Missing out on tourism potential

Md Joynal Abdin
The Financial Express on 14 July 2014 

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council Annual Economic Impact Report-2014, the total contribution of the travel and tourism sector to Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 5.9 billion or 4.4 per cent of the GDP in 2013. The sector employed 2.846 million people, 3.8 per cent of the total employment. In India, the total contribution of the travel and tourism was US$ 113.2 billion or 6.2 per cent of the total GDP of the country in 2013. The sector employed 35.439 million people, 7.7 per cent of the total employment. From the statistics it is quite clear that the tourism sector in India is contributing more than that in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has almost similar historical background, cultural heritage, infrastructure facilities and tourist attractions as is in India. But we are making less contribution. Critics will argue that it is not correct that Bangladesh has same types of tourist attraction as India has. Because we know that India has incredibly diversified natural beauty, historic establishments with hundreds of royal palaces, hill stations, beaches, hill ranges, sandy deserts, the Arabian Sea etc. But we can compare some Indian tourist attractions with those in Bangladesh in terms of their facilities, maintenance and revenue generation.

The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, is a big tourist attraction. It is located in the south-western part of Bangladesh with a part of it in India. It has diverse resources, including its flora, fauna and aqua fauna, in addition to the traditional forest products like timber, firewood, pulpwood honey, bee-wax, fish, crustacean and mollusc. We could learn how the Indian part of the Sundarbans was being managed by our counterparts.

In January 2012 this scribe visited the Udaipur city of India, the City Palace and the Lake Palace at Udaipur. The City Palace and the Lake Palace are both royal palaces established during the period from 1559 to the 18th century. Our Ahsan Manzil in Dhaka or Tajhat Palace in Rangpur stand tall in almost the similar glory. The buildings are comparable from the architectural and historical point of view. But the main difference is both the palaces in Bangladesh are witnessing a lack of maintenance and marketing while the Lake Palace of Udaipur is earning billions from the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Rajasthan.

We visited Amir Fort and Jantar Mantar at Jaipur, Umaid Bhawan Palace at Jodhpur, the Tajmahal, the Agra Fort etc. All these royal palaces could be compared with the Sixty-Dome Mosque at Bagerhat, the Puthia Royal Palace in Rajshahi, Tagore Kuthibari at Selaidah in Kushtia, Dhanbari Palace in Tangail, Maharajas Palace in Natore, Rani Bhabani Palace, Murapara Zaminder’s palace, or the Rose Garden Palace in Dhaka etc. Some of the Bangladeshi establishments are even older than those in India. The Indian Royal Palaces are well-managed, beautifully-furnished and tactfully promoted. So, they are fetching billions of dollars. But the palaces in Bangladesh are falling into decay with passage of time, a few of them are even being damaged by the local people for different purposes.

In India, such tourist or historical sites are properly maintained. The Mount Abu is a hill station. It is quite adventurous to climb there and it has the most adverse environment during the winter. But Indian authority has wisely designed and developed tourist facilities there and the people enjoy the natural beauty of the Mount Abu throughout the year – even during the coldest days of the Mount Abu. The Marina Beach at Chennai is around 13 km long and 350-400 metres wide. All these natural tourist attractions could be compared with our hill district Bandarban or Rangamati.

We have every type of tourist attractions in Bangladesh. For example, Bangladesh has the thousand-year-old archaeological attraction, the Paharpur Buddha Bihar (the largest Bihar of the subcontinent was constructed by Dharma Pala during 770-810 A.D). There are the Shalban Bihar in Mainamati (built 1200 years ago by King Bhava Deva, the fourth ruler of the Early-Deva dynasty on 168 square metres of ground), the Sixty-Dome Mosque commonly known as Shait Gambuj Mosque or Saith Gunbad Masjid in Bagerhat (Muslim ruler Khan Jahan built it in mid-15th century), the Lalbagh Fort (an incomplete 17th century Mughal fort complex that still stands beside the Buriganga river in the south-western part of Dhaka), the Kantanagar Temple  (most ornamental temple of Bangladesh built in 1752 by Maharaja Pran Nath of Dinajpur) and Mahasthangarh. Besides, we have the grave complexes of great Muslim rulers and saints like the Mazar of Hazrat Shah Jalal (R.A) in Sylhet (he arrived in Sylhet in 1303 A.D), Mazar of Hazrat Shah Poran (R.A) in Sylhet, Mazar of Hazrat Shah Mustafa (R.A) in Moulvibazar, Mazar of Shah Makhdum (R.A) in Rajshahi (A 14th century Sufi saint), the Khan Jahan Ali Mazar in Bagerhat (An inscription on the tombstone records the death of Khan Jahan-27 Zilhajj 863 AH i.e. 25 October, 1459 AD), and the Mazar of  Lalon Fakir in Kushtia (1774-1890). This scribe is fortunate enough to get an opportunity to visit almost all the establishments. If the government takes initiatives for proper maintenance of these sites, highlights the historical importance of these archaeology establishments and promote them, they could be a major source of earnings for the state coffer.

Secondly, Bangladesh is fortunate to have a natural forest like the largest mangrove forest of the world i.e. the Sundarbans in the southern part of Bangladesh (spanning three districts-Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat), the Bhawal National Park in Gazipur, the Lawachara National Park in Moulvibazar, the Modhupur National Park in Tangail, the Nijhum Dweep National Park in Noakhali etc. Hill stations like that at Jaflong (A popular tourist destination in Sylhet), the Madhabkunda waterfall in Moulvibazar, the largest in Bangladesh) and Srimongol having a number of beautiful tea states offer immense natural beauty. Different wonderful hill stations in Kotbari, Comilla, Rangamati, Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districts are offering are also beautiful tourist attractions. Finally we have the longest beach of the world in Cox’s Bazar.

Kuakata, Nijhum Dweep and Saint Martin’s Island are the finest beaches of the southern region. But they lack transportation, accommodation and other facilities for tourists.

We are quite fastidious about allowing bars and night clubs compared to Thailand, Singapore or even Sri Lanka but we may take necessary arrangements for building transport and residential facilities in potential tourism zones and promote them. We may follow the Indian model of arranging travel or site-seeing programmes with government-funded trainings, seminars, workshops and conferences for both foreign and local tourists.

Our existing tourism facilities and the quality of services are very poor compared to the services provided by a tourism professional in Thailand, Singapore or even in India. Therefore, we have to improve our transportation facilities, communication network, residential arrangements, quality of services provided by tourism professionals like the guide of a bus and the receptionist of a hotel, room services in hotels, laundry facilities, rickshaw-pullers of a tourism zone and shopkeepers of a tourist market. The government may address the issue by undertaking development projects or encouraging non-government organisations (NGOs) to implement them.

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Md. Joynal Abdin

Development Researcher, Columnist and Author

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