Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bangladesh’s tourism: A goldmine kept in the dark by deliberate neglect

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and for Bangladesh the adage is universally true. Bangladesh is a gifted landmark on Earth blessed with a serene beauty of six distinguished seasons. The beautiful landmass is crisscrossed by over 700 rivers making it more fertile and easy-going both for its people and visitors. The Himalayan hilly landmass finally slopes down to the flat plains of Bangladesh and ends at the Bay of Bengal, creating a vivid kaleidoscope of landscapes, historical sites, golden beaches and hospitable and colorful people rich in culture and festivities. Natural phenomena include hills and vales, forests, rivers, beaches, lakes and an ever green landscape which is not just eye-soothing, but an ideal place for mental refreshment and perpetual peace.

The country and its moderate people are always welcoming to visitors and tourists with smile and traditional hospitality. The land of beauty offers an amazing diversity of nature and its diverse population rich in heritage and culture a tourist would love to encounter and enjoy during holiday.

Throughout the six seasons – summer, winter, spring, rainy, autumn, late autumn – the country offers many fascinating, eye-soothing events and things to see and exciting things to do. The country’s west, north and most of the east are bounded by India, the southeast by Myanmer and the south by the Bay of Bengal.

In the country’s southeastern part - Chittagong and three hill districts - Bandorban, Rangamati, Khagrachhari – offers a hilly terrain with deep forest and greenery in the horizon 700 meters above sea level. The hilly area offers natural reserve forests like Dula Hazra in Chokoria (1.5 hours north from Cox’s Bazar), Shitakundo Echo Park (37km east from Chittagong), Bashkhali Echo Park (60km South from Cittagong city), Publakhali Obhoyaronno (Reserve Forest, 112 km away from Rangamati), Himchori (5km south from Cox’s Bazar city) and several waterfalls. A boat cruise along Kaptai Lake is a photographer’s dream-come-true with mind blowing scenic beauty, local culture and viewing rare exotic birds.

Further south is the world’s longest natural, uninterrupted beach at Cox’s Bazaar. Viewing the sunset and have a long drive along the Cox’s Bazar coastline could be a life-time’s experience any body could desire. Miles of golden sands, towering cliffs, surfing waves, rare shells, colourful Pagodas (Buddhist Temples) and delightful sea-food -- all these make Cox’s Bazar one of the most attractive tourist spots in the world. The world’s longest uninterrupted (125km) beach slops here down to the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal against picturesque background of a chain of hills covered with deep green forests. Inani Beach, within Ukhia Thana, 35 km to the south of Cox's Bazar, casts a music spell on anyone stepping on to its fine golden sands.

Kuakata, another rare scenic spot on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh, is located at a distance of 70 km from the Patuakhali district headquarters. This is the only beach that offers the rare opportunity to
enjoy both the sunrise and sunset from the same spot on earth.

Located about 320km south-west of Dhaka and spread over an area of about 60000 sq km of deltaic swamps along the coastal belt of Khulna, the Sundarbans is the world's largest mangrove forest - the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Karamjol is the entrance point of Sunderban which is 5 km from Mongla Port. Another eye catching place is Kotka, which is 100 km away from Mongla. Dublar Char, 25 km away from Kotka, is also a beautiful place for traveling. The dense mangrove forests are crisscrossed by a network of rivers and creeks and a natural habitat of many reptiles and exotic animals.

Blessed with a beautiful and bountiful nature, Sylhet is the land of Hazrat Shahjalal (RA), a Sufi saint laid to eternal peace here. It is also the land of famous tea gardens and a popular tourist destination of the country. Sylhet is ringed by low hills on northern and southern boundaries of the country. These are the foot hills of the Khasia and Jaintia hilly range. Sylhet is dotted with lakes, thick forests and fruit gardens abound in wildlife. Madhabkunda waterfall situated in the east of Sylhet, Lawacherra rain forest which is 8km east from Srimangal, Shatchori which is 60km off to south-west from Srimongal are the most attractive tourist spots.

Jaflong is one of the most attractive tourist spots in Sylhet division. It's about 60 km far from Sylhet town and the other visiting place is Tamabil which is the border area with India and is 05 km before Jaflong. The reserved forests have different species of birds and animals and ideal for bird watching and trekking. The greater Sylhet region is also a land of Haors (big water bodies and marshlands) among them one is Hakaluki Haor in Shunamgan, Tangua etc.

Bangladesh is enriched with many historical and archaeological places.About eight km to the west of Comilla town and 114 km South-east of Dhaka lies the low hills known as Mainamati-Lalmai ridge an extensive centre of Buddhist culture. Located at a distance of 18 km north of Bogra town, Mahasthanragh is the oldest archaeological site of Bangladesh on the western bank of river Karatoa. The spectacular site is an imposing landmark in the area having a fortified long enclosure.

Paharpur is a small village 5 km west of Jamalganj railway station in the greater Rajshahi district where the remains of the most important and the largest known monastery, south of the Himalayas has been excavated. This 8th century AD archaeological find covers approximately an area of 27 acres of land. The entire establishment, occupying a quadrangular court, measuring more than 900 ft and from 12 ft to 15 ft in height with elaborate gateway complex on the north, there are 45 cells on the north and 44 in each of other three sides with a total number of 177 rooms. The architecture of the pyramidal cruciform temple is profoundly influenced by those of south-east Asia, especially Myanmar and Java. It had taken its name from a high mound, which like Pahar or hillock. All these places represent the ancient histories of golden times.

Parjatan (Tourism) is a multidimensional and developing industry which has been recognized as a fast exploring business sector in the world. The tourism sector of Bangladesh is full of prospects and possibilities as Bangladesh is a land of attractive natural beauties and ancient historic places. But this sector can not come forward because the lack of proper patronization, focus of government and positive attempts of private sectors. It is sad but true that we have passed 37 years of independence but still this tourism sector is facing hostile atmosphere. National Tourism Policy has been compiled in the year 1992 but unfortunately only one meeting has been held since then, holding back the prospect of the sector. So, despite high sounding words from time to time by government high-ups, the tourism gold mine remains untapped.

Bangladesh government high-ups admit that Parjaton industry can add immense values in our economy but they don’t take systematic steps necessary for flourishing this sector. Tourism in many countries in the world like the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, France, Germany, Russia, Britain is the most money-spinning business where as Bangladesh has resources but we are still failing to utilize it due to lack of proper efforts and planning.

In this sector ventures to attract world tourists, we are really at a very nascent stage. Bangladesh still lacks proper publicity of its treasure trove to make the country known to the world as an attractive place on earth to visit, shunning the old and negative image that portrays Bangladesh as a land of poverty, hunger and flood. Although the country is a place of diversity and land of natural beauty, Bangladesh often gets only negative publicity in international media and for changing the scenario Bangladesh government must take special efforts to change the international media posture by media blitz and positive campaign and road shows highlighting its positive happenings and unique events.

Local media, both print and electronics, should be encouraged to portray a positive Bangladesh and help publicize its local culture, heritage and off course tourist attraction points and the facilities and privileges they can have at this moderate Muslim country which is highly hospitable and tolerant to other religion and cultural practices.

Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, regulating body for the tourism sector, has been formed in the year 1972 and it started its activities from the year 1973. Then the purpose of the Parjatan Corporation was to expand tourism industry, to create a positive world image about Bangladesh, to flourish and develop the tourist spots, to build up potential human resource, to ensure the tourists all the facilities in the tourist spots and last but not the least to contribute a good significant amount in national GDP. Though planning was good but Parjatan Corporation so far failed to perform at per in publicizing about its resources and create facilities deemed necessary for attracting tourists and flourishing the industry. Most tourist spots still lack proper facilities, security and tourist friendly atmosphere.

Still even most Bangladeshis are ignorant about our natural resources and beauties, let alone the foreigners. High-ups at the concerned authorities have been repeatedly failing to take timely and tourist-friendly steps like easy visa processing for tourists, providing proper security at different spots, welcoming atmosphere and entertaining spirits. The corporation have no will force even to introduce new places, to renovate heritage sites and preserve those. The Parjatan Corporation also lacks proper advertisement campaign, transport system linking the tourist sites, sufficient accommodation facilities, tour guides, organized tour programmes and centrally controlled and

organized entertaining event management and amusement facilities deemed necessary for attracting tourists. The major hindrance is still the hassle some visa procedures which is no way friendly to the foreign tourists. So, it is quite difficult to attract tourists’ attention with all these lacking and hindrance along with the negative image in world media.

But we have not yet lost all our hopes as the caretaker government has taken an revolutionary step for the manifestation of tourism industry. The government has come up with new ideas and seeking the cooperation of private sectors to help implement those as the government alone can no way do all the things including creation of infrastructural facilities at all the tourist sites with the limited government resources and funding.

Bangladesh Parjaton Corporation is now moving ahead with massive privatization plan to woo private sector and offering them massive incentives if they come up with investment proposals for creating infrastructure and facilities for tourist and visitors. Recently a roundtable titled ‘Responsibilities of leading business to flourish the country’s tourism industry’ is organized jointly by FBCCI and Bangladesh Wonders Promotion Associations to throw light on this matter. The outcome of this meeting is the establishment of a new authority named National Parjaton Board in stead of Parjaton Corporation, which will be patronized by both government and private sectors.

The FBCCI Chairman Anisul Haque , in this meeting, said that our tourism sector should be developed for the sake of economy. If this ordinance finds systematic implementation, no doubt, it will encourage the private participation in Parjaton industry and will enrich economy as well. The other reason for why tourism need special attention is that the top position of Cox’s Bazar and the Sundarbans in seven natural wonders competition proves that Bangladesh is not less enriched than other countries in the world .Just we need proper preservation and maintenance. Parjaton, now-a-days, has enormous scope to add value in our country and economy as well. The statistics showed that from the year 1950 to 2007 the tourist growth rate was 6.5 percent and this volume could be raised to much higher level and tourist arrival could be raised to 160 crore bt the year 2020. So, the country could can earn a lot and contribute to the overall growth of the national economy.

Moreover, this sector could create 29 crore 70 lakhs jobs and employment opportunities and can contribute significantly to the national economy. All these can be possible if both the government and private sectors move jointly and come up with new ideas and create new and attractive facilities for tourists and take systematic effort for the expansion of tourism industry.

Recently we’ve celebrated World Tourism Day on September 27 and this time the slogan of this day was ‘Tourism Responding to the Challenge of the Climate Change’ highlighting the adverse effect of the global worming and the boosting the increasing trend of the eco-tourism, which again created an immense opportunity for eco-tourist attractions Bangladesh already have. On the occasion Bangladesh Parjaton Corporation organized some programme like exhibition of photos, posters, handbook and brochures which will introduce several tourist spots to the people and world audience as well if electronics media come up with attractive programmes to highlight the events and spots of eco-tourism. Encouraging local people to know all the tourist spots and events and regular visit by them could immensely helpful in boosting the sector and economy. Most interestingly local tourist boost will help attract foreign tourists. And now in the age of information and globalization, the right move and some positives outlook about the country in local media, special programmes on TV channels on tourist spots and their facilities, positive Internet campaign like vote for Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar, Sundarbans in natural wonders competition, and publicizing the moderate posture of its Muslim population and their hospitality can do a lot in image boosting for the country and this could prove definitely a positive boost for the global audience making in roads for foreign tourist arrivals.Finally the future of Bangladesh’s tourism relies heavily on the efficient management and development process of government-private sector cooperation and proper planning and the right move for implementing the plans and visualizing the dreams for the global audience through tactful and attractive media blitz.

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