Category Archives: Tourism, Travel, Hospitality and Leisure

Special Tourist Zone will be set up in CHT

Special Tourist Zone will be set up in CHT

RANGAMATI, Nov 20 (BSS)-Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister GM Quader said a ‘Special Tourist Zone’ will be set up in Chittagong Hill Tracts area to increase the facilities for local and foreign tourists.

Addressing a meeting at Rangamati circuit house on Saturday afternoon GM Quader said according to the policy of the government, priority is given to hilly areas to flourish country’s tourism industry.

The minister called upon the affluent people of the society to come forward to set up more tourist centres in the private sector to welcome local and foreign tourists.

Later he visited the non-government tourists centres at Pedahting Ting and Tuktuk in Rangamati.


Intrepid travellers find Bangladesh a bargain

Intrepid travellers find Bangladesh a bargain

In the picture taken on February 13, 2010, a Bangladeshi girl participates in a procession during the Boshonto Utshob festival in Dhaka. The spring festival or Boshonto Utshob, celebrated on the first day of the month of Falgun in the Bengali calendar, is marked with various cultural performances.Photo: AFP

Afp, Dhaka

From Argentinian heavy metal fans to Scottish retirees, Joyanta Howlader’s couch has hosted the full spectrum of backpackers who arrive — sometimes with mixed feelings — in impoverished Bangladesh.

The south Asian country seems an unlikely stop on a budget traveller’s itinerary, but foreign visitor arrivals are rising and Bangladesh’s lack of tourist infrastructure is, ironically, proving an attraction.

“You have to be adventurous. There is no other way to travel in Bangladesh,” said Howlader, a 38-year-old Dhaka-based television producer who has hosted dozens of tourists through Couch Surfing, a hospitality exchange network.

“One backpacker who stayed with me, just hated it here, said he’d never come back. He was a real tourist, he just wanted an easy travel experience which Bangladesh is definitely not,” Howlader told AFP.

With mod-cons now available in backpacker haunts in Thailand, Vietnam and India, where prices are shooting up, increasing numbers of budget tourists are seeking out alternative, low-cost travel experiences elsewhere in Asia.

From spending a night on a stranger’s sofa for free, sampling Dhaka’s best biryani for a dollar a plate, or checking into a midrange hotel for less than 10 dollars a night, Bangladesh is about as cheap and adventurous as it comes.

Even a four-day all-inclusive cruise through the world’s largest mangrove forest on a traditional wooden boat will only cost around 150 dollars, far cheaper than a comparable trip in neighbouring India, experts say.

Bangladesh is one of only a few places left in the region that still offer the original pioneering travel experience, according to Lonely Planet’s Bangladesh author Stuart Butler.

“It is very easy to get well off the beaten track and is a place in which you can make your own discoveries and travel for weeks without meeting another western tourist — or any tourist for that matter,” Butler told AFP.

The problems of getting around and finding accommodation, particularly for women, in the conservative, Muslim-majority nation are, for some travellers, Bangladesh’s unique selling point, he said.

“For many travellers this lack of knowledge of the country and the lack of a tourist industry is the prime reason for visiting. Travelling in Bangladesh is a genuine adventure,” he said.

Tourists are still something of a rarity in Bangladesh with just 267,107 foreign visitor arrivals in 2009, according to government figures which do not distinguish between tourist arrivals and Bangladeshis with foreign passports.

This is up from 2000, when 199,211 foreign visitors arrived in the south Asian nation of 160 million people, and local tourism industry figures say they anticipate further growth.

“Inbound tourism is growing more than 10 percent a year — a few years ago, no one had heard of Bangladesh, they thought it was part of India,” said Taufiquddin Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Tour Operators Association.

“The average spend for package tourists is now around 500 dollars, which is less than they would spend in India or Nepal,” he said. “And we get a lot of backpackers coming here and just travelling on their own.”

Travelling in Bangladesh, while not for the faint-hearted, is extremely cheap, with the 27-hour trip from Dhaka to Khulna on The Rocket, the country’s most famous river ferry, costing just 15 dollars for a first-class cabin.

From Khulna it is easy to access the Sunderbans mangrove forest, which is the country’s most popular attraction, although northern Srimongal district’s tea gardens are also attracting interest, he said.

