Meanwhile, Ahmed suggested visa-free entry for Saarc nationals within the region to boost each other’s tourism sectors.
The country is expected to attract 4.35 lakh international tourists this year, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Spending by local tourists is expected to grow 7 percent year-on-year this year to Tk 39,670 crore, according to the London-based research organisation.
The WTTC said travel and tourism investment in Bangladesh was Tk 4,050 crore in 2013, or 1.5 percent of total investment.
About the aviation sector, Nelson Low Kah Hock, general manager of Singapore Airlines’ Bangladesh operations, said the country is a very promising market for its steady economic growth over the years.
“More people can afford to travel. Businessmen are making more money and are travelling more frequently, both for leisure and for business. That presents a lot of opportunities.”
But on the domestic front, the Bangladesh Monitor editor said most of the airlines are operating below their profit margins on the domestic routes.
Mofizur Rahman, managing director of Novoair, one of the five airlines operating on the domestic routes, blamed the high operating costs and new entrants for the sorry state of the sector.
Subsequently, Alam called upon the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh to come up with a strategic plan to develop the local aviation industry — by keeping the growth opportunity in mind.
“Our experience so far has not been good as a number of private carriers have closed their operations after launching flights on the domestic routes.”
At present, the country’s aviation market is worth around $440 million and involves 5.8 million passengers and 2.3 lakh tonnes of cargoes, according to industry insiders.
The country’s passenger traffic is expected to hit 10.2 million and the volume of air cargoes 3.6 lakh tonnes in 2020, up 76 percent and 56.5 percent respectively from the current levels, according to a projection by CAAB.
Currently, 26 foreign carriers operate international flights in the country and five of them are low-cost.