Give more funds to tourism: sector leaders

download (1)With the government planning to double the number of tourists to one million in Bangladesh by 2018, industry leaders have demanded more funds for the tourism sector in the next budget.
They also suggested identifying and developing more tourist-focused products, proper global branding of Bangladesh to attract foreign tourists and mass publicity to brighten Bangladesh’s image that has been tainted due to political unrest and killings of foreigners.
A large portion of the sector’s budget is spent on attending tourism fairs abroad and some other minor programmes, which do not have a big impact on attracting foreign tourists, they added.
The government has already announced the ‘Visit Bangladesh 2016′ initiative, chalking out elaborate programmes to achieve the target of a million tourists.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council or WTTC, travel and tourism generated $7.6 trillion, or about 10 percent of global gross domestic product, and 277 million jobs, or one in every 11 in the global economy in 2014.
In Bangladesh, the travel and tourism sector’s total contribution to GDP is 4.1 percent, while it ranks 168 among 184 countries in the sector.
Bangladesh lags far behind its neighbouring countries like India with 6.7 percent, Nepal 8.9 percent, Myanmar 4.8 percent and Sri Lanka 11.1 percent, according to the latest WTTC report.
Travel and tourism’s total contribution to employment globally is 9.4 percent while it is just 3.6 percent in Bangladesh. Rafiuzzaman, first vice president of Tour Operators’ Association of Bangladesh or TOAB, said they sought Tk 1,000 crore in allocation for the sector in the upcoming budget. The government sanctioned Tk 273 crore for the sector this fiscal year.
He suggested development of infrastructure, communication, exclusive tourist zones and the brand with the slogan ‘Beautiful Bangladesh’ to boost the sector.
“If the government develops necessary infrastructure and communications, then private entrepreneurs will come forward to build five-star standard hotels-motels and amusement parks,” said the TOAB leader, who has 25 years of experience as a tour operator.
He also underscored the need for better air, rail, road and waterways connectivity so that tourists can visit the tourist destinations without hassle. Rashed Khan Menon, civil aviation and tourism minister, said despite declaring tourism as a thrust sector, the government cannot afford to allocate additional funds to tourism just yet, as there are many areas of the economy that demand attention. However, the government is trying to give full support to tourism, he added. Rafiuzzaman said the government may turn the Cox’s Bazar airport into an international one and make the existing Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar road into a four-lane one. Cox’s Bazar can also be brought under rail connectivity, he added.
“Foreign tourists could enjoy visiting St Martins from Cox’s Bazar and then the mangrove forest of Sundarbans through waterways — without much hassle.”
Taufiq Rahman, chief executive of Journey Plus, suggested launching massive awareness programmes about Bangladesh’s tourism in different countries in the world, particularly 15 to 20 countries, which generate 80 to 90 percent of foreign tourists annually.

He also suggested inviting foreign journalists and tour operators on government expenses to promote tourism.
Bangladesh’s missions abroad should have designated desks to convince people and promote products, operators said.
Reliable statistics on tourism are hard to come by. Industry insiders said about five lakh tourists visit Bangladesh a year, including business tourists, non-resident Bangladeshis, backpackers and religious tourists, most of whom visit during Biswa Ijtema. They also said more than 10 lakh people are directly and indirectly benefitted from the tourism industry.
To promote tourism, the TOAB suggested for e-visas to tourists particularly those from 67 countries where citizens get on-arrival visas. As tourists from those countries plan their trip eight to nine months in advance, it would be very encouraging if they can get visas from home along with all information on hotels and other facilities.

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