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Bangladeshi tourism has so much potential – if the right actions are taken

The presence of tourism in any destination always brings with it environmental and socio-cultural as well as economic impacts. This is why tourism internationally is often praised as an effective development tool, especially in rural areas and the developing world. A sustainable tourism development would no doubt have a major positive impact in Bangladesh.

Since the 1990s tourism has been a small but rapidly growing sector of the national economy. Nevertheless, Bangladesh is still one of the countries in the South Asian region with the least arrivals and the lowest revenue earned from the tourism industry. Sustainable tourism initiatives exist and demand is increasing, but sustainable tourism management is not widespread in the sector.

In 2008 World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), an international business leader forum, predicted that the Bangladeshi contribution from national Travel & Tourism to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will stay at 4% from 2009 to 2019. I 2009 these 4 percentage is expected to account for 244,8 billion Taka, which by 2019 will increase to 711,3 billion Taka. The Real GDP growth for the Bangladeshi Travel & Tourism Economy is hereby expected to be 3.5% in 2009 and increase to average 6.0% per annum over the next 10 years.
The low national travel and tourism investment is one obvious development obstacles. According the same WTTC report the Bangladeshi travel and tourism capital investment out of total investment 2009-2019 will drop from 4,1% to 3,9%. In 2009 this same period average South Asian investment is 7,7%, with no ten year forecast data available. Average figures for world travel and tourism investment capital out of total investment is 9,4% in 2009 and 9,3% in 2019.

Despite poor forecasts and multiple sector obstacles, several international players have highlighted Bangladesh as a desired tourism destination during the last couple of years. In terms of positive national tourism branding this kind of publicity is not even possible to buy for money.

1: Lonely Planet, which is in the world’s absolute leader in publishing travel guides and guidebooks, recommended Bangladesh in 2008 as one of the top ten interesting travel destination in 2009.

‘Let’s get this straight from the start. Bangladesh is not the country of disappointment as portrayed in ‘Brick Lane’ or by the international media, nor is it merely the poorly endowed cousin of India. Instead Bangladesh is a revelation that actually leaves India looking a little worse for a wear. Any visitor who ventures here will return home with stories so improbable that claiming you have a pet unicorn is likely to be met with fewer disbelieving shakes of the head.’

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009, p 6.

2: The publication of two Bangladeshi travel guides from successful international publishers.
The first Bradt travel guide on Bangladesh was published October 2009. This UK publisher is known as a pioneer in tackling ‘unusual’ destinations, for championing the causes of sustainable travel and for the high quality of writing. The back cover text states:

“Bangladesh has a reputation for being poor and beset by flooding, but this ‘republic of rivers’ rewards those willing to look beyond the headlines. […] Leave luxuries behind and embark on the richest of travel experiences among some of the sub-continent’s friendliest people”.

Lonely Planet published their 5th edition of their Bangladeshi travel guide in 2008, with the following introduction

“For all of its forests, temples, mosques, islands and beaches, the highlight of Bangladesh is Bangladesh” (p. 3).

3: The online worldwide New7Wonders of Nature campaign started in 2007 with more than 440 candidate locations from 220 countries. Represented Bangladeshi locations were Sundarbans, a mangrove forest already nominated a UNESCO heritage site, and Cox’s Bazar beach. By global voting and expert selection the candidates have been narrowed down two times in July 2009 to 77 and 28 candidates. Sundarbans is still in the competition and voting will continue throughout 2010 and into 2011 to narrow down the candidates to 7. The winner of New7Wonders of Nature will be found during 2011.

Let there be no doubt, national as well as international; the Bangladesh tourism sector has indeed potential and a sustainable tourism development in Bangladesh is possible if will, knowledge, action and investment are joined. These are profound convictions of Majbritt Thomsen, a Danish expatriate with a MA in tourism, two years of living and traveling in Bangladesh, a study done on the potential of the Bangladeshi tourism sector for the Royal Danish Embassy, Dhaka, and contact with a variety of people related to the national tourism sector. This experience has showed her over and over again that there are many professional, motivated and visionary people, who can play an important role in a sustainable tourism development in Bangladesh.

The biggest barrier to a positive development of the Bangladeshi tourism sector, according to Majbritt Thomsen, is the lack of a consistent tourism vision based on cooperation, knowledge and sustainability. Late 2008 she launched the voluntary Views On Tourism Project, with an objective to facilitate Bangladeshi access to tourism knowledge and networking. A online knowledge base now consist of national, regional and international tourism knowledge, through more than 200 articles, 70 resource links and an overview of the national tourism players. A LinkedIn network group furthermore unites professional people, who are interested or related to the Bangladeshi tourism sector.
The long-term vision for the Views On Tourism Project is to create an active and innovating sustainable tourism movement. Activities, cooperation and services should aim at building tourism sector capacity as well as providing benefits not only for people who travel, but also for people in the communities they visit, and for their respective natural, social and cultural environments.

Writer: Majbritt Thomsen
LinkedIn network group: Views On Tourism

This article was published in CanCham Review by Canada Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CanCham), Bangladesh. May 2010.

Please join the online Views On Tourism network and discussion group in order to achieve personal goals as well as encourage a sustainable tourism development in Bangladesh. Read more about this group and how to become a member here.

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Posted in Bangladesh, Cooperation and network, Development, Sustainability.

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