-By Raquib Siddiqi
A recent visit by a team of Australian journalists to Bangladesh and their impression, reconfirm our belief that tourism products should be designed to present Bangladesh as it is, to the tourist generating markets.
Admitting that the visit has helped change the notion about the country completely, the Australian journalists said, so long they knew Bangladesh as a natural calamity prone poor country. Instead they saw a beautiful green country served by numerous rivers of different sizes as well as sea. Creativeness of ordinary people, specially women are unprecedented and general people of the country are sincere and friendly, they observed.
Bangladesh with its unique cultural wealth and local crafts can emerge as a tourism destination for Australians, six award-winning Australian journalists said and added there is no need for discotheques, pubs or star-rated hotels to attract tourists to Bangladesh.
According to the Australian journalists the traditional textile of Bangladesh alone is enough to drive foreign women crazy.
They as described a song that a farmer sang in Tangail, as one of the best and most fascinating cultural performances in any country of the world.
Bangladesh’s wonderful village life, resilient women and traditional festivals make the country a goldmine for foreign tourists, said Sarah Siddiqi, chief executive of Experience Bangladesh, a tourism management company that sponsored the tour along with other co-hosts.
Familiarisation trip: On 14 February, a group of 6 award winning journalists from Australian newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Traveller Magazine, Melbourne Herald-Sun, Mindfood and Get Lost Magazine arrived in Bangladesh for a 5 day trip (14-18 February) to Dhaka, Tangail and the Sundarbans.
The group visited Bangladesh with Experience Bangladesh, a destination management company established in 2007 with registered offices in the USA, Australia and Bangladesh. Experience Bangladesh provides tailored trips for leisure, business and global education for visitors to Bangladesh from all around the World.
The Australian Journalists and team members who visited Bangladesh are: (1) Helen Anderson: The Australian (National). (2) Mark Dapin: Fairfax Traveller – Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, Australian Traveller.(3) Gillian Cumming: Courier Mail, News Ltd’s Escape (National). (4) Niall McIlroy: The West Australian. (5) Joanna Tovia: Mindfood Magazine (National). (6) Paul Sheehan: Fairfax Media columnist – The Sydney Morning Herald. (7) Brooke Wilson: China Southern Airlines Representative and (8) Sarah Shields: mg media communications Representative
The objective of the visit was to has experience of Bangladesh in such a way that the Australian journalists can introduce Bangladesh as a travel destination to Australians. The theme of the trip is sustainable living, which includes experiencing ways of organic farming, hand looming textiles, women empowerment, resilience in Tangail and the tiger protection project in the Sundarbans.
On 18 February, after completing their visit to the Sundarbans, the Australian journalists arrived in Dhaka, to complete their visit of the country. On occasion of the journalists’ visit and to allow Bangladeshi media the opportunity of interacting with these Australian journalists and to talk to them about their perceptions of Bangladesh, the Australian High Commissioner in Bangladesh H.E. Greg Wilcock hosted a Press Conference at his residence.
The Press Conference was followed by a farewell dinner and cultural programme attended by a number of eminent members of the government and civil society.
Experience Bangladesh in collaboration with Jatrik and Shadhona, a premiere dance troupe, presented a short cultural programme during the dinner so that the journalists can get a flavour of Bangladesh’s rich cultural heritage.
Main opportunity for BD: The tropical climate has made Bangladesh luxuriant in vegetation. The villages are usually buried in groves of Mango, Banana, Jackfruit, Coconut, Palm, Bamboo, and other useful trees. Unknown to many in the tourist generating countries, Bangladesh has mountains, large coastline, mangroves, rain forests, marshlands, islands and Sal forests. This diversity makes Bangladesh fairly rich in flora and fauna.
Of the 200 species of mammals, the pride of place goes to the Royal Bengal Tiger found in the Sundarbans. There are about 150 species of reptiles. Of the 525 recorded species of birds, 350 are resident and the rest are migratory, that appear only in winter. The number of species of marine and fresh water fish total around 200.
In addition to its natural attractions, Bangladesh has a multifaceted folk heritage, enriched by its, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim roots. Weaving, pottery and terracotta sculpture are some of the earliest forms of artistic expression.
Bangladesh has plenty of splendid tourism resources to be an attractive tourist destination. Tourism specialists have identified river tourism; sundarbans –the UNESCO heritage site; rare wild life; Bbird life; archeological sites, monuments and temples; tribal tourism in Chittagong Hill Tracts and tea gardens in Sylhets. In addition, relative low costs of internal air and road travel; high quality handicrafts; warm climate during European winter months are also considered tourism assets of Bangladesh.
The co-existence of man and nature can best be studied in Bangladesh, which provides a great emotional and educational experience to the visitor. Observing nature in its diverse forms is considered by many, as interesting and thrilling as sighting a mega-mammal.