The biggest problem for the local tourism industry is the lack of any concerted government effort to promote the country, such as the successful “Incredible India” and “Malaysia Truly Asia” campaigns, he said.

“Bangladesh suffers from a negative image, but slowly things are changing for the better,” he said.

Bangladesh is one of travel bible Lonely Planet’s “Best Value Destinations” for 2011.

And for Mickey Leung, author of the Bradt Guide book on Bangladesh, there is no point in trying to fight Bangladesh’s international reputation — instead, the industry should try to capitalise on it.

“We’re not going to get away from that image. There is going to be another cyclone, people are going to keep talking about climate change damage… you can’t just sit and hope it will go away,” he told AFP.

“Everybody knows Bangladesh is a poor country, so let’s take that image (and) make it like: your decision to travel to Bangladesh represents your decision to change the world,” he said.

The government should focus on building up pro-poor, community based eco-friendly tourism, for example by providing loans for setting up guesthouses for backpackers, he said.

“I would like to see budget travellers come to Bangladesh with an open mind, and with a willingness to experience local hospitality. They have to leave luxury behind.”

Bangladesh records 30 pc rise in foreign tourists

Bangladesh records 30 pc rise in foreign tourists
‘Virgin’ Sundarbans catches attention of holidaymakers from abroad

A crocodile in the Sundarbans. Source:

Jasim Uddin Khan

DHAKA, JAN 26: Over 20,000 foreign holidaymakers, mostly European and Japanese, visited Bangladesh this winter with a solid 30 per cent year-on-year growth in the trend, thanks to the emergence of Sundarban as unique selling point (USP). A total of 10 local tour operators forged tie-ups with around 50 international operators across Europe, Japan and the USA, and the latter would send those tourists to Bangladeshi operators as their outsource partners. The local operators had handled about 15,000 tourists in the year 2009.
Apart from a stable political scenario, trustworthy security measures in place and standard agreements with reputed international tour operators have helped develop the gradual increase of tourist inflow to the Bangladesh.

These operators earned about USD 22 million by operating the tourists, as European and Japanese tourists spend on an average $800 during their seven-day stay in the country.

Brightwater Holidays, Heritage Group Travel, IBT Travel of the UK, Eurobus Network of Germany, Backdoor Travel of Holland, and IACE Travel and Atlas Tour of Japan signed agreements with Bangladeshi operators to send tourists for Bangladeshi packages.

“We have signed agreements with reputed international tour operators who send European, US and Japanese holidaymakers to Bangladesh under their packages. The growth trend reflects that Bangladesh tourist spots are catching the attention of international holidaymakers,” Chief Executive Officer of Guide Tour Hasan Mansur said. He said Europeans did not have much interest in Bangladesh’s sea beaches and hill district sites. “They are interested in the Sundarbans, as it they find it ‘virgin’ and ‘green tourism spot’.”

Mansur said his company operated over 5,500 tourists in 2010, while Bengal Travel, Journey Plus, Silver-way, Riverine Tour and Green Holiday were the other players who handled the outsourced foreign tourists’ flow.

Bengal Travel top executive Masud Hossain said his company brought about 4,500 tourists, mostly Japanese, this year with a significant growth. Echoing Mansur’s views, Masud said the foreign tourists were interested in the Sundarbans and Bandarban to see the nature of jungle life. “We are mainly showcasing the Sundarbans as the USP to the foreigners and we are getting more and more response from them,” Masud said.

Toufiq Rahman of Journey Plus said they signed agreement with seven Japanese, two UK and two other European operators to handle international tours.

He said after getting package orders, his company issued letter to local deputy commissioners to ensure security of the guests during their journey to the locality. He expressed his satisfaction over the support the law enforcing agencies provided them.

Currently, 10 million tourists are visiting the SAARC countries—India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka—and Afghanistan, while global movement is above one billion tourists per year.

The region’s share of the tourism revenue is only $10 billion out of $852 billion earnings from global tourism.

International arrivals worldwide are expected to reach nearly 1.6 billion by 2020, of which 1.2 billion would be intra-regional and 378 million would be long-haul travellers, predicts UNWTO in its “Tourism 2020 Vision” report on world tourism.

