The global tourism industry stands out as a pivotal economic force, recognized for its significant impact worldwide. In the contemporary context, tourism serves as a primary driver of socio-economic progress. Bangladesh, endowed with unparalleled natural diversity, emerges as a distinctive destination on the global stage. The country holds vast potential for the development of its tourism sector, making it a key player in the pursuit of economic growth and prosperity.
The tourism industry stands globally as the largest single sector, universally acknowledged for its significance. Across the world, tourism has evolved into a primary focus for numerous countries. In 1950, global tourist numbers were a mere 25 million, surging to approximately 1,235 million in 2016. Projections for this year estimate a staggering 1.395 billion tourists worldwide, highlighting a nearly 50-fold increase over the past 67 years. This growth not only expands the horizons of tourism but also amplifies its economic impact. Economic, social, and infrastructural advancements are tangible outcomes of the surge in tourism. In 2017, tourism contributed 10.4% to the global GDP, a figure expected to rise to 11.7% by 2027. The financial landscape further underscores this, with tourist expenditure totaling $1,894.2 billion in 2017 and a corresponding $882.4 billion invested in tourism during the same period. This data paints a comprehensive picture of the pivotal role tourism plays in driving economic development on a global scale.
Bangladesh currently lags slightly behind the global standards in the tourism industry. In 2017, the contribution of the tourism sector to Bangladesh’s GDP reached Tk 850.7 billion, fostering the creation of 2.43 million jobs. During the same period, investments in the country’s tourism sector amounted to 43 billion rupees. While precise figures are not available, an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists visited Bangladesh last year. Additionally, around 40 million domestic tourists explored various destinations within the country during the same period.
Bangladesh boasts incredible natural beauty, with diverse attractions such as the Sundarban, the world’s largest mangrove forest, Cox’s Bazar, home to the world’s longest beach, the scenic Chittagong Hill Tracts, and the lush forests of Sylhet. Cox’s Bazar beach, spanning 120 km, stands out as the longest continuous beach globally, devoid of mud. Its unique features make it more significant than beaches in other countries, holding immense tourism potential. Ongoing initiatives, like the construction of an 80 km marine drive from Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf, aim to enhance the city’s appeal to both domestic and international tourists. The government’s plans include the establishment of three tourist parks-Sabrang Tourism Park, Naf Tourism Park, and Sonadia Eco Tourism Park-to attract visitors worldwide, contributing an estimated additional $200 billion to the economy annually.
Sundarban, renowned as the world’s largest mangrove forest, encompasses a vast area of 6017 square kilometers, with 60 percent situated in Bangladesh and the remainder in India. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the Sundarban stands out not only for its natural resources but also for its unparalleled biodiversity, setting it apart as a distinctive global tourist destination. Comprising a intricate network of small islands, ocean currents, canals, rivers, mudflats, and mangrove forests with varying salinity, this unique ecosystem is closely linked with the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger. Inhabitants of the Sundarban include diverse animal species such as spotted deer, crocodiles, dolphins, and various birds and snakes, adding to its allure.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts, also known as the hill region of Bangladesh, encompass three main districts- Rangamati, Khagrachari, and Bandarban. Positioned in the southeast of Bangladesh, this area holds immense tourism potential. Its allure emanates from the lush greenery embraced by rolling hills, crafting a mesmerizing tableau that transforms with the changing seasons. Winter paints a picture of mist-covered mountains and the warmth of the golden sun, while the monsoons bring a lively display of greenery, breathing new life into the surroundings. Adventure seekers often explore these hills during the monsoons, witnessing the transformation of lakes and rivers. Additionally, the distinct lifestyle of the hill people, markedly different from our own, contributes to the region’s unique charm.
Sylhet, a region in Bangladesh, is renowned for its abundant natural charm. Notably, it boasts the subcontinent’s first and largest tea garden, Malnichhara tea garden. Visitors are captivated by attractions such as Jaflong, known as the queen of beauty, Niland with its crystal-clear waters, the stunning Bichanakandi adorned with flowing stone water, Pangthumai waterfall cascading down the mountains, the enchanting Swamp Forest Ratargul, the ‘Mini Cox’s Bazar’ Hakaluki, and the alluring beauty of Kanaighat.
The Haor area in Bangladesh, composed of seven districts including Sunamganj, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Netrokona, Sylhet, Kishoreganj, and Brahmanbaria, spans 423 haors across 784,000 hectares of wetlands. This vast expanse, reminiscent of an ocean, exudes majestic beauty. Exploring the Haor’s charm involves leisurely boat rides over the expansive blue waters. Visitors are captivated by the natural allure, featuring border rivers, mountains, mountain springs, Hijal and Karach forests, diverse flora, aquatic life, and the vibrant livelihoods of Haor’s residents.
Bangladesh holds significant untapped potential in its tourism sector. However, a lack of systematic planning hinders its growth. A cohesive, integrated strategy is essential for the industry’s advancement, requiring collaboration among all stakeholders. Prioritizing both domestic and international tourism promotion is crucial. Concurrently, fostering skilled human resources is vital for sustainable growth. With a well-executed action plan, the tourism sector has the potential to significantly contribute to Bangladesh’s economic and social development.
Government sponsorship is imperative for the growth of Bangladesh’s tourism industry, coupled with a focus on attracting foreign investment and fostering an investment-friendly environment. Ongoing government initiatives are progressively implementing diverse development plans, notably improving the transportation system in recent years. With Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina securing her fourth consecutive term in 2024, the vision of a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ under the Digital Bangladesh initiative is unfolding. This strategic direction is expected to propel the tourism sector forward, with experts anticipating increased investor interest in the near future.
Author’s bio: Tajul Islam, a senior journalist and Special Correspondent of Weekly Blitz writes on a broad-range of issues in local and international media. Follow him on X @tajulraj1