Immediate action: We are behind time and we must strongly believe in the tourism potentials of our country and go for positive action without wasting any more time. I think, main opportunity for Bangladesh in international tourism lies in its natural and cultural heritage or in other words— Eco- tourism attractions. The Unique Selling Point of the country has fairly good choice that a variety of geographical features provide. Most other countries offer one or the other choice in adventure tourism, Bangladesh on the other hand, provides an unparalleled natural habitat and wild life.
People do tend to like things that they’re not going to experience somewhere else. They’re looking for things that are not homogenised, said an American tourism expert and added people are seeking a more experiential vacation.
Eco tourism adds to sustainability principles by building on geographical character to create a type of tourism that emphasizes the distinctiveness of its locale, and that benefits visitor and resident alike.
Bangladesh should develop it tourism products combining all the elements of geographical character together and create a tourist experience that is richer than the sum of its parts, appealing to visitors with diverse interests to promote and provide a distinctive, authentic visitor experience
Tourism products presented in this manner will benefit residents economically as the travel businesses do their best to use the local workforce, services, and products and supplies. On the other hand, enthusiastic visitors take back new knowledge home, telling stories that send friends and relatives off to experience the same thing—a continuing business for the destination.
Tourism products of the country must fall in the category of sustainable tourism. The core objective of sustainable tourism is –first, do no harm. It does not abuse its product—the destination. It seeks to avoid the “loved to death” syndrome. Businesses and other stakeholders anticipate development pressures and apply limits and management techniques that sustain natural habitats, heritage sites, scenic appeal, and local culture.
The approach to develop tourist products of the country should be all-inclusive, focussing not only on the environment, but also on the diversity of the cultural, historic, and scenic assets of particular region. It encourages citizens and visitors to get involved rather than remain tourism spectators, and helps build a sense of national identity and pride, stressing what is authentic and unique to the region.
This, I think will encourage businesses to sustain natural habitats, heritage sites, aesthetic appeal, and local culture. Prevent degradation by keeping volumes of tourists within maximum acceptable limits. Seek business models that can operate profitably within those limits.
It will also encourage businesses to minimise water pollution, solid waste, energy consumption, water usage, landscaping chemicals, and overly bright nighttime lighting. Advertise these measures in a way that attracts the large, environmentally sympathetic tourist market.
Now a days, people feel a growing need to get away from the pressures of their daily existence — to escape from work deadlines, phones, and e-mail-and experience life on a simpler plane. They are yearning for a journey to an exotic spot where modern human society has not displaced the indigenous lifestyle.
Bangladesh contains greater bio-diversity than many countries taken together. In addition, old-fashioned life style of the country can also be converted into highly attractive tourism products on the following lines:
Things in the field of culture and traditions to be projected are: (1) Food and drink. (2) Local agricultural products and methods. (3) Performing arts like music, dance, theater, including street performances. (4) Traditional handicrafts. (5) Festivals, including distinctive ways of celebrating national holidays should be included.
Things in the field of nature and environment to be projected are: (1) Distinctive wildlife habitat, on land or in the water. (2) Notable trees and flowers and (3) Local nature cuisine.
Things in the field of heritage to be projected are: (1) Historic sites that provide some type of interpretation or experience and (2) Archaeological sites with interpretation.
In the aesthetics field, things to be projected are spots having scenic beauty and most pleasing attraction.
The eco tourists are less demanding, more cooperative and willing to adapt to and accommodate themselves with reasonable facilities. They welcome management guidelines and abide by the rule, and regulations of the destinations, that help to reduce negative impacts of visitors on ecology and the societies they visit.
The goal of tourism development in Bangladesh should be to capture a portion of the enormous global tourism market by attracting visitors to natural areas and using the revenues, to fund local conservation and fuel economic development.
The urgent need now is to update the master plan for development of tourism. The master plan that the country now has was formulated decades ago. So, massive revision is needed to suite the need of the time as well as making the plan workable.
Despite its stunning array of natural, cultural and anthropological attractions, the wave of global tourism boom is yet to touch the shore of Bangladesh. The country’s share in the world tourism market is almost nil. Still it is generally known as a disaster prone poor improvised nation–not as tourist destination. Neglect by all the successive governments of the country and failure of national tourism organisation are to blame for this deplorable situation.
I believe, all will agree that there is great scope to combine all aspects of tourism to make tourism products of Bangladesh unique and attractive. The urgent need now is government action to develop country’s tourism under an integrated development plan.
(Former Acting Editor of now-defunct The Bangladesh Times, Raquib Siddiqui is a veteran journalist with specialisation in aviation and tourism)
-By Raquib Siddiqi