Boga Lake is a wonder for tourists. Located in Ruma upazila of Bandarban district.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, and the Bangladesh is no exception. The whole tourism value chain across hotels, travel agents, tour operations, destinations, restau-rants, family entertainment venues and air, land and sea transportation have been hit.
The domestic tourism industry, hardest hit by coronavirus, has downsized its manpower by 5,085 in the past three months since January, according to a survey.In its report styled 'Impacts on Bangladesh Tourism and TOAB due to COVID-19', the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) also claimed to have already lost Tk 15 billion.
During the period in question, the holiday business has suffered revenue losses in inbound, outbound and domestic tourism, ticketing, joblessness, salary expenses and office rent.
According to the United Nations specialized agency, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 22 per cent fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020.UNWTO said the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60 per cent and 80 per cent when compared with 2019 figures.
The crisis in tourism business across the globe puts millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).In Bangladesh, thousands of people involved in the tourism sector in the hill districts of Bandarban and Rangamati have been out of job and living a miserable life with families.
The buzz at the local handicraft shops, tourists-carrying transports, and all shops in hill districts have fallen silent. People, who are dependent on the sector, are finding it hard to make the ends meet.Sixty hotels, motels and resorts in Bandarban remained shut since March, leaving the owners to count huge losses every day, reports UNB's Bandarban correspondent.
Sirajul Islam, secretary of Bandarban Abashik Hotel, Motel & Resort Malik Samity, told UNB that they have been counting a loss of Tk 2 to 2.5 million every day for three months, while families of over 1,000 staff are having a hard time.Most handicraft shops owned by local ethnic community people remained shut, he said adding that the pandemic left the whole district in great dismay.
Usually, over 40,000 tourists visit Bandarban daily and leave the district, said Sirajul Islam. Moinuddin Selim, president of Rangamati Hotel Malik Samity, told UNB that 50 hotel, motel and resorts have already counted over Tk 180 million in loss since March. Other sectors are also counting losses, he said.
"We were forced to axe our workforce as we couldn't afford to pay them," Selim said, noting that the staff and their families are going through an extremely difficult time.More than 2,000 tourists visit different sites in Rangamati daily during February to June, he said adding that tourists' rush generally goes down in monsoon.
"The loss we've already counted is really hard to recoup," he said, noting that every day over 200 buses used to enter the district with tourists, which has stopped.Selim urged the government to provide easy loans to save the tourism industry.
UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis."Tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labor-intensive sectors of the economy," Zurab said.
The World Travel and Tourism Council said that up to 50 million jobs in the global travel and tourism sectors are at risk due to the global coronavirus crisisTravel and tourism service providers have urged the government to place specific incentive guidelines to support the country's aviation and leisure industries as ongoing lockdowns and bans on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic has sent the sectors into nosedive.
"The way the government approached incentives for the garment sector and remittances, the same approach needs to be applied for the aviation and tourism sector," Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB) past president S N Manzur Murshed said reports BSS.
Stating that aviation and tourism sectors are the country's largest service industries with 4 million employees, he said: "Owners of these sectors in Bangladesh collectively have to incur more than Tk100 crore in daily losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic."
He said the global aviation sector is losing $1.2 billion or Tk10,200 crore a day and it is estimated that all components of tourism like tour operators, travel agents, hotels, motels, resorts, restaurants, airlines, tourist transports, cruise, and guides face losses as high as $3 billion or Tk25,500 crore per day globally.
"Our honorable Prime Minister has already said aviation and tourism sectors are affected. So, now specific and comprehensive action needs to be taken," said Monzur, also a former Member of Bangladesh tourism Board.
As a representative of ATAB, he recently submitted a letter to the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry to urge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to take required initiatives as soon as possible for the respective sectors, he said.He added that the prime minister may need emergency support for those sectors as they are being impacted directly by the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier, Tour Operator Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), a platform of 678 tour operators of Bangladesh, estimated their losses by conducting a survey titled Impacts on Bangladesh Tourism and TOAB due to Covid-19.
"After analyzing the losses from January to March this year, we have estimated that we, the tour operators of Bangladesh, may lose nearly Tk6,000 crore this year - from January to December- if the situation does not improve," TOAB president Md Rafeuzzaman said.
Besides, The PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Bangladesh chapter has predicted that the Bangladesh tourism sector will incur a loss of approximately Tk9,705 crore till June 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis.
"We have estimated the turnover of the entire tourism sector from February to next June 2020. Since our entire business is now shut down, we are going to make losses worth Tk9,705 crore," Secretary General of PATA Bangladesh Chapter Taufiq Rahman said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has carefully monitored how the situation has evolved, taking necessary measures to protect Bangladesh from this onslaught.
As part of the measures, the Prime Minister has announced various stimulus packages including Tk95,619 crore which is 3.3 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to offset the possible adverse impact on the economy due to the nationwide shutdowns.
The financial stimulus packages are: Tk30,000 crore as working capital for the affected industries and service sectors; Tk20,000 crore as working capital for very small, small and medium enterprises; Tk12,750 crore to increase the advantages for Export Development Fund (EDF); Tk5,000 crore under the Pre-shipment Credit Refinance Scheme, and Tk5,000 crore as special fund for the export oriented industries.
The aviation and tourism sectors have been included in the Prime Minister's financial stimulus packages. The government also formed a 14-member tourism crisis management committee, headed by the Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) CEO, to find the kind of incentives the tourism stakeholders need to tackle the crisis.
The writer is working with The Asian Age.
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