Bangladesh missions abroad need to play a ‘stronger role’ in promoting tourism in the country and the government should open tourism wings, if necessary, at all missions to make that happen, say tour operators.
They want the government to centrally instruct all the missions abroad in this regard to help boost the sector as it has ‘huge potential’ to contribute to the national economy in a bigger way.
“Bangladesh missions abroad have a big role to play. Bangladesh Tourism Board doesn’t have its foreign wings. So, we need tourism wings in Bangladesh missions abroad,” said Taufiq Rahman, Director of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB).
He said now the Commercial Counselors of the foreign missions perform the tasks related to tourism sector which is inadequate given the performance of the last 15-20 years.
“Either the Commercial Counselors will have to be given additional responsibilities to look into tourism issues or tourism wings must be opened,” Taufiq, also Chief Executive of Journey Plus, said.
He said there have been much positive changes after Holey Artisan incident but he expressed doubt about how much the tourist generating-countries like the USA, Japan, Australia, the UK, France and other countries know about those positive developments.
“Let them (foreign tourists) know about Bangladesh deeply. Foreign missions can arrange weekly or monthly briefings on tourism potential,” he added.
Asked about the role of the missions abroad, a senior diplomat said all the Bangladesh missions abroad are aware of their duties and responsibilities entrusted upon them by the government of Bangladesh and they abide by that.
“Promoting tourism in the host country is also part of that responsibility,” said the diplomat wishing to remain unnamed.
Talking to UNB, a government official said a study should be carried on the deviations by the Bangladesh missions abroad to know whether there is any negligence.
“But to value the general perception, the missions which work with sincerity and commitment should not be penalised,” he said.
Tour operators also want the government to focus on formulating a forward-looking effective tourism policy, which could be a thriving sector of Bangladesh.
An official said all the missions are doing their best to promote Bangladesh’s tourism sector, including its art, culture, history, tradition and heritage.
“The role of Bangladesh missions is important but it cannot do anything alone, without the proper support and cooperation from the headquarters,” he added.
A government official said Bangladesh should consider high quality tourism documentaries and movies and participate in international tourism fairs to attract more foreign tourists.
TOAB Advisor M Masud Hossain said a number of ministries, including the Finance and Foreign, are linked with the tourism sector.
“So, it won’t be wise to think that Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) will alone bear the responsibility of a sensitive sector like tourism,” he said in his recent paper.
He laid emphasis on making the Bangladesh missions abroad more tourism-friendly ones.
Visa on arrival
The government has planned to ease the visa system further for tourists and activate visa on arrival effectively in land and seaports to give foreign tourists easier access to Bangladesh and thus boost the tourism sector, officials said.
To attract more and more tourists and ensure them a hassle-free arrival here, the government introduced visa on arrival to foreign nationals, including those of Bangladesh origin.
Immigration officers at the port of entry -- airports and land ports – are supposed to approve this after examining all the relevant documents.
“To ease the visa system for tourists, our persuasion from the Ministry and Bangladesh Tourism Board is always there,” said Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) Nikhil Ranjan Roy.
He said they are in discussions with the Ministries of Home and Foreign Affairs in this regard. “I’m hopeful and that (visa on arrival through land ports) will be executed. The Home Ministry is also positive about easing the visa process.”
Taufiq Rahman said their experiences say though foreigners get visas on arrival at airports, they do not get that at land ports.
“These facilities are already there in documents but we need to activate that at all the land ports effectively,” said the tour operator.
He said immigration officers at the land ports are not well aware of visa on arrival and that needs to be addressed to give a boost to the tourism industry.
Apart from that, the tour operator, suggested introducing visa on arrival at seaports as cruise ships can get extended tour of Bangladesh by availing of visa on arrival facility.
A cruise ship or cruise liner is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages.
A government official said the visa regime of Bangladesh is quite tourist-friendly one and Bangladesh Missions abroad always accord visas to the tourists at the shortest possible time.
He, however, said it may attract more tourists if the visa-on-arrival process is eased further.
A diplomat said, “We’ve offered the privilege of on arrival visa to a number of countries. We don’t know its impact on our tourism sector and it’s high time that we should find that out. It would help us take appropriate measures accordingly.”
Tour operators suggest massive campaigns on positive Bangladesh in tourist-generating markets with the help of the country’s missions abroad, better coordination among ministries concerned and taking effective steps to allure foreign tourists.
Data shows some 620,000 foreign tourists visited Bangladesh in 2016 though the government set a target of attracting one million tourists.
Bangladesh earned 163.21 million US dollars from the tourism sector in 2016 calendar year against 145.74 million US dollars in 2015.