The term ‘sustainable tourism’ is a much used buzz word in world tourism. But only tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and host regions, while protecting and enhancing the area for future generations, is worthy of the term ‘sustainable tourism’. Rather than being a type of product, it is an ethos that underpins all tourism activities. As such, it must be integrated into all aspects of tourism development and management, rather than being just an add-on component.
Should these visionary words inspire practical actions in Bangladesh? Yes indeed as a sustainable tourism development highly benefit developing world countries as well as destinations with a cultural or ecological vulnerable environment. In Bangladesh examples of these vulnerable environments are the tribal cultures in Bandaban and the environmental balance in Sundarbans.
As initiator of the Views On Tourism Project, which encourage sustainable tourism in Bangladesh through online knowledge and network, I am excited to witness an emerging sustainable tourism in Bangladesh. There are many lessons to be learned from these pioneers. One example is an up-coming Panigram eco-resort in Jessore, which I visited as part of a media trip to experience what responsible hospitality and high quality customer service could be in Bangladesh.
The journey started with a drive through the gorgeous, fertile countryside followed by a short boat trip on a quiet, picturesque river. There on the riverbank, at the intersection of two rivers, was the pavilion. We were greeted by two waiters, dressed in beautiful, traditional white panjabis, who offered us a variety of homemade drinks and lemon-scented towels to wash off the journey and refresh us. I took a deep, relaxing breath and started to take in all of my impressions –would this upcoming resort be, in the true sense of the word, sustainable?
The full day program at Panigram included a walking tour of the project site, a seven course lunch at a beautifully decorated table with a river view, boat and rickshaw tours of the countryside, and an evening snack that we enjoyed from our hammocks while watching the sunset. The values of sustainability and excellent service were striking in even the smallest details. Panigram’s developer, Kristin Boekhoff, presented all of us with gift baskets filled with items that highlighted some of the resort’s sustainable aspects. Examples included:
• A small pottery vase that was made in a nearby pottery village. Panigram hopes to work with the pottery village (which is just a fifteen minute walk from the resort) to develop modern designs derived from village-style pottery that can be used in the restaurant and sold in the gift shop at fair trade prices.
• An elaborate hand fan made from palm leaf. Beautiful, high quality fans in Bangladesh are slowly being replaced by the cheap, mass-produced, low-quality variety. Panigram is working with a pakha village near the resort to revive this art that is slowly dying out.
• Fruits grown in the area. The resort will be built on sixty bighas (20 acres) of land. There will be extensive organic gardens where fruits and vegetables will be grown to be used in the restaurant. This will be supplemented with produce from the local farmers whom Panigram hopes to share their environmentally friendly organic farming techniques with.
• The gift basket itself was made by a socially responsible craft company in Jessore that trains and employs impoverished rural women.
Panigram is currently under development; its anticipated opening is in mid-2011 and construction is expected to start in the spring. The resort will bill itself as “a taste of Bangladeshi village life” and managed both environmentally sustainable as well as socially responsible.
The architectural design will be done by award-winning Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum and built from mud and bamboo – ancient, local building materials that are extremely sustainable. Alternative energy, composting, organic farming, and grey water recycling are just a few of the eco-friendly aspects of the resort.
The resort will obvious employ many of the local villagers, but just as important for the local employment rate is the cooperation with the community to develop ancillary businesses that will cater to the resort and the burgeoning tourist market it will create. It is the vision that the local community will offer activities that savvy tourists would enjoy – like fishing with a local fisherman, taking a class in the pottery village, and boating on the river.
Along with other local tourism pioneers Panigram is a sustainable best practice, which will hopefully inspire others and demonstrate that Bangladesh can have a tourism industry that is both sustainable and profitable.
Though Bangladesh is still in the nascent stages of developing an international tourism industry, responsible hospitality could be one solution to the many social and environmental challenges that the country is currently facing. Social and environmental sustainability would fit in much better with the local culture and environment than typical “big box” hotels with discotheques and casinos would.
Writer, Majbritt Thomsen can be reached by e-mail email@example.com. Her Views On Tourism Project, which encourage a sustainable tourism movement in Bangladesh through knowledge and network, is accessible at www.viewsontourism.info
Panigram information can be found on the website: www.panigram.com. Inquiries can be addressed to Kristin Boekhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.