Bangladesh and Nepal have great potential to cooperate and further advance their tourism industries, but the potential remains untapped, stakeholders have observed.
"I have visited Nepal 25 times and never felt it was a foreign land. Nepalese people receive us as their friends, but they don't know much about the world's longest sea beach, Cox's Bazar, and the largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which we have to offer," Bangladeshi mountaineer MA Muhit said.
"And so, the number of Nepalese tourists to Bangladesh is still insignificant," he said at an event – Tourism Networking Reception – at the Embassy of Nepal in Dhaka Thursday evening.
MA Muhit, who summited Mount Everest, suggested the Bangladesh Tourism Board and other stakeholders could highlight tourist attractions of Bangladesh in an effective way so that the country sees more holidaymakers.
Taking part in the programme, tour operators, travel agents, diplomats, and journalists from both Nepal and Bangladesh also said an extensive cooperation between two neighbours can take the tourism industries to a new height.
A Nepalese delegation comprising representatives of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents and the Nepal Tourism Board, who came to the ongoing three-day Asian Tourism Fair in Dhaka, also took part in the event organised jointly by the Nepalese Embassy and the Nepal Tourism Board.
"Geographically we are very close but our tourism potential is still unexplored," Nepal Tourism Board Manager Bimal Kandel said, as he highlighted the natural attractions of Nepal, including mountains, its rich biodiversity, and their culture.
"Bangladesh and Nepal can make joint tourism packages so that tourists from different parts of the world can visit both Nepal and Bangladesh on a single trip. We can even make such packages for BBIN countries [Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal]," said Mohiuddin Helal, a tourism entrepreneur.
"Bangladesh and Nepal have cultural similarities in many ways. If we launch such services, we can surely attract more tourists from the rest of the world," he added.
Nepal ambassador to Bangladesh Ghanshyam Bhandari said, "Our people are very close to Bangladeshis and we have multi-facilitated aspects of relationship. So, we can explore more opportunities in the tourism sector."
"We will try our best to boost the exchange of holidaymakers between the two friendly countries," he told the programme also attended by Nepal Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Kumar Rai, Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh President Shiblul Azam Kureshi, and Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents Senior Vice-President Pramod Dahal.
In the pre-Covid period of 2019, Nepal used to see 25,000 Bangladeshi visitors on average every year, whereas Bangladesh used to receive some 3,000 Nepalese tourists – a big gap that a comparison of data from tourism boards of the two countries shows.
The Nepal Tourism Board says the Himalayan country saw the highest number of 29,060 visitors from Bangladesh in 2017. It dropped to 4,917 in 2020, and 5,044 in 2021 due to the pandemic. This year, Nepal received 14,811 Bangladeshi tourists until August.
The Bangladesh Tourism Board, however, did not have the data on country-wise inbound tourists after 2019. In that pre-Covid year, Bangladesh received 3 lakh tourists, the highest in its history since independence, from different countries.
Among them, only 2,974 travellers were from Nepal, the 11th source country. Indian tourists were 2,70,024 or 89% of the total inbound tourists to Bangladesh that year, the board said.
The maximum number of outbound trips (60.41%) from Bangladesh were to India, followed by Saudi Arabia (8.12%), Malaysia (4.57%), Thailand (2.54%), Dubai (1.52%), Africa (1.52%), and Nepal (1.02%) during the financial year 2018-19, according to Tourism Satellite Account 2020 prepared by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh lifted the travel restrictions for foreign tourists – imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic – on Monday last (26 September), paving the way for tour operators to get bookings from foreign tourists for winter trips.