- Tourism master plan focuses Shaṭ Gambuj Mosque and the Sundarbans
- Padma Bridge will allow tourists to visit Bagerhat and return to Dhaka on the same day
- Four centres being built to accommodate tourist rush to the Sundarbans
The Padma Bridge will boost tourism of Khulna's Bagerhat, which is home to two world heritage sites – Shaṭ Gambuj Mosque and part of the Sundarbans, according to the authorities.
Tourism in the country's south-western district has not developed much owing to a lack of easy communication and adequate facilities, though several lakhs of local and foreign tourists visit Bagerhat every year, said officials.
"Two of the country's three world heritage sites are located in Khulna division. The Padma Bridge, once it is inaugurated on 25 June, will change the entire tourism landscape here," Abu Tahir Muhammad Zaber, chief executive officer (Additional Charge) of the Bangladesh Tourism Board, told The Business Standard.
He noted that Bangladeshis love to travel, with the number of domestic tourists being more than 2 crore a year.
"We are working on a master plan by surveying 64 districts across Bangladesh. In the plan, Shaṭ Gambuj Mosque and the Sundarbans have been prioritised," said the tourism official, adding that multiple domestic and foreