-By Raquib Siddiqi
Dhaka – The tourism in Bangladesh, which, hitherto failed to get appropriate government support, yet moved ahead and stayed alive, is fighting for its survival, being engulfed in crisis, due to negative image. Action to manage the crisis is yet to come– and is not even in sight.
Albeit, private sector the prime mover of country’s tourism. Countering the prevailing negative situation, is beyond its responsibility and capability. It is the responsibility of the government and for that matter, Bangladesh Tourism Board—the concerned government agency, to do something to, keep the flow of visitors coming, by removing misgivings about safety, in the target source countries.
Unfortunately, in the absence of appropriate body for crisis management, action taken in this regard, this far is zero. There is even no indication that some action in this regard, is going to be taken soon. Holding the hands of private
sector, tourism in Bangladesh—leisure and holiday day tourism in particular—was gaining good ground until 1012. But in the following three tourist seasons, the progress in this regard was marred, first by political unrest and then by terrorist attacks.
When the industry was on the way to recover from damage due to political turmoil, terrorist attacks hit the industry. Of the three terrorist attacks, the first two involved individual expatriates and the third and last one was attack of different nature, politically motivated and involving large group. However, there was no attack on tourist and locations were not public places.
It is very difficult to depict, exact and total picture, of the impact because of the current security concern that is damaging the entire tourism industry. Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), the national tourism organization, seems to have decided not to get involved and stay away from taking responsibility. So, in the absence of consolidated statistics, there is no alternative but draw a picture, after talking with major players in the industry.
We got a very sad picture of the current situation from two leading tour operators of the country— Masud Hussain of Bengal Tours and Taufiq Rahman of Journey Plus. Both of them are involved in inbound holiday tourisam.
According to them, the present sad situation is because of the decline that started earlier. In the 2013-14 tourism season (September—March), political unrest took heavy toll on the country’s tourism and hospitality industries, as the business went down by 50 per cent against previous year.
Most of the inbound tour operators experienced either cancellation of previous bookings or shrink in the sizes of tourist groups.
Masud Hossain said his company handled about 4,000 foreign tourists in 2012-13 season, which gradually declined to less than 1000 during last season, following political unrest and minor terrorist incident in 2015. But tragic terrorist attack at Hole Artisan Restaurant on July 01 this year has resulted cancellation of of major bookings for coming tourist season and beyond.
Taufiq also confirmed similar situation and both said this is the picture of country’s inbound tourism scene.
Tour operations have experienced booking cancellations, for nest tourism season (September-March), but also beyond.
The condition of hospitality is also the same—affected adversely. Some countries issued travel warning for its citizens concerning visit to Bangladesh. As a result, visits for the purpose of business and official have gone down significantly. All the properties—from upscale to budget are having much lower occupancy than usual.
Masud and Taufiq disclosed that, the newly elected executive committee of Tour Operator’s Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), recently made a courtesy call to Rashed Khan Menon MP, Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism and discussed the situation and its adverse impact on tourism industry.
For the development of tourism in Bangladesh and to save the industry from any crisis in future, TOAB has submitted a set of proposals to the minister.
Among these proposals are: (1) arrangement of 2-3 day “Show Case Bangladesh” in Dhaka in December 2016 with participation of all local stakeholders and foreign counterparts. (2) Regular updating of information concerning business, tourism and security, in tourist generating countries through Bangladesh missions. (3) Bangladesh Tourism Board to dispatch weekly updated notification to tourist boards, media, embassies and associations of tourist generating countries. At the same time, step to be taken to publish a newsletter. (4) Arrangement of Road Show, different marketing activity including B2B and various promotional activities in tourist generating countries, all the year long. (5) In next two to three years Bangladesh must ensure lively participation in different international tourism fairs. Cultural functions must be held to project cultural life of the country. (6) Regional connectivity with different Asian countries including Soutrh Asia, South East Asia, Dar East and Middle Eastern countries, must be widen. Arrangement of regular road show and briefing and promotional activities through embassies must be taken. (7) Creation of a National Crisis Management Committee or National Tourism Task-force from Public-private stake holders, to face problem concerning tourism in future. (8) Help inbound tour operators affected by the current crisis. (9) At least five affected inbound tour operators, be allowed to participate in various international tourism fairs at government cost for next two to three years. (10) Reduction of room rate in starred hotels to encourage and increase visit to the country. (11) Arrangement of interest free bank loan for affected inbound tour operators.
