-By Raquib Siddiqi
The global campaign, to project Bangladesh as an attractive tourist destination, as well as to erase negative image of the country, that was planned during Visit Bangladesh Year-2016, is yet to take off, due to non-availability of necessary fund.
One third of the year is gone, but there is no sign of the fund for the purpose of the global campaign. This was, disclosed by Rashed Khan Menon, Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism, while inaugurating recently held NOVOAIR Dhaka Travel Mart-2016 as the Chief Guest.The non-release of fund for promoting Bangladesh tourism by the Ministry of Finance, once again demonstrated government’s lack of commitment and seriousness, about development of tourism sector.
The private sector in Bangladesh, albeit started late, is doing increasingly more, to develop tourism in the country. In fact, credit for whatever tourism in Bangladesh achieved, must go to the private sector. On the other hand, successive governments, showed little interest in fulfilling, its primary responsibility, for the growth of tourism sector. Most government action remained confinement to rhetoric.
In late 2015, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally declared 2016 as the Visit Bangladesh Year, it was expected that there would be no shortage of fund this time. Unfortunately, that is not to be. In addition to, lack of capacity or capability of main executing agency—The Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB)—lack of fund is likely to make Visit Bangladesh Year- 2016, a failure. Thus, government of Bangladesh, continue to develop tourism on paper only.
Campaign like visit Bangladesh year, is designed to project the country as a tourist destination, mainly to attract holiday traffic. But Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), the lead government agency responsible for Visit Bangladesh Year campaign, is yet to determine the target market and formulate campaign materials.
Global promotional campaign is a must for any country wanting to position itself as a tourist destination. All the well-established tourist destinations in the region such as—Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal—are continuing the campaign with newer slogans, to keep tourist interested to visit.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh with diversified attractive tourist attractions, is yet to start campaign, not only to let outside world know its tourism resources, but also to erase the negative image, the country acquired over the years, due to bad international press.
This lack of fund for the Visit Bangladesh Year campaign can be termed as nothing but mockery, in the name of tourism promotion. The situation once again proved that commitment for the development of tourism, is confined only to lip services.
In addition to highly inadequate campaign to create positive impact, adverse notion about the country, has already started hitting the existing scanty holiday tourist traffic to the country. Prominent tour operators of the country disclosed that already over 100 groups from different countries, specially from Japan, Italy and Europe, cancelled their booking for 2016.
Two things—announcement of the Prime Minister and statement of the Finance Minister, generated tremendous hope among the stakeholders of tourism industry.
While formally announcing visit Bangladesh year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government has taken a decision to celebrate 2016 as the tourism year or “Visit Bangladesh Year-2016″ for further strengthening the campaign and marketing of the tourism industry.
“We have given utmost priority to publicity and marketing of the tourism industry side by side with its development, while steps have already been taken to project Bangladesh’s tourism attractions abroad, she said, adding Bangladesh Tourism Board has been working to this end to further brighten the country’s image.
The Prime Minister said “Bangladesh is a country with enormous potentials for tourism. Our mind-blowing scenic beauty, cultural heritage, archeological remains, artifacts, rich civilisation, especially the warmth in our people has the strength to attract tourists to our country.”
She said that “the country has all the treasures to emerge as a new tourist destination on the world map. The serenity of nature, art and culture, anthropological past, vestiges of evolving civilization, and moreover, hospitality of the Bengali nation can easily attract tourists from all over the world”.
On the other hand, while presenting national budget, Finance Minister AMA Muhith in his brief statement on –Expansion of Tourism Industry– said “The year 2016 has been declared as Tourism Year to revitalize the tourism sector. Although local tourists will play the key role in observing this year, initiatives will be taken to gradually increase the number of international tourists to around 10 lakh and income from this sector to US$200 million by 2018 through improving the facilities at different places of tourist interest.”
Unfortunately, however, the hope that generated from the two above mentioned statements turned to be just false. Because, in line with what the Prime Minister and Finance Minister said, no supporting appropriate government action followed.
Visit BD year 2016
Formal declaration of 2016, as the Visit Bangladesh Year, by the Prime Minister, made tourism community very happy. They were happy because they thought that the government has finally recognized the importance and planned the long awaited and long needed campaign, to project Bangladesh as a tourist destination.
The initiative received unqualified support from stakeholders, as the tourism community were demanding for long, action from the government, to project true Bangladesh abroad. There is no doubt that properly and professionally conducted campaign, is an effective way, to create positive impact about the country.
It may be noted here that due to constant international bad press, Bangladesh has become known as a disaster prone, poverty stricken country. This far, no effort has been made to dispel this notion and project Bangladesh—as a country of unspoiled charm, waiting to be discovered.
In our region Thailand, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal have achieved success in tourism and conducted similar visit campaigns—some countries more than once. The campaigns of these countries have many things in common. Major common features were development of infrastrucure, development of tourist products and longer gestation period.
