The tourism sector, though looking up given the rising trend in its contribution to the GDP, which was 4.4 per cent in 2018, is yet to grow into a full-fledged service industry. While travel and tourism have over the past few years grown into a major engine of employment generation globally with its share of 20 jobs out of every 100 created, it is time Bangladesh took a fresh resolve to exploit the sector's potential to the fullest.
The country is situated at the vantage point between the South and the Southeast Asia and endowed with the world's longest unbroken sandy sea beach and the unique natural scenic panorama including the Sundarbans. With its people having diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds, its historical sites and archaeological treasure-trove bearing marks that hark back to a past long lost and relics of ancient kingdoms stretching far back into antiquity - all of these features point to Bangladesh's inexhaustible potential as a destination of choice for tourists, both foreign and local.
As told by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), this sector provided nearly 2.5 million jobs to the employment market of the country in 2018 with the projection that it would have by now added 30 per cent more jobs till the end of 2019. The contribution is expected to touch the figure of 6.8 per cent of the GDP in 2028, if the present trend continues. The trend so far gives reason to be encouraged, but not enough to be upbeat about, taking into account the range of untapped possibilities that it holds. The need is to allow the tourism sector a full play based on a reappraisal of its strengths and weaknesses in order that its best face can be put forward. Intrinsically, the tourists have to be attracted to the ecological, cultural, educative and recreational values embedded in the modern version of tourism.
It is reassuring that responsible people in the government at a recent city event did come up with the idea of preparing with the help of local and foreign experts a 'tourism master plan' to identify the problems afflicting the industry. For the traditional approach now in practice has proven inadequate to conform to the demands of the time. A comprehensive and well-coordinated plan is essential to promote and strengthen the sector, if the country is to draw the attention of global tourists.
Surprisingly, Bangladesh, whose people are known worldwide for their hospitality and friendliness towards foreign visitors, has been trailing behind many of its Southeast Asian neighbours such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in tourism business. Evidently, the fact that our people have an inbuilt capacity for treating foreigners as friends and are hospitable towards them does not automatically turn this cultural asset into something business-worthy. To overcome the threshold, what is vital is to design an appropriate marketing strategy to turn it into business. The media, the relevant government directorate and the private sector need to work together to package the unique characteristics of Bangladesh's nature, people, culture and history as a brand and sell it to the world at large. To this end, in addition to the suggested tourism master plan and the idea of establishing tourism-based economic zones (EZs), there should also be some fiscal measures like cash incentive, tax holiday, VAT exemption for private operators for the sector to become marketable, competitive and viable.