Annisul Huq, former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and president of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI), said South Asia had a huge potential for tourism that needed only some joint efforts to cash in on the same.

He underscored the need for political will of the regional leaders to draw up ambitious plans for doubling the tourist inflow to the region in a decade.

An eco-resort that stands apart

Green Tech
An eco-resort that stands apart

Left, a cottage of Mermaid Eco Resort; top right, a view of the sea from the resort, and the front view. Photo: Mermaid

Iqramul Hasan

Cox’s Bazar is no more clamouring to be listed as one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, but it attracts tourists in increasing numbers from home and abroad.

Pechar Dweep, only a 15-minute ride from Kalatoli point of Cox’s Bazar toward Himchhori, is a place of natural beauty where the waves of the sea kiss the foothills.

It is rare that someone making a trip to Cox’s Bazar should be missing out on the panoramic Himchhori.

As you venture out on the long black tarred road to Himchhori and have travelled a few kilometres with the choppy sea on your right, a bright sign on a weather-washed board “Mermaid Eco Resort”. A cluster of tiny thatched cottages must attract your attention. There you are on the threshold of an eco-resort housed on five acres.

Anyone should easily understand that the resort operators must be an environment-conscious group as one glances at the nice sign of Mermaid painted on a piece of recycled wood pegged at the rather unassuming entrance.

Anisul Huque Chowdhury, managing director, explains why he says Mermaid is an eco-resort.

“Since I began the construction of this resort in 2003, one thing I kept in mind that there must not be any harm done to the natural beauty of the place,” Chowdhury said.

He said the resort would not be put in place without the sophisticated design of Ziauddin Khan, the chairman of the resort. “We invested around Tk 4 crore to develop and build the resort. The materials used in construction were mainly old blocks of wood.”

But the authorities did not allow felling a single tree within the resort area, keeping all the trees falling within the accommodation zone also intact, he said. “Also, we planted around 40,000 saplings to make the resort greener.”

Chowdhury said the first venture was Mermaid Café in Kalatoli area, where recycled materials were used in construction and fresh organic foods were served to the customers.

“The success of that café motivated us to build a resort some distance away from the town.”

The resort owner recruited 70 percent of the staff from the locality, most of whom had earlier been struggling to make a living by poaching natural resources from the nearby hill forests.

Chowdhury said a plant recycles the waste generated at the resort. “The end of the day sees us separating the food wastes, paper and bottles for recycling.”

Food wastes are recycled to generate fertiliser that again is used in the organic farming of vegetables the resort serves to the guests.

Chowdhury said Mermaid distributed the excess organic fertilisers among the village farmers.

The waste bottles are used in the decor of the resort and mixed with other materials to make mortar used in construction, he said.

Razib Ahmed, the marketing manager of Mermaid, said the resort wanted to attract mainly those tourists who are environment-conscious.

Christopher Craig, country director of a multinational company, said he felt at home being a guest at Mermaid and was happy with the standards maintained by the resort.

“To protect the natural beauty of the countryside like Cox’s Bazar, there is no alternative to building this kind of eco-resorts,” he added.

According to Craig, Cox’s Bazar is already congested and overburdened with dense concrete structures. He said, “It is not a very good thing for eco-tourism.”

“As an environment conscious traveller, I feel Mermaid makes efforts to protect the nature against contamination,” he added.

Ria Maria who visited the resort on several occasions said: “It is the best resort in the country as far as my experience goes.” Maria said the resort did not use any air conditioners; the natural air is sufficient there and so they save energy.

“The rather simple cottages and other structures were built in a way so that the natural atmosphere remains intact there,” she added. Maria said her friends who visited the resort had the same feelings.

There was a time, when eco-tourists avoided visiting Cox’s Bazar because of the widespread pollution of the local environment and the sea. Chowdhury said: “We got a lot of tourists in the last one year who really cared about the environment and enjoyed their stay at our resort.”

Tourists who come to Cox’s Bazar are mostly residents in different cities living in tall buildings, he added. “Tourists prefer a place which is in a natural setting and far from any noise.”

“We raised Mermaid using recycled wood and other materials, not exceeding the height of the existing trees.”

Mahfuz Ahmed, manger of the resort, said since inception they had received around 10,000 guests till then. Of them, more than 40 percent were foreigners and some of them revisited the resort on a number of occasions, he added. The tourism minister, diplomats, writers and many other environment lovers visited the resort.

Talking about their future plan, Chowdhury said he plans to instal solar panels of 5KW capacity soon. “We have a plan to supply power to the local households also, as Pechar Dweep does not have any other power supply.” A central effluent treatment plant is also included in his future plan.

The resort owner is building another resort, Club Mermaid, near the existing one.

Turkish Airlines launches flight from Dhaka

Turkish Airlines launches flight from Dhaka
Staff correspondent

Turkish Airlines on Sunday launched its first flight from Dhaka to Istanbul via Karachi.

The airlines will operate four flights in a week at 22:50pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Istanbul via Karachi, said a press release.

An inaugural ceremony to start the flight was held that the airport followed by a press conference.

Civil aviation and tourism ministry secretary Shafique Alam Mehdi, Turkish ambassador to Bangladesh Vakur Erkul and civil aviation chairman Mahmud Hossain were present. Turkish airlines new route from Dhaka would allow more Bangladeshis the opportunity to explore Istanbul, Turkey and beyond, said the press release.

The airlines currently flies to 167 destinations, including 128 international and 39 domestic lines.

A member of the Star Alliance network since April 1, 2008, Turkish Airlines continues to maintain its dedication to becoming a global leader in the airline industry, said the release.

Tk 260 crore tourism promotional campaign planned

Tk 260 crore tourism promotional campaign planned

DHAKA, Dec 26: The Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry is to seek Taka 260 crore from the finance ministry for implementing its aggressive tourism promotional campaign ‘Visit Bangladesh-2011’. “The government has declared the year 2011 as the tourism year and set a target to attract one million tourists through a huge promotional campaign,” Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister G M Quader told BSS today.

On an average, four lakh foreign travelers visit Bangladesh a year. The ministry would place the Taka 260 crore budget for carrying out the campaign at the next meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Tourism to be chaired by Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith on December 27. After getting nod of the committee the detailed promotional programme would be placed for final approval at the National Tourism Council chaired by Prime Minister sheikh Hasina.

“We have already chalked out a huge promotional campaign with traditional and cultural flavor at home and abroad next year targeting the foreign tourists, who are looking for new destinations of making holidays,” the minister said.

The year-long programme also includes staging of road shows and Bangladesh week in different countries as well as inviting renowned international writers and journalists to visit Bangladesh. The country has lots of tourist tempting treasures in terms of both natural beauty, culture, heritage and archeological aspects, he said, adding, “but we have never conducted such huge international promotional campaign to attract travelers.”

Repackaging Bangladesh

Repackaging Bangladesh
Ashfaqur Rahman

Lonely Planet, one of the world’s leading travel guidebooks, owned by BBC worldwide, has ranked Bangladesh as the Best Value Destination in the world for 2011. It names nine other countries/cities to complete the list of top ten. Behind Bangladesh stand Nicaragua, Washington D.C., Paris, Philippines, Argentina, Naples, Ukraine and Syria.

Each of these destinations boasts of some unique cost saving feature. But the Lonely Planet says that an international visitor will be rewarded most and get the maximum “value for his money” if he visits Bangladesh.

Does all this sound gimmicky? Not so, if one sees what attractions Bangladesh offers. Lonely Planet says in unequivocal terms that in that country you can get marvelous meals for under $1. A midrange hotel room for 10 times less than what is available in a similar category elsewhere. “You will pay a little more to get around the Sundarbans National Park on a tiger spotting tour — $150 or thereabouts — but it is still peanuts, even compared to what you pay next door in India.” Critics, however, point out that such a list only refers to “cheap destinations.”

Lonely Planet says that this ranking is based on the feedback it has received from travelers “getting their money’s worth.” And they have, besides their staff and authors, a 600,000 strong online community to present to their readers the best places to go and things to do around the world. Next year (2011), we may, therefore, expect a large number of tourists to avail of the value for money deals in Bangladesh. It will give a boost to our touristic image.

To many of us this ranking sounds incredible. But Bangladesh seems to be slowly and imperceptibly becoming the “new kid in the block.”

Some people say that something immense is happening in Bangladesh. Positive developments in many sectors are taking place in the country. They say, look at the surge of RMG export orders. See the line of local and foreign banks lining up our main streets in Dhaka and elsewhere. Check the large number of high-rises changing the skyline of our cities. Feel the jamming of our streets with mid-size and big cars.

Bangladesh is one of the few countries in the world that was not affected by the recent global recession. Today, Bangladesh boasts of shipbuilding capability and is looking forward to becoming a regional communication hub. Foreign remittances increased during the global downturn just as exports grew and imports bloated. Human development is also noteworthy.

Sceptics argue that because Bangladesh’s economy had little exposure to the outside world, it was not affected by the slump. The country produces and exports basic RMG products, which come cheap. The countries affected by recession switched to Bangladesh as a source of supply as most of them could not afford high-end textiles and garments.

While acknowledging that there is some truth in what the sceptics say, the point is that Bangladesh has moved up the value chain too and has made healthy structural changes in production and marketing. But let it also be clear that individual entrepreneurs also took grave risks and created opportunities for themselves. Today, they are reaping some of the benefits that accompanied the risks. Their success can also be seen in other sectors like leather, pharmaceuticals and jute manufacturing. Agriculture is, of course, already a success in many ways.

The dilemma before all of us is that Bangladesh could have attained this level of success earlier if the country had not suffered from an image problem. Even with present successes, the entrepreneurs are not confident that they will not stumble again on this count.

The western media has largely been responsible for creating and hyping much of our negative image. We also had a certain category of leaders in the past who, for the sake of foreign aid, were reluctant to highlight any positive news lest it would lessen their chance of getting this aid. Thus, the country was in an image trap that restricted foreign investments, tourism and foreign talent.

However things are likely to change. One important reason is that certain prestigious international investment banks and credit rating agencies have, after evaluation of our economy, given Bangladesh enviable ratings. Thus, Standard and Poor, Moody’s Investors, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Price Waterhouse Coopers have given good citations. It seems that, at long last, Bangladesh is being noticed by the international community. In keeping with this changing image we need to change into new clothes.

So what do we do? At the outset, we must find ways to reduce our negative image. We must start doing things that are expected from a responsible and democratic country. Next, we must identify our national strengths and weaknesses. We must highlight our core national values and build up a branding profile. This will be the start of the repackaging of Bangladesh for the world.

We must find out what other countries Bangladesh is usually compared to, in the region and in the world at large, and what type of packaging these countries use in order to attract favourable attention. We should bring forth our core values, and associate Bangladesh with those values that investors like or respect. These value assets can make our country more attractive and compelling than our competitors. This will get Bangladesh differentiated and promoted.

Bangladesh has to be identified in the mind of visitors and investors through a cluster of images of the country, like:

– Sounds (our music);

– Colour (our flowers and dress);

– Words (our songs);

– Shapes;

– Smells (our cuisine)

-Other symbols (our values– resilience, adaptability).

These will persuade a foreigner to come, stay and interact closely for investment or tourism. The clarity and strength of these chosen images of a country in a foreigner’s mind will gradually overtake the negative images of Bangladesh that persist in him.

During 2011, Bangladesh will be hosting a great sports extravaganza, the Cricket World Cup. Our government has big plans to boost tourism on that occasion. Major multi-national companies are also likely to come next year to Bangladesh to see if they can invest, especially in textiles and RMG. They will come only if they get favourable reports about Bangladesh in 2010 from their peers and partners already operating in Bangladesh. Their report will prompt the newcomers to take positive decision.

Bangladesh has most of the economic fundamentals. Investors and tourists should normally flock to a country like ours. But they desist because, among other things, we have not been able to get rid of our bad image. Furthermore, we have not yet been able to create a new brand image. We must invent a new slogan for Bangladesh, just as Lonely Planet has given us one of its own.

Time is running out. The tourists are at our gates. The investors are packing their bags.

Ashfaqur Rahman is a former Ambassador and Chairman of the Centre for Foreign Affairs.