All the countries developed infrastructure and tourist products as per target number and markets. All of these countries launched the campaign at least two years ahead of actual time to allow infra structural and product development and necessary adjustment.
What about campaign of Bangladesh? Instead of two years ahead, entire 2015 already gone, but the campaign is yet to be launched.
Moreover, Bangladesh is yet to develop tourist products, which are to be offered to attract tourists. Current infrastructure is far too inadequate to handle one million tourists and there is also no plan and time to build proper infrastructure.
If the Visit Bangladesh Campaign is able to generate interest, how transportation, accommodation and other basic requirements are going to be met? Who is going to handle the influx of tourist and how? We failed to get the answers.
Not ready yet
The year 2016 is already four months old, but unfortunately, the visit Bangladesh campaign is yet to go beyond lip service. To make Visit Bangladesh Year 2016 a success, professionals should have been hired to design the campaign. The campaign also should have been launched, at least one year before the target. With the passing days, the chance of making a successful campaign is weakening considerably.
Apart from no campaign, there is practically no progress with regard to important aspects like branding and strategic marketing, product offering, market segmentation positioning and operational marketing, media and public relation, coordination, quality tourism and awareness development and regional cooperation. The failure in this regard this far is mainly because of general lack of qualified people.
Some prominent tour operators of the country lamented that BTB is not the kind of NTO, the country needed and they wanted. The organization they wanted was finally killed and the country got lame duck NTO. They also wanted Visit Bangladesh Campaign, but the kind one, they finally got.
Stakeholders of the tourism industry think under the existing circumstances, the task is not easy. Every bit of expertise and professional excellence will be needed to make Visit Bangladesh campaign a success.
Looking at the present condition of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) –the national tourism organisation and its very limited authority, one does not get much confidence that it could shoulder the responsibility of conducting visit Bangladesh campaign. Moreover, the BTB at present has no expertise and qualified manpower to lead a campaign like this. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism (MOCAT) is also not capable to handle such campaign.
Stakeholders in the tourism industry of the country expressed surprise that this far, no effort has been made to get stakeholders involved in handling of Visit Bangladesh Year campaign.
Some prominent tour operators of the country are of the opinion that just announcement of holding a year is not enough. There should have been road shows and other promotional activities, before arrival of the designated year.
They consider that, shortage of time has become a great negative factor and impediment for success of the campaign. Unlike other countries in the region, Bangladesh has no favourable international image, conducive to be an attractive tourist destination.
To counter the negative image, due to long bad international press, there is need for prolonged well-designed campaign.
But, the orginisers have totally ignored the importance of longer prior campaign for the better result during the designated year. The tour operators are of the view that, it is no use blaming BTB for the failure. Because, since its creation in 2010, BTB has not been equipped with proper professional manpower and required fund, to do professional jobs like NTOs of other countries
There is immediate urgent need to start campaign to market Bangladesh as tourist destination, as well as negate adverse notion about safety and security of visitors. This action is needed not only to save Visit Bangladesh Year campaign, but also to remove concern about safety and security of the tourist from various tourist-generating countries.
Meanwhile, Visit Bangladesh-2016 campaign has been launched through a 3-day Mega Beach Carnival at Cox’s Bazar on 31 December 2015. The original carnival programme had to be drastically revised due to total ban on functions after dark.
The stakeholders of the tourism industry are trying to understand, how the beach carnival—totally of local interest—is going to help attract tourist to Bangladesh. After all Visit Bangladesh Campaign is for promoting the country, as a tourist destination.
The government of Bangladesh has targeted one million tourists during Visit Bangladesh Year 2016. During International Conference on Buddhist Tourism Circuit in Dhaka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally announced the tourism year on 27 October 2015 .
The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism has, based its target of one million tourists, on the so-called four hundred thousand average yearly visitors. I think this base is not right. Because, around 90 per cent of this number is a not holiday visitor—they are businessmen, international bureaucrats and aid officials.
Moreover, how a jump of six hundred thousand from current average during the campaign is going to be made has not been explained.
While we are happy for the initiative, we are sad to note that tourist arrival target set to achieve by the campaign is most surely going to fail. Judging in the context of prevailing situation, handling capacity and capability as well as overall preparedness, the target seems to be over ambitious and close to fantasy. Chance of success is very remote as the failure is written all over the plan. However, we will be really happy, if our fear is found wrong and tourist target is achieved.
But, the existing situation, has already made government to revise the target.. At the inaugural function of Dhaka travel Mart 2016, Menon announced that Bangladesh want to attract one million visitors by 2018.
However, with no campaign yet, it would be difficult, if not impossible to achieve the target of one million visitors by extending only the time.
( A senior journalist Raquib Siddiq
i is a former editor of The Bangladesh Times)