Though the authorities concerned are looking for every way to beef up security to prevent unpleasant activities in the beach town, tourists have largely ignored it to visit during the New Year as some recent incidents badly tarnished its image as a safe tourism destination.

"Cox's Bazar usually sees a surge of tourists on the eve of New Year every year but this year it was almost empty. Restrictions on outdoor events and recent rape incidents and skyrocketing food prices might be the reasons," said Mahbubr Rahman, a physical teacher of a local school.

Hotel, motel and restaurant owners and those involved in tourism support services are now worried over the fall in the number of tourists during the peak season.

They said 50% of rooms in many hotels and motels were vacant during the New Year celebrations.

In the wake of some unwanted activities, law enforcement agencies have taken various steps to ensure the security of tourists while the local administration has set up a monitoring cell following the outcry of people over two rape incidents in the tourist hub recently.

Salahuddin Setu, councillor of Cox's Bazar municipality, said, "Some 350 big tourist buses had been kept ready in designated parking spaces during the 3-day government holiday starting from December 16, while 250 tourists vehicles were there at local Ilias Mia High School ground to deal with the pressure of tourists. Once 700 buses, carrying tourists, used to arrive in Cox's Bazar at this time of the year, but this time the number was 50 only, a sharp fall in tourist arrival."

Salahuddin said the recent rape incidents and soaring food prices (cooked rice and pulses) in hotels have tarnished the image of the beach town.

Deputy Commissioner of Cox's Bazar Mamunur Rashid said, "Cox's Bazar is an attractive tourist destination and some foreign tourists have come here to welcome the New Year and the authorities concerned of the respective hotels have welcomed them."

He said a meeting was held recently with all concerned to ensure the highest security of tourists and better services for them round the year. "The monitoring committee is monitoring everything round the clock."

Abul Kashem Shikder, general secretary of Cox's Bazar Hotel, Motel, Guest House Owners' Association, said, "This year the number of tourists is low as only 50% rooms have been booked on the New Year eve."

He hoped that the tourism in Cox's Bazar will get a boost with the arrival of foreign tourists as special discounts are being offered by many hotels and motels to attract tourists.

Kalim Ullah, general secretary of Resident Hotel Officers Association, said, "Now bookings can be done online and the number of foreign tourists is more than the previous years."

Additional Superintendent of Police (tourist police) Mohammad Mohiuddin Ahmed said some 1.5 lakh people can stay in 450 resident hotels here and all hotels have been brought under CCTV services to ensure security.

Besides, plainclothes police are there in the field to check any untoward incident while tourist police will keep patrolling in 35 tourist zones of the district.

Moslem Uddin, deputy inspector general (Chattogram) of Tourist Police, said, "Tourist police are working to ensure the safety of tourists. Already, 208 police have been deployed and 250 more will be recruited soon."

Law enforcement agencies are also on high alert after the recent rape incidents in the tourist hub.

Horrific Rape

On December 22, a gang of young men kidnapped a couple and their baby from Cox's Bazar seabeach, took them to a desolate place and then to a local hotel where three of them raped the woman for hours.

On December 13, miscreants picked a college student up at Mom's Guest House where they violated the girl repeatedly after keeping her confined there for two days.

Following the complaint of the girl's father, Rab members arrested the prime accused Ashique in this connection on December 28.

No dedicated zone for women

The district administration has gone back on its decision to keep a dedicated zone for women and children visiting the world's longest unbroken sea beach in the space of just 10 hours.

Deputy Commissioner Mamunur Rashid inaugurated a separate 'reserved area' for women and children at Labani Point on the beach recently.

In the face of adverse reactions from tourists, the district administration changed their decision.

DC Mamunur Rashid said a special zone was set up in the interest of women and children. But tourists do not like such a zone. Cox's Bazar is a tourist area so their opinion needs to be given importance. As they do not want such a zone, the special zones for women and children will not be made.

Dipak Sharma, United News of Bangladesh (UNB) Cox's Bazar Correspondent

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