Friday, 21 January, 2022

Booming Domestic Tourism Disregarding Covid Scare

In recent months, as the Covid-19 infection and death rates are coming down, the people en mass have come out for outdoor activities of all kinds, especially tours and travel. Tourism is still very much limited to domestic as foreign travel has not opened fully and not become hassle-free because of the fear of the Covid-19 and various health related restrictions imposed by different countries of the world.

According to one estimate, Bangladesh domestic tourists spend about Tk.74,959.2 crore annually. The tourism sector also generates about 8.07 per cent of total employment. Before the pandemic, the tourism industry was one of the thriving sectors fuelling economic growth and development in the country.

The pandemic has impacted the tourism industry very negatively everywhere in the world including Bangladesh. According to UNWTO prediction, the country may face a loss of about TK. 40 billion (USD 470 million) in tourism sector due to the pandemic. Again, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) predicted that Covid-19 has inflicted a loss of approximately TK. 97 billion. The employment situation was also hard hit and many lost their jobs. It also causes enormous damage to the informal sector involved with the tourism sector in the country.

This dismal situation continued for about 2 years. With the coming of the vaccines and the government's countrywide inoculation program, the Covid situation registered marked improvement. However, the scenario somewhat has become uncertain with the coming of the new Covid variant which is reported to be more contagious than the earlier ones. However, this new variant ‘Omicron’ has still not been found to be widespread in Bangladesh. Only a few cases have been reported so far.

Observing noteworthy improvement in the Covid situation, the government in August, opened all tourist spots across the country to operate at a limited scale or capacity. Since then, the tourism sector is coming back to life leaving behind the Covid days of uncertainties and recovering lost businesses significantly as the number of domestic tourists visiting the major sites is increasing at a very rapid pace. People from around the country are thronging the tourist spots particularly in Cox's Bazar, Kuakata, Rangamati, Khagrachhari, Bandarban, Sundarbans, Khulna, and greater Sylhet. In recent years, Haors mostly located in Sylhet and greater Mymensingh regions have emerged as new tourist spots. Besides, many tourist resorts have come up in all parts of the country.

People in large numbers are also visiting those places. It has been reported that hotels and resorts have seen a surge in tourist numbers leading to the recovery of the tourist industry. Here it needs to be pointed out that Bangladesh, though a small country in terms of land area has a number of beaches, lakes, rivers, hills, forests, wildlife, tribal life, archeological remains, historical monuments, religious and cultural heritages, handicrafts and many other attractions that offer great value to the domestic tourist as well.

With the development of the communication system in the country and economic growth the number of domestic tourists are increasing steadily over the years. Moreover, new places are continuously coming up as new tourist locations and destinations throughout the country. New addition of tourist destinations includes the Haors, newly developed tea plantation region of northern Bangladesh. It is envisaged that with the opening up of the Padma Bridge next year new destinations and increased flow of tourists will increase in the southern regions of the country.

The trend suggests that now people also visit places other than the traditional ones. This new development has opened up a new horizon for the tourism industry. Now it is said that about 10 million domestic tourists visit different places across the country every year. It is expected that in the coming years this number is going to increase manifolds.

Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries of the world having about 170 million people. With increased economic prosperity, Bangladesh with its large population has the potential to further develop its tourism industry which in turn will generate employment opportunities as well as contribute to the growth and development of the economy. Such development will help improve the livelihood of local communities and make the local economies more vibrant.

Two factors especially are crucially important for the growth and development of the tourism sector in Bangladesh. The first is the continued fast economic growth and the second is the identification and development of new tourist destinations in different regions of the country. Equally important is the development of tourist facilities at various destinations that include especially the establishment of hotels and other lodging facilities for the tourists.

It has been reported that the current people visiting different tourist destinations are facing acute shortages of boarding and lodging facilities in tourist spots because the demand for them is much higher than the available facilities. In some places, especially in Cox's Bazar and Srimangal, tourists are renting rooms for accommodation from the local private dwelling houses. This is a new development in the tourism sector. This arrangement may be encouraged with due security and safety measures to be ensured by the local community and the law enforcement agencies. If such an arrangement could be organized in a planned manner, it could ensure community participation in the tourism sector ensuring income for the host communities. Finally, the government and the private sectors need to take up more concerted efforts to help the fast growing tourism sector in the country.

(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)

The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka