Vol. 5 Num 418 Sat. July 30, 2005  

Tourist arrivals up 11pc in 2004
Parjatan Corporation faces fund crisis

Bangladesh achieved an 11 percent growth in welcoming foreign visitors last year.

Sources said the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), the national tourism organisation, recorded 2,71,000 foreign visitors in 2004. Around 2,44,000 tourists visited the country in 2003.

During the period in the Saarc region, India welcomed the highest 2.7 million tourists followed by the Maldives (6,00,000) and Sri Lanka (5,60,000).

Of the total foreign visitors in 2004, only 39,840 people visited Bangladesh as tourists, 44,627 for business purposes while a solid 1,73,369 visited for 'other purposes'. The last group includes relations of the Bangladeshi people with passports of UK, other European countries and US visiting their friends and relatives here.

However, tourism experts pointed to the country's negative image abroad, lack of necessary fund and policy support for BPC that stand in the way of fast tourism growth.

In FY2003-04, only Tk 10 million was allocated to the BPC, the solely responsible body for upholding tourism. However, 'no funds have been allocated' in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 financial years, making it impossible to carry out marketing campaigns in a highly competitive market, said a BPC high official preferring anonymity.

In 1992, the government classified tourism as an 'industry' indicating that it was worthy of priority recognition. But it took seven years to bring the tourism under the industrial policy (1999) and was identified as a 'thrust sector'.

On the other hand, the Tourism Council, formed in 1992 under the chairmanship of the prime minister, has met only once since its inception.

"Complicated visa processing and irritating attitudes of the employees in most of the Bangladesh missions abroad also discourage many tourists," said a private tour consultant.

"Visa processing procedures should be simplified. Facilities for visa on arrival must be reintroduced,'' he added.

"The brochures we supply are dull in terms of contents and printing quality. Years after years, we are printing the same sort of brochures, containing the same pictures. We post the hackneyed pictures on the web site as well," he said suggesting that variety should be brought in publishing the brochures and those should be printed in more languages.

Bangladesh, which boasts the world's longest sea beach at Cox's Bazaar, one of the world's biggest Buddhist monasteries at Paharpur, Naogaon and the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, deserves more tourists, said an official of BPC.

With the Asian Highway coming on stream soon, Bangladesh will be a gateway to south, southeast and northeast Asia, he added.

He also said Bangladesh may get Chinese Approved Destination Status this year, which will lead to a major rise in Chinese visitors.