The tourism industry suffers the most from any epidemic or natural disaster. At present, the emerging tourism industry of Bangladesh is in a state of complete collapse due to the catastrophic disaster of Covid-19. Bangladesh's tourism industry has never witnessed such a devastating situation in the past. Ensuring the safety of public life is the big challenge now. Tourism spots all over Bangladesh are shut down as per the directives of the government. If the overall situation of Covid-19 improves, hopefully all the tourist centres will be opened as per the instructions of the government.
Since travel is so important for people's physical and mental health, we all expect people would be able to travel when overall situation of Covid-19 pandemic improves. At that time, we hope that the government agencies will take all kinds of initiatives to make people's travel uninterrupted. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation is working on the development of tourism for the welfare of the people. Hence the organization is creating facilities for tourists across the country. The government always encourages the people of the country to travel. But now the situation is so grave that people have been forced to endure lockdown to safeguard their lives. At present there is no tourist movement in any area including Cox's Bazar, Kuakata and Chattogram Hill Tracts districts.At present about 2.3 million people are directly and indirectly involved in the tourism industry of Bangladesh. The livelihoods of these people are under threat. If government support and direct financial incentives are provided, the livelihood of these people would be saved to some extent. As Bangladesh's tourism industry continues to play an important role in achieving the government's SDGs by 2030, direct financial assistance of the government would enable this sector to contribute more to the national GDP as well as achieve the SDGs. This industry will also be able to make a phenomenal contribution in building a developed Bangladesh by 2041.
In the current pandemic situation, it is impossible to portray in one article what a precarious situation the tourism industry of this country is experiencing now. Investors in this industry have already lost business and are joining other lower occupations. Since there are no guests in hotels and motels, the owners are being forced to lay off working staff. And retrenchment means there is no limit to their family misery. All package tours of tour operators are closed so it has become difficult to pay office rent, electricity bill, water bill, income tax etc. Resorts having relatively more service staffs have to take the path of retrenchment as there are no sales without guests. The overall situation of the ticketing agencies is very fragile. How will they do business if airlines, trains, buses do not run?
It is important to take some quick steps to save the tourism industry amidst the persisting situation of Covid-19. The first step is to set up a 'Bangladesh Tourism Recovery Fund' (BTRF). Investors in the affected tourism industry need to be provided with interest-free loans for a minimum of five years and on easy terms to offset the losses as well as install infrastructure. In addition, the Ministry of Finance needs to issue circulars with written instructions to all banks to provide long-term bank loans on easy terms to large investors. The other basic things that need to be taken into consideration are - waive VAT on all types of hotels, motels and resorts and tour operators for a minimum of three years to compensate the losses incurred in Corona. It is also necessary to ensure the employment of the workers in the tourism sector in times of calamity and to bring them under the umbrella of tourism insurance to protect their health.
Covid-19 negative certificate holders and double-dose vaccine recipients may be allowed to travel on their own transports to tourism spots until the pandemic situation becomes normal. In addition, Covid-19 vaccinations need to be given on a priority basis to those involved in front-line direct services at local hotels, motels and resorts. We have glaring example of it. Several countries, including the Maldives, Greece, the Netherlands and Israel have already taken similar initiatives to sustain their tourism industry. If Bangladesh takes such an initiative, hopefully it will bring much benefit for the tourism industry of this country.
In order to save the tourism industry of Bangladesh, it is necessary to take steps in the context of global and national ground reality. Bangladesh's tourism industry was gradually becoming a driving force in the country's economic development trajectory. But the affects of Corona in 2020 and this year 2021 have completely brought the industry down to a distressed condition. Under these circumstances, is there any other way for the industry to survive without government incentives or initiatives from other sources?
Bangladesh's tourism industry must survive. We should let it survive. There are very few fast growing and labour intensive industries like tourism across the globe. For various reasons the industry may not have developed as fast as expected in Bangladesh. But it has contributed as much as at the rate of 3 per cent to the economy of Bangladesh with creating huge number of employment. There are many industries in Bangladesh that contribute less than 2 per cent to our GDP; nonetheless those are getting direct and indirect support from the government in multiple ways. Therefore, the tourism industry must be sustained for the sake of the national interest. At present, to keep the tourism industry survive in the persisting Covid-19 reality, it needs government’s direct incentives and the assistance of the World Bank or ADB.
The author is a tourism analyst.