The Sustainability of eco-resorts in Bangladesh

Wafiur Rahman
Thursday, July 6th, 2017


Future of hospitality expansion is green and promising


In a developing country such as ours, eco-resorts are still more of a new concept. They are ventures brimming with benefits that are economical, social, and environmental. Understandably, they are predicted to be the ‘next big thing’ in terms of tourism profitability projects. These ‘green developments’ are the dominating institutions of the near future and stand to bring efficiency to not only the emerging markets of Bangladesh, but world-wide.


Our country, being rich in ecological and natural terms already poses great attractions for tourists. Though in our quest to fulfill and reap the benefits of using these attractions to bring profit into the tourism industry, many of the relics and habitats may be endangered. There is a growing need to preserve our lands and unearth new innovative advances that will sustain a responsibly managed and nature-preserving environment.


Why not be sustainable if it makes such economic sense and leads to extensive returns?


In earlier years, financers were hesitant to come out of the conventional market and invest in any green project that does not already have successful building developments under its belt. However, this adversity has crumbled and the investors in Bangladesh are hurrying to look into these sorts of green developments that are mostly booming in the coastal regions.


Investing in such projects has been proven to be highly profitable. Similar projects in other countries show that the initial costs of maintaining such resorts are not much different from that of normal non-eco projects, though there are more positive changes to the investment through increased income, lower expenses, and reduced financing.


Let’s look into one such well-known project, which is already generating considerable talks of the sustainability of eco-resorts in Bangladesh: the Mermaid Eco-resort in Cox’s Bazaar.


Anisul Haque Shohag got the idea for the first Mermaid Café shack thirteen years ago. Being a surfer, he traveled and stayed in similar shacks abroad. So when the concept of opening such a destination in Bangladesh popped into his head, he thought ‘Why not?’ After executing the shack successfully as a hot spot in Cox’s Bazaar and moving onto other mermaid projects such as the Mermaid café Marine Drive, Shohag was informed regarding the potential of such sustainable projects in that area. The Mermaid Café Marine Drive was initially started as a sort of primary art village, where artists and such may come to find serene surroundings and an inspirational getaway. All the projects were given their initial designs and nature-infused atmosphere from planner and architect Ziadin Khan. Though, that art village concept did not turn out to profitable, the idea was shifted to starting an eco-resort.


Located 16 kilometres towards the South of Cox’s Bazaar at the bank of the tidal Lagood, Rezu Khal, in a small fishing village called Pechar Dwip you will find the acclaimed Mermaid Eco Resort. Set amongst natural wonders and beautiful vegetation, it includes organic restaurants, eco-resorts and even an art gallery. The motto being never going above tree level, there will be less vertical expansion and more horizontal expansions to the current resort as designed by Ziadin Khan.


Driven with the core of their Holistic Environmental Management Programme (HEMP), they are ‘committed to monitoring and continually improving corporate social responsibilities’. The impact on the environment is not only being minimized, other efforts are being introduced to enhance the preservation and economic development of the area and local community. The hosts and guests all receive basic eco-awareness. The guests are welcome to help with the organic gardens and are informed regarding the how they can help the local economy.


Anisul Haque Shohag relates to Dhaka Courier that the initial idea was to build the Mermaid Eco Resort with local materials which will not have any negative impact on the surrounding areas; these materials were also to be easily collected. The resort is yet to reach one hundred percent energy conservation. At the moment, there are solar heating systems which are used to provide hot water to the bungalows and villas. Future plans include introducing solar system to power up the whole eco resort and some of the surrounding society.


He said that green is the state of mind they went for. To him the most profitable a business can be is by being eco-friendly. ‘When one is eco-friendly we are benefited in every possible way. This is something we will never give up for easy money income.’ He says. This is one aspect that makes the Mermaid Eco Tourism Ltd projects stand out.


The particular eco friendly aspects of the resort are that the profile of the land was altered to a minimum. The bungalows and villas were made around the trees. The height and levels were at balance with the natural slope and the roofs were designed not to exceed the height of the palm trees. There was minimum disturbance of natural flora and fauna. The big windows and doorways suit the climate and make use of natural cross ventilation. The mud and rustic wooden colour scheme was to harmonize with the surrounding vegetation and landscape. To maintain the natural surroundings, indigenous plants were planted (3000 saplings at the beginning) and yearly tree plantation programmes are held. These trees provide a learning lesson for the tourists visiting the resort.


80% of Mermaid Eco Resort’s staff members apart from management are locally recruited. The people were previously involved in harmful environment practices like illegal logging and shrimping for livelihood, but are now informed eco-soldiers. The rest of the community that are not directly working for the resort are also being trained with environmentally friendly practices. For example, many provide fruits and vegetables to the restaurant. The local women in the community play a big role in providing crafts and traditional breakfast items such as Pithas to the eco resort guests. “These people have been trained and taken on despite having no previous experience. They are able to offer world-class service! It is a huge plus point for the community and local economy.” says Shohag after being asked if this is a workable method offering quality service.


In order to prepare for the anticipated tourist boom, the ultimate plan is to make Pechar Dwip region a high-end luxury tourist destination. This will help to conserve the area with very low environmental impact yet with high profit returns. There are plans to extending into another club resort which will be known as Club Mermaid. It will be more inclined to ‘Intelligent Luxury’ where there will be a blend of luxury with eco practices. Shohag says, “The response has been great so far and is increasing day by day. More and more people are visiting because of the eco tag. The domestic tourist market is increasing and there is also an influx of foreign tourists who visit us regularly.” He is confident that people including young travelers and corporate houses will remain to be interested in the project.


The recycling centre is one of the more important sections of the resort. “Our vision is to become a community-based, self-contained recycling center” explains Shohag. The materials collected and sent out for recycling include: aluminum, plastic, glass, paper, or other common household items.


Also in upholding social responsibility, every week groups of hosts go out on the beach spread out over Pechar Dwip village or Marine Drive to collect garbage or plastic that has landed in the ditched next to the road or that is stuck in the shrubs under the “No Plastic” campaign.


“At Mermaid Eco Resort, we are updating our Environmental Management System to incorporate industry best practices and numerous environmental schemes.” Says Shohag. Other that the solary setup which is underway a water plant to recycle and generate sweet water from seawater is also being setup near the resort. Organic gardens have also been planted at the resort, one just below the restaurant. No insecticides are used in t he herb garden and only organic compost is recycled and used to fertilize the soil. The fruit plantations are used to provide the individual bungalows with fruit baskets. The local fishermen are one of the major suppliers of fish, crab, and squids. This is helping sustain the local culture of Pechar Dwip as well as offer the best quality of fresh food.


As the world’s leading travel guide, Lonely Planet has stated:


“Mermaid serves what is quite possibly the best food in all of Bangladesh. In both food and ambiance, and the vibe are so good that we have received more positive reports from travelers on this on e restaurant than everything else in Bangladesh put together.”


When asked if other resorts such as Panigram resort will offer more originality, Shohag smiles. “We are not worried about competition or rivalry with other resorts. On the contrary we are happy that more areas of Bangladesh will be benefited from these developments. He said Panigram Resort is not located in Cox’s Bazaar area and we congratulate them in helping to make more areas of our country sustainable and available as tourist locations.”


Looking around at the beautiful surroundings and comfortable accommodations offering International standards of service, Mermaid Eco Resort is proof of the concrete sustainability of such green tourism opportunities in Bangladesh. It may inspire many more of its kind to take up the green state of mind, but the resort is sure to remain the top in its league.

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