Political strife casts shadow on tourism outlook

Tourists sit under beach umbrellas in Cox’s Bazar. Fears of political turmoil have depressed the 2013 outlook for tourist arrivals from abroad. Photo: STARSohel Parvez

The good times the local tour operators saw in 2012 are unlikely to roll into 2013 due to political turmoil, tour operators said yesterday.

A relatively stable political environment in the first half of the current year and the improving economic outlook in Eurozone augmented tourist arrivals in Bangladesh in 2012.

“The market has been good this year as the flow of foreign tourists was higher. But it has begun to slow progressively because of political unrest,” said Wahid Ullah, managing director of Silver Wave Tours Ltd, which facilitates inbound tourism.

The overall market grew by 10-15 percent year-on-year in 2012, he said.

“But 2013 will most definitely be a bad one. Afraid of being caught up in political turbulence, arrivals of foreign tourists have already dropped.”

Five groups of Japanese tourists, who were scheduled to visit Bangladesh in the December-January period through Silver Wave, have already cancelled their trips.

The tour operators fear a slump akin to 2006 levels, when political bitterness deepened between the then ruling party, BNP, and the opposition Awami League over voter lists and formation of caretaker government for parliamentary elections.

This time, a lingering row between the ruling AL and the opposition BNP over the caretaker system led to a series of hartals and demonstrations enforced by BNP and its allies.

“Foreigners are repeatedly asking us whether there will be hartals when they want to visit Bangladesh next year,” said Faridul Haque, managing director of Tours Planners Ltd.

Tourism flourishes faster in those areas where peace prevails, as tourists show reluctance to visit a country where their mobility is impeded by political unrest, he said.

The best example is Egypt, where the tourist flow slumped after political turmoil broke, Hoque said.

Around 600 foreigners used the services of Tour Planners in 2012, up from the previous year’s 500.

The gloomy outlook comes at a time when tourism’s contribution to the Bangladeshi economy is fast rising, after years of stagnation.

In 2000, foreign tourist arrivals in Bangladesh were 199,000, and that number increased by 56.25 percent over the decade to 303,000 in 2010, according to a report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

In 2011, foreign tourist arrivals generated Tk 380 million-odd, with the number forecasted to cross the 400 million-mark in 2012, according to a World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) study.

The travel and tourism sector raked in Tk 182.5 billion, about 2.2 percent of the GDP in 2011.

The sector’s contribution is forecasted to rise by 7.3 percent in 2012, and by 6.1 percent annually until 2022, according to the WTTC study.

Masud Hossain, executive director of Bengal Tours, said tourists are very sensitive about the political environment.

“We are very worried about what is going to happen next year. Hartals have caused a lot of damage, as tourists could not move around and we had to shift the travel dates many times.”

Bangladesh sees tourist arrivals mainly from Europe and Japan.

Foreign tourists were higher in the first half of this year because of the relatively stable political situation, said Syed G Qadir, general manager of Galaxy Holidays.

“The country’s achievements and positive indicators help attract tourists,” he said, adding around 700 foreign tourists came to Bangladesh via Galaxy in 2012, up from 500 in the previous year.

Galaxy, which operates both inbound and outbound tour packages, saw a huge spike in the number of Bangladeshis traveling abroad for holidays.

“It is because of rising income among the middle-class,” said Qadir.

Galaxy facilitated travels of 2,000 Bangladeshis abroad in 2012, up 25 percent from the previous year.

Zahirul Islam Bhuiyan, chief executive of Discovery Tours and Logistics, mentioned decent growth of the tourism sector in the outgoing year.

“But it is uncertain whether the rising arrivals of foreign tourists will continue into next year,” he said, adding many tourists cancelled trips in December.

Source: The Daily Star


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