Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New law to boost tourism

The government is considering approval of the Bangladesh Tourism Ordinance 2008 by June, says Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister GM Quader.

“The government sincerely wants to reform the entire tourism industry, so it can perform as a strong revenue generating sector like in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. These countries have rapidly changed the face of their economies by exploring tourism,” he tells The Daily Star, at his office.

“The government is set to present the Bangladesh Tourism Ordinance 2008 in the next parliament session by May to reform the entire tourism sector,” he adds.

“The National Tourism Board will be formed on the basis of the proposed tourism law. It was approved with minor modifications in the cabinet meeting at the end of February,” he says. “Now it is a matter of time to enact a new law.”

Quader says the main task of the board would be to develop a public-private partnership to help flourish the sector and encourage local and foreign investment.

He says the responsibilities of the board would include monitoring the performance of the business units run by Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation and also the units that have been leased out to private management companies.

Quader says the National Tourism Board would be an autonomous body. Tourism experts, researchers and stakeholders, from both the public and private sectors, would manage the board.

The board will have representation from different government ministries, such as home, civil aviation and tourism, environment and public works, and various private sector entrepreneurs, including tour operators, travel agencies, transport and guide services, he says.

An executive director would be appointed by the government to oversee the board activities to better the tourism industry.

Under the ordinance, all agencies and enterprises involved in tourism will be mandated to register with the board.

“Registration would be mandatory for all, as it is very important for the government to ensure the quality of services and monitor the performance of all the groups,” says Quader. “Registration will also prevent illegal acts by some fake organisations and prevent any violation of public interest.”

Meanwhile, the government decided to issue on-arrival visas to tourists to encourage more foreigners to visit the country, he says.

“Tourists wiling to visit Bangladesh often face difficulties obtaining a visa. This lack of on-arrival visas ultimately lowers revenue from the tourism industry,” Quader says.

“We discussed early this month the issue of introducing on-arrival visas for foreign tourists at the cabinet meeting. We decided to initiate the system soon,” he says.

The on-arrival visa system would initially be applicable to tourists from 30 countries, including the Saarc nations, he says.

“If we can ease visa complicacies, we hope to increase the number of foreign tourists and revenue from the sector,” he adds.

He says the government is also set to develop a new website that will provide tourists with necessary information regarding tourist spots, accommodation, transport fare and security.

GM Quader admits the tourism sector is deeply problem ridden and needs massive reformation. “Since the beginning, the sector suffers from a lack of planning and adequate funds.”

“In the past, the sector was neglected most of the time. Neither the problems were pinpointed nor any solutions figured out,” he says.

“There are major shortcomings in exploring all the potential tourist destinations. For that, we have to initiate major drives to first identify and then promote the spots,” he tells The Daily Star.

To overcome some of the problems, he suggests, “We need to introduce multi-dimensional tourism by exploring new places with specific drives, such as religion, nature and archaeology.”

This sector also suffers due to a lack of proper infrastructure, he feels.

“The roads and communication systems linking many tourists spots are in disarray. A lack of adequate accommodation and low security measures have also restrained the sector's growth,” he adds.

“Time and budgetary allocations are needed to develop infrastructure,” he says.

Quader, who graduated in mechanical engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 1969, says, “It's difficult to overcome all these problems overnight, but we have to overcome them to boost the industry.”

He says bureaucratic problems shadow every decision-making and implementation process, as several ministries are involved.

However, he vows to reduce the bureaucratic difficulties and strengthen communication between different ministries and other related organisations.

He finally urges the media and entrepreneurs for organising campaigns and promotional activities at home and abroad to further develop the sector.

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