Vol. 4 Num 132 Mon. October 06, 2003  
Star City

State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Mir Mohammad Nasiruddin talks to The Star City
Tourism's changing times

A cabinet sub-committee headed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism may be able to solve many of the problems faced by the tourism industry, believes State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Mir Mohammad Nasiruddin.

The government might form this sub-committee with an intent to ensure better coordination with representatives of the ministries of home affairs, communication, power, forest and tourism, revealed the state minister during an interview with Star City.

"It is often seen that while we are developing a tourist facility, related work of other services like electricity, roads etc. don't progress at the same pace. If the sub-committee work and coordinate effectively, it could resolve many of the problems without waiting for the government's decision and approval," said Nasiruddin.

The state minister said that a number of groundbreaking steps had to be taken first to create a better environment for the tourists in this country.

"We are yet to initiate the process of issuing port entry visa for the tourists. Because of this many are not coming to Bangladesh. Now the government is thinking of introducing it. That would create a positive change in the industry."

Nasiruddin blamed the past governments of neglecting the potential of tourism.

"During the last 30 years, no government took this industry seriously. I have initiated some steps to make it a viable sector."

The Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC) is now acting as a regulatory body of a flourishing private sector in the country.

"We have privatised some of the government controlled motels. Other than the Saikat in Chittagong, every motel is now run by private enterprises and it will remain that way. The government will be benefited through this process.

'Prabal, a motel in Cox's Bazar, used to incur a yearly loss of atleast Tk 5 to 6 lakh. After privatisation, we have received Tk 36 lakh from it last year. By handing over the motels to the private operators, we are sending a message to the BPC that if they don't pull their socks up, other facilities could also go to private entrepreneurs," said the tourism minister.

"After my assumption of the office, Cox's Bazar has gone through a sea of changes. If you go there now, you will notice a definite improvement in cleanliness and service," he added.

The recently formed Sea Beach Management Committee, which is comprised of the local MP, Cox's Bazar's administrative officials and others, is making things better said Nasiruddin.

Nasiruddin said he deserved some credit for making the BPC more modern in its outlook. "In the past, civil servants who were close to their retirements, had been employed as the BPC chairman. With that kind of mentality, could you ever expect dynamism in this sector?

'I have ensured that the chairmanship goes to a young, dynamic and energetic person," said the state minister.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has announced three spots-- Cox's Bazar, Kuakata and the Sundarbans as special tourist zones of the country. Nasiruddin feels that there are a number of unexplored areas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) which are just as special.

"I would like to include CHT as a special zone as the culture and tradition of the tribal people, the beautiful landscapes and the surroundings of Kaptai etc. can be a huge attraction for the tourists.

'Two new motels with decent facilities at Khagrachari and Bandarbans will be built and the Parjatan motel in Rangamati is being renovated," said the state minister.

Nasiruddin was critical of the excessive cost of accommodation in this country. While a five-star hotel room in Singapore can be availed at USD $40, in Bangladesh, it is around $200.

"Tell me, why would people visit our country if the rate is so high? We should give tax-rebates to the hotels so that they can charge reasonably."

Nasiruddin felt that control of historical places across the country should be put under the tourism ministry instead of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

"Most of the historical sites are now in a dilapidated condition. If we can develop these sites and arrange some income generating activities there, it would not just bring foreign currency but also keep the places in good shape."

The tourism minister informed that a tourist network has been planned which will revolve around Chittagong city, the future hub for the tourists.

"Work is already underway to convert the Saikat into a three star facility. It will be the centre of information, professional tourist guides and transportation for the tourists," said the Nasiruddin..

"I have declared 2004 a year for the tourists and I expect a good flow of visitors to Bangladesh," added the state minister.