Each village will be changed into a city”-- this slogan was incorporated in the 2018 election manifesto of the ruling Awami League (AL).
In a bid to implement the polls commitment, the AL government has already directed several institutions, including 'One Village, One Farm' project and 'Bangladesh Rural Development Academy' (BARD), to take appropriate projects. The purpose of the government to turn each village into a city is to provide the basic facilities of cities to villages. Modern urban facilities will be extended to each and every village. This is an approach to rural development potential to produce tourism products that can compete on the international market, while still having a unique characteristic of the area.Of course, a village will be changed into a city without wasting agricultural land and its natural setting. In addition, the services that will get priority for rural people are - easy access to improved healthcare, education, electricity, access to clean water, employment and communication. What is more important is that recreational and tourism facilities will also be provided. Recreation includes various kinds of tourism and hospitality activities.
The rural tourism programme is an important programme of the government to transform villages into cities. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), the government tourism organisation of Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) already held several seminars and discussions for rural tourism development in the past year. Some local level resorts have signed memorandum of understandings (MoUs) with BPC for providing intellectual support to the resorts. Since BPC carries out tourism activities and programmes across the country and it has the requisite skills for development of tourism, various government organisations, including the private sector, can easily avail of intellectual assistance from this organisation.
How tourism will be developed to provide recreational and tourism services in rural areas? Each village should be declared as a tourist destination. In these destinations, tourists of the city will also visit and thus employment will be generated along with evolving and revolving financial activities in the village and trickle down the benefit to local community. Rural tourism in Bangladesh can play an effective role in strengthening rural economic conditions and rural employment generation. Micro-credit programme to small and medium entrepreneurs can help development of rural tourism. Through the development of rural tourism, all communities will have access to financial sustainability along the way to their sustainable earnings. Here, small loans can be made available to the small entrepreneurs for the purpose. Implementation of this programme requires that each village possesses enough amusement parks, children parks and grounds for organising traditional sports. It is expected that quicker implementation of these will bring positive results.
Environmental planning must be considered for development of tourism in rural areas in Bangladesh. Rural tourism will not be harmful to environment, but only by protection of environment, tourism will not flourish. Environment and tourism are complementary to each other. Awareness raising among local community as well as providing soft micro-credit or soft-term loan can play a vital role in promoting rural tourism. For example, micro-credit is required for a person at village who makes flour or pies, yogurt and sells it to the market or to tourists. Enhancing production capacity of a person and helping him/her to produce products in a hygienic manner and in an attractive manner that requires money. Loans, with or without simple interest, will surely push him/her towards more dynamic and truly sustainable development. If rural tourism is developed, many entrepreneurs will automatically grow.
Diversification of products by many small and medium entrepreneurs, such as chira-muri-khoi and yogurt, handicraft (bamboo, cane, murta) will thrive. In order to sustain these small and medium tourism entrepreneurs in rural area, simple and collateral-free loans are essential.
Foreign tourists should have to be attracted to keep the wheels of rural economy moving. That is why, we have to highlight our rural traditions in aesthetic ways. Our rural traditions are the rural community system, the cultivation of the traditional method of agricultural land, the traditional folk music, preparation of indigenous food - chira, muri, khoi, palm pies, mata and molida et cetera. These are the products that tourists always prefer to enjoy. To promote these products and make the items attractive to the tourists, public-private integrated initiatives are sine-quo-non. At present, many private tour operators take tourists to the villages to show the rural life-style. In this way, rural people will not get full benefit. The benefit of tourism does not cascade down to the local communities. All these activities require an active participation of rural people. In this case, a concordant cooperation of local administration and rural community is needed. Tour operators who earns by showing a rural woman making puffed rice, or the scene of a rural farmer's paddy harvesting, or the sight of pulling down jar of date-juice should pay a portion of their earning to local communities. It will increase the income of local communities and encourage them to carry out other activities as well as tourism activities for their livelihood.Rural tourism development in Bangladesh can be divided into a few specific categories - Farming Tourism, Eco-Tourism and Green Tourism et cetera. Farming tourism is one of the attractions of rural Bengal's agricultural farm and its own land-farming system, harvesting scenery, irrigation system, drying of rice by rural women, paddy harvesting and winnowing et cetera. Apart from this, eco-tourism can be developed based on the landscapes of rural Bengal, rivers, country boats and indigenous fish, biodiversity of different species, including animals and birds.
Another feature of rural tourism is green tourism. Many foreigners are fascinated by lush green of Bangladesh. All elements of Green Tourism exist in rural Bangladesh. Bangladesh remains shrouded by green in mosaic in all the six seasons. Apart from these, each season has its distinct feature. The vibrancy of the green attracts many tourists from cold countries. Many Scandinavian and European people love the lush green countryside of Bangladesh. Not only love, but also come to see.
Rural tourism can be developed in five districts of Mymensingh, Netrakona, Haluaghat, Sylhet and, above all, Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT). All these districts have the potential to develop tourism. Due to the existing natural setting of CHT, no heavy industry can be developed there. The development of the tourism industry is the only way because of its existing landscapes and characteristics of the local people. Tourism industry has to develop in such a manner that creates huge employment, financial flows, and infrastructure that suit the natural features.
However, in these districts, tourism development is not possible by keeping away local communities - indigenous and ethnic people. Each ethnic community has its own unique characteristics and attractions. In order to develop tourism here, many communities that have unique culture and heritage need to be aware about the sense of ownership. They will protect the tourist attractions of CHT in the pursuit of financial income and new employment.
The general idea is that if tourism is developed, rural environment and culture may be depleted. In fact, a planned and well-controlled tourism development is important for creating employment in rural areas. It is the responsibility of local administration and tourists to preserve and conserve tourist attractions while promoting tourism. It is, of course, called responsible tourism. Eco-tourism, green tourism, nature tourism are parts of responsible tourism.
In the context of present Bangladesh, tourism development is necessary for poverty alleviation and creation of massive employment in rural areas. Development of rural economy through tourism will change the villages to cities. Here, rural youths should be developed as skilled human resources. Adequate trainings such as tour guiding, cooking, interpretation, souvenir productions and product packaging as well as other types of trainings are needed.
We hope by the year 2030, the government will be able to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by paying proper attention to employment generation and poverty alleviation through promotion of rural tourism in Bangladesh. This is the way to turn a village into a tourist destination.
The writer is Manager (PR and FL), BPC.