Tourism in times of terror
The threat of terrorism significantly influences holiday planning – major differences in the safety image of individual destinations – ITB Berlin and IPK International analyse global changes in travel behaviour – enthusiasm for travel is nevertheless unbroken.
The terrorist attacks and political upheavals in different parts of the world in recent months have had a major effect on travel behaviour, and the perceived level of threat is determining people’s holiday choices.
Popular destinations, in particular Turkey and Egypt, have reported a dramatic drop in bookings and many hotels are deserted. Despite this, more people are travelling this year compared to 2015. Thus, IPK International forecasts a two percent increase in trips abroad by Europeans, and as much as three per cent worldwide. However, people have become more critical regarding their choice of destination.
Early in 2016, IPK International conducted a special survey in over 40 major tourism source markets and interviewed 50,000 people to analyse the impact of terror threats. One of the findings of the global survey was that the threat of terrorism influences the travel behaviour of 40 per cent of international tourists, while the results varied significantly depending on the source market. Whereas few South Americans, Scandinavians and Dutch said that the threat of terrorism will affect their travel behaviour, Asians and Eastern Europeans are more strongly influenced by current events. Differences were also noted between various traveller segments. Those with children are more cautious, whereas younger age groups and singles remain relatively unimpressed by terror warnings.
Bangladesh lacks PR
It may be noted that terrorism has now become a global phenomenon and compared to other parts of the world, incident in Bangladesh was different in nature. But since, Bangladesh is not yet a popular tourist destination and numbers of visitors are not large in number, the current disruption affecting the small market badly.
Bangladesh is not very known in the tourist generating countries and as such people tend to easily avoid a visit, at slightest unfavorable suggestion.
The most affective way to counter this situation is Public Relations (PR). Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), the national tourism organization, should appoint PR agency in different target source countries, to project real Bangladesh and plan and executive actions to protect interest of Bangladesh tourism, at the time of need.
Since BTB has no manpower and organizational capability to do such a job, appointment PR agency seems to be good option. More over, that would more effective, at comparatively cheaper cost.
Bangladesh is much safer
Two foreign visitors—one Japanese and the other American—who came to visit Bangladesh in August and late July respectively, found no reason to be concerned about safely in Bangladesh.
Yatsushi Iwashita, President of P.U.S—a Japanese non-profit organization, involved in education of children in rural areas, who is on a visit to Bangladesh under Bengal Tours Limited, find no reason to be concerned.
Yatsushi who regularly visit India, Nepal, Myanmar. Vietnam and Cambodia, in connection with job similar to Bangladesh said that “ Rural people in Bangladesh are simple and hospitable than moth of these countries.”
Talking to this writer on August 11, Yatsushi who is regularly visiting Bangladesh since early 1980 said “ I do not think Bangladesh is unsafe to visit. Even now, the country is much safer compared to many countries in the world”.
Gary Curcio of New York, USA recently visited Bangladesh (from 29 July- 01 August, 2016) organized by Journey Plus. In his feedback form he said” I felt safe and secured during my whole tour. People were extremely friendly. Very much enjoyed the hike in Lawachera National Park rain forest, also enjoyed the visit to Jaflong, Sylhet and Indian border (Tamabil– Dawki) and Dusai Resort in Moulovibazar “.
He expressed appreciation for proper escort with tourist police and said “I am happy with Journey Plus and I strongly recommend people to come and enjoy the natural beauty of Bangladesh. It`s a great country’.”
The experience and opinion of two foreigners reaffirm our lack of promotion and PR. For years, Bangladesh is a victim of international bad press—known mostly as poverty and natural calamity stricken land.
In the absence of image building effort or crisis management, image of the country more or less remained the same. Time has come to act and act fast with programme to project to the world, the real Bangladesh and its actual picture.
(The writer is former editor of The Bangladesh Times)