Bangladesh tourism industry has reopened partially, but pandemic aftershock lingers

The coronavirus pandemic brought the tourism industry in Bangladesh to its knees following a series of lockdowns and harsh travel restrictions to curb infections. After a partial reopening, the sector is still reeling from the aftershock.

Md Rafeuzzaman, president of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh, is looking forward to a full reopening while the Tourism Board is working on plans to help the industry recover.   

A government-enforced shutdown began across the country in March last year after the first coronavirus cases were confirmed. Almost everything reopened a few months later, and people began crowding the tourism hubs.

But a second wave of infections in April dealt a fresh blow to the tourism industry, leaving about four million people without work.

Rangamati tourist centres have reopened, but they are yet to draw tourists amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The tourist spots reopened last month, but they were ordered to allow tourists at half the capacity and comply with health rules.

Although the daily infection rate is now on the wane, visitors have not yet returned to Cox’s Bazar, the most attractive tourist destination in Bangladesh, according to Syed Murad Islam, the assistant commissioner for tourism at the district administration.

“Not many foreigners are coming. Some people from the NGOs that work in Cox’s Bazar and the surrounding areas come. They are the only foreigners. The pressure increases slightly on weekends.”

He said the authorities monitor the hotels, resorts and entertainment centres regularly to ensure that health rules are being followed.

Big hotels like Grand Sultan in Moulvibazar are waiting for foreign guests.

The sector is currently dependent on local tourists, said TOAB President Rafeuzzaman.

“The government may issue some positive instructions and we will be able to reopen fully once the coronavirus situation improves.”

But he sees no big change if foreign tourists do not return. “Resumption of international flights will create an environment suitable for that. We are waiting for that.”

Khabir Uddin Ahmed, president of the Tourism Resort Industries Association of Bangladesh, said the reopening was almost a fresh start for them as they had to replace and repair some of the furniture.  

Resorts like Meghmati Village in Mymensingh are struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He believes the emphasis should be on finding ways to attract more local tourists in order to survive the pandemic fallout.

He also called for the relaxation of conditions to get funds from the government’s stimulus package as only the owners of land in the sector can apply for the incentives.

Mohsin Hoq Himel, general secretary of Bangladesh International Hotel Association, said the hotels depending on tourists have some guests, but those catering to businesspeople are struggling. “We are continuing business by renting out rooms to local tourists with discounts.”

He thinks the sector can recover in 2022 if infections decrease further.

The government has made short-term, mid-term and long-term plans for the sector’s recovery. A report on the plans described the survival of the sector as the biggest challenge now.

Bandarban’s Chimbuk hill has reopened, but it is yet to draw tourists amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mohammad Saiful Islam, a deputy director at the Tourism Board, said tourism has been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“We are working on the plans to take the sector forward,” he said, adding that nothing is certain amid the pandemic.

“The government is still monitoring the situation. The pandemic’s nature will set the course of the sector."