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Bangladesh tourism industry: Opportunities and challenges galore

Bangladesh, a country that boasts of an extensive cotton readymade industry that clocked around $40 billion in valuation in FY 2021, has been struggling to attract tourists, despite having the potential in terms of geography, climate and sites. Despite its attractions, the sector faces numerous challenges that hinder its growth. Inadequate infrastructure, outdated communication systems, limited accommodation options, safety concerns, and political instability discourage both domestic and international tourists from exploring the country’s wonders. There are, however, numerous opportunities in the country for religious tourism, sports tourism, eco-tourism, educational tourism, spa tourism, rural tourism, and cultural tourism. Unfortunately, the industry lacks the necessary research and strategic planning to fully harness its potential. It is important to understand Bangladesh’s significant tourist sites, the impact of tourism on its economy, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the sector.

Opportunities abound in tourism sector in Bangladesh

According to Opportunities and the Challenges of Tourism Industry in Bangladesh, published in Livelihood Enhancement Through Agriculture, Tourism and Health, in January 2022, Bangladesh, with its breathtaking natural scenery and rich heritage, possesses immense potential for tourism development. However, the industry has struggled to reach its full potential due to various challenges. The country boasts three world heritage sites: the Sundarban mangrove forest, Shatgombuj Mosque, and Paharpur Buddhist Vihara.

According to the authors, visitors, both domestic and international, are drawn to Bangladesh’s captivating beauty and diverse tourist sites. The sector faces numerous hurdles such as inadequate infrastructure, outdated communication systems, limited accommodation options, safety concerns, a lack of professionalism, lengthy visa processing, and political instability, dissuading travellers from exploring the country’s attractions. While tourism offers socio-economic and environmental benefits, uncontrolled mass tourism can have negative social impacts.

The paper also stresses that religious tourism; sports tourism, eco-tourism, educational tourism, spa tourism, rural tourism, and cultural tourism are among the opportunities available. However, a lack of research and strategic planning hinders the development of Bangladesh’s tourism industry.

Developing Bangladesh as a “destination”

An article published in the African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, published in 2019 stresses developing Bangladesh as a destination, competing with other countries and offering similar facilities. According to the authors, the growing importance of shopping opportunities for tourists is significantly influencing their choice of destinations. The availability of key shopping resources makes a destination more attractive and competitive.

In Bangladesh, Jamuna Future Park and Bashundhara City stand out as the country’s two largest shopping malls, offering a wide range of products. The cultural similarities between Bangladesh and Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state, contribute to this perceived preference, especially in terms of language. However, destination image can be slow to change, even if the reality no longer aligns with a positive or negative perception.

Highlighting the challenges faced by the tourism sector, the authors argue that despite these advantages, the current state of tourism infrastructure and accessibility in Bangladesh falls short compared to competing nations. Immediate upgrades are necessary to improve the situation and accommodate a greater number of tourists without compromising modern amenities. The paper also highlights the establishment of more five-star hotels and resorts to meet international standards is essential for ensuring high-quality accommodation.

Developing fisheries-based ecotourism in Bangladesh

According to the authors of the 2021 paper, Fishery-Based Ecotourism in Developing Countries Can Enhance the Social-Ecological Resilience of Coastal Fishers—A Case Study of Bangladesh published in The Blue Economy: Evaluating the Human Benefits from and Pressures on Marine and Coastal Environments, developing fisheries based ecotourism is viable in Bangladesh. The authors argue that as tourists seek more authentic experiences beyond the traditional sun, sand, and sea packages, fishing tourism has gained traction in recent years. Combining recreational fishing with cultural heritage, this emerging sector offers a unique appeal to travellers. For professional fishermen, it serves as a means to increase income, promote their craft and socio-cultural heritage, and encourage sustainable use of marine ecosystems while providing tourists access to fishing vessels.

As Bangladesh strives to develop its tourism industry, it is crucial to address the challenges and seize the opportunities at hand. Infrastructure improvements and the establishment of more high-quality accommodations are necessary to accommodate the growing number of visitors. Bangladesh can position itself as an attractive and competitive destination, showcasing its natural wonders, cultural heritage, and unique experiences to visitors from around the world.

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