Dhaka: The government of Bangladesh has declared current 2016 as visit Bangladesh year, to kick start development of tourism in the country and attract one million tourists. But two key government agencies—visa offices aboard and immigration at land port of entry—seem to be doing everything possible to drive tourist away. They do not know, who to welcome visitors and deal with them.
Two recent sad experiences about rude behavior and bad manner by officials of our Deputy High Commission in Kolkata and High Commission in London and immigration at Benapole land boarder will draw a fairly good picture about prevailing situation. Intending visitors from Chile and U.K reported their sad experiences.
However, there is silver lining in the dark cloud. Once the tourist inside the country, they get different experiences–the hospitality of ordinary Bangladesh and that helped remove the bitterness acquired, during entering the country.
Ordeal in getting visa
In an email, addressed to The Bengal Tour Ltd. on January 18, Ignacio Fuenzalida Lavín—a visitor from Chile and his girl friend, described their ordeal in getting Bangladesh visa and at land route entry point. The couple went to Kolkata first and from there got visa to visit Bangladesh portion of The Sundarbans with The Bengal Tours Limited.
From the Internet, they found location of Bangladesh Deputy High Commission(DHC) in Kolkata, and also telephone number and an email address. Due to poor signal,in their first three telephone calls, they failed to get useful information . When they called for the 4th time, the phone was just hanged up. The effort to get information via email also failed, because of no response.
Failing to get necessary prior information about visa formalities, they arrived Kolkata and went straight to the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission, but were asked to come back next day between 9 to 11 AM. There was none to provide them necessary documents needed for visa.
Next morning they reached the DHC at 9 AM waited in line for specific counter. When Ignacio’s girl friend reached the counter, the concerned official gave them two forms, without replying question about requirement of other documents. When they submitted the forms after filling, the official asked for address in Bangladesh. The Chilean couple explained that they are going on a tour to the Sundarbans, not staying in any city. But the official insisted on address. They gave the address of the tour company. When they submitted the visa application forms, passports and two photos, the official asked for a photocopy of the passport and Indian visa. So they had to go out to get photocopies. And again, without saying a word, the official in a very rude way threw the forms back, probably because two passport photos were not pasted to the forms.
Thus they finally complete application for the visa. The official asked for the visa fee (700 rupees each) and then gave them receipt with delivery date two days later. But since they were booked for trip to the Sundarbans on December 15, 2015, and it wasn’t possible to change, they politely requested and in fact “begged the official” to issue visa earlier. The official asked them to pay more money and get the visa the next day at 17.00. They tried make the official understand that it would not solve their problem, but he the concerned official kept saying “pay extra fee for tomorrow at 17.00 or wait until the 16th” and threw the receipt again on Ignacio’s girlfriend.
In their effort not to miss their Bangladesh trip, the two Chilean visitors again went to “the tourist forbidden office”. Seeing Ignacio’s girlfriend crying out of frustration, the guard at the door informed a female official. She gave them a telephone number and told us to call at 15.00 and ask for Mr. Ahmed.
At 15.00 o’clock Ignacio called. And he was told to call again in 35 more minutes. So he did, and Mr. Ahmed told him to come to his office in that very moment. After waiting 40 minutes and following lots of persuasion Ignacio was conducted to Mr. Mansur Ahmed office. He told him to wait while he was signing some papers. When he finished he listened what Ignacio needed. Ahmed asked him to pay 2.800 rupees for the urgent fee, to get their visas in one hour. They paid the money, but didn’t receive a new receipt and then he left with old receipt.
One hour later they went to the DHC for the 4th time. Half an hour later ,they heard some one calling the people by name and making delivery of passport with visa. When their name was not called, Ignacio ‘s girlfriend approached the counter and found “the same rude guy”.
The girlfriend of Ignacio tried to explain the meeting with the counsellor and payment of urgent fee without new receipt and promise to delivery of the visa same day. But instead of listening to her, the official “threw the receipt back to the girlfriend and asked her to come back on the 16th.
Despite being angry, Ignacio kept his calm and requested for early delivery. But the official said that their passports were not ready. But suddenly someone appeared and handled the passports to the official. He appeared surprised and made a call to some one. Waiting a while, he finally handover the passports to Chilean couple.
Before leaving the Deputy High Commission, the Chileans told the officials who mistreated them “ he shouldn’t treat the women that way, and not even any person, man or woman.”
Ordeal at port of entry
After braving unwelcome treatment by officials of Bangladesh DHC in Kolkata, the Chilean couple reached Benapole, on Monday, 14th Dec, 2015, around noon to enter Bangladesh. They submitted passports for immigration and customs formalities and found un-cooperative immigration official and difficulty to communicate with them in English. One hour after submitting the passports, “a stranger” came and asked for some money to help process the job faster. As it was already late and need to reach Khulna for Sundarbans trip by evening, the Chilean couple paid the demanded extra money.
Guests from U.K.
Two British tourists planned to visit Bangladesh from February 12, 2016 for three weeks after four weeks tour to Nepal and India. As per their 3- country tour plan they submitted their passport to the Bangladesh High Commission, London some time in the 2nd week of January’2016. Four days later, they contacted the High Commission over phone and were informed that their visa has been approved and concerned official will inform them to collect the passports soon. They requested early delivery of their passports for applying visa for India and Nepal. The High Commission refused to commit any date for delivery of the passport, albeit they confirmed visas have been approved.
Following that they made several calls, but no one answered. They waited for 10 days for their passports and forced to postpone the Bangladesh trip as well as trip to Nepal and India as. During the time (14th and 15th Jan, 2016) from Dhaka Bengal Tours tried to contact the Bangladesh High Commission, London several time but no one picked up the phone or it was always found busy or not responding.
After two weeks the intending visitors got their passports with visas back. It was found visa was issued well before. The avoidable delay in delivery of the passports, forced the two British visitors rescheduled their Bangladesh trip, dropped planned visit to Nepal and cut short trip to India.
No regret, nice people
Incidents like these, certainly not good for country’s tourism. Fortunately, tourist friendly attitude and hospitable habit of the ordinary people have so far saved the situation. After entering the country and meeting the people, visitors who acquired bitter experience, change their notion towards the country and its people. Most of them carry good memory.
When the Chilean couple received permission to enter Bangladesh at Benapole boarder, it was almost dark. Looking for transport to go to Khulna, they found that it is already late and possibility of getting public bus is uncertain.
At that time two Bangladeshi young men offered then help. After learning that the Chilean couple wants to go to Khulna, they invited to join them as they were also going to Khulna.
“We followed them and board the bus for Khulna. The Bangladesh young men offered us some snacks and drinks. They were very kind and nice people. These two young man changed our idea about the people we faced at the Kolkata High Commission and at Immigration at Benapol”.
They Chilean couple reached Khulna bus station at around 11 PM. Then the young men hired a three-wheeler for the visitors and the visitors reach tour operator’s office at around 12:00 mid night.
Explaining the reason for going through the ordeal “without regret”, the Chilean tourist couple said “ We did all that struggle because we had already paid our airplane ticket from Dhaka to Myanmar. If we hadn’t bought it, we probably would have given up trying to come to Bangladesh. But we don’t regret the effort made, because it’s a beautiful country and the people here has been extremely nice”.
Closed door attitude
The attitude of the visa officials, displayed in the incidents described here, is simply unacceptable closed door attitude. The unfriendly attitude of these visa and immigration officials is, further hitting the prevailing negative image of the country.
True not many tourists come to Bangladesh and so these officials are not familiar with dealing tourists. This type of attitude, specially when the country is inviting people from all over the world to visit, is simply unacceptable. Moreover, tourist or not what is the harm in showing courtesy and good manner and help people who want to visit the country?
Bangladesh is not known as tourist destination. The country is suffering from bad image due to bad international press. The government and NTO have so far done nothing to improve the situation. That some people, who are now showing interest to visit Bangladesh, is the work of private sector tour operators.
Countries all over the world—developed and developing—are trying to ease frontier formalities, as far as possible, to attract more tourists. But Bangladesh has done practically nothing in this regard. Even, instead of helping the private tour operator by showing good manner and extending helping hand to visitors, concerned officials are behaving otherwise and damaging image of the country further.
There is urgent need to extend proper training to those who are making their first contact with intending visitors to our country.
(The writer is former editor, The Bangladesh Times)