Every year, the United Nations celebrates World Tourism Day on September 27. This year the theme of the day is “Tourism opens doors for women.” The theme means that tourism is a sector of the economy that not only employs significant numbers of women, but also provides enormous opportunities for their advancement.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals speaks of gender equality, which has been targeted to be achieved by the year of 2015. Economic emancipation of women through creating employment for them is one of the preconditions to be met to achieve gender equality by that time.
Tourism creates employment for both sexes. According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the tourism industry accounts for 11% of total global employment. It is said that every twelve tourists create a new job. Unfortunately, tourism is one of the most neglected sectors in Bangladesh, though there is no lack of lip service on the part of the government.
In fact, government high-ups and policy makers have hazy as well as negative ideas about tourism. They firmly believe that to attract foreign tourists to Bangladesh, the country needs to have nightlife facilities, bars, massage parlours etc., as if these are the essence of tourism.
One of our ex-state ministers for tourism said in a seminar that tourists would come to Bangladesh if the price of alcoholic beverages could be brought down. One ex-finance minister of the country said in a meeting, “Tourist-ra kee Bangladeshe milad porte aibo?” (Will tourists come to Bangladesh to attend milad?) He was indicating the lack of western style nightlife in Bangladesh.
With this sort of idea, our government policy makers have set their minds on setting-up an exclusive tourist zone near Cox’s Bazaar, with all nightlife facilities, where domestic tourists will not be allowed.
To change this mindset, our government policy makers need to know that at present the number of international eco-tourists is more than one hundred million; and they are not after the nightlife in the country, which they go to visit. These eco-tourists visit a country only to experience the nature, culture, and heritage of that country.
The number of eco-tourists in the world has been increasing by more than ten percent a year. Initially, Bangladesh may set its target to attract one million eco-tourists a year. To achieve that target, it will have to chalk out a down-to-earth tourism marketing strategy and go for aggressive marketing in countries, which produce most of the outbound tourists.
Only fifteen countries produce 80% of the total international outbound tourists. These countries are to be the focal points of our tourism marketing.
In 1998, Cambodia received ninety-six thousand tourists, in that year Bangladesh received one hundred fifty thousand tourists. In 2006, Cambodia received about two million tourists and Bangladesh, two hundred thousand. The only tourism product in Cambodia is its cultural heritage, and the Angkor Wat — an 11th century temple. Cambodia earned $1 billion from tourism in 2006, while Bangladesh earned $89 million.
Last year, Malaysia received more than thirteen million tourists. A few days back, I had a talk with a lady from Uzbekistan. She did her Masters in tourism from Scotland, and spent three years in Malaysia, working there as a teacher.
I asked her how she would compare Bangladesh with Malaysia from the tourism perspective. She said: “What does Malaysia have except some beaches? But Bangladesh has so many tourism attractions.” I don’t know whether she was trying to make me happy, but I agree with her on the point that Bangladesh has so many world-class eco-tourism attractions.
Even our conception about the development of tourism in the country is not clear. We want to develop tourism in Bangladesh so that the country can earn foreign exchange from the tourists who will come to visit our country.
Nowadays different organisations often organise tourism fairs in Bangladesh, in which mainly outbound tour packages are sold. Sending tourists from Bangladesh to other countries cannot be treated as the development of tourism in our country.
These fairs are sellers’ fairs in character from the perspective of Bangladesh because the foreign exhibitors or their counterparts in Bangladesh sell outbound tour packages, and only a few offer domestic tour packages. Instead of helping the country to earn foreign currency through tourism, the sellers’ fairs help in depletion of the foreign exchange reserve of the country.
We need buyers’ fairs, where foreign buyers (travel agents) will come to Bangladesh to get offers of tour packages, so that they may send tourists to our country. If we cannot arrange this type of fair, then it is better for our country that we refrain from organising sellers’ fairs. With insignificant foreign exchange reserve, Bangladesh cannot have the luxury of encouraging its people to go for holidays outside the country.
Anybody has the legal right to organise a sellers’ tourism fair; but they must not say that they are organising this sort of fair for the development of tourism in the country. Unfortunately, in the inaugural ceremony, the chief guest and special guest, who are usually from the government, as well as the organisers, speak of the development of tourism in Bangladesh, which sounds odd on such an occasion.
Let us be more practical about the development of tourism in the country; let us develop it in the true sense, so that it contributes valuable foreign exchange to our state coffer, and help to develop the economy of the country.
Writer, Faruque Hasan, is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star, Bangladesh.
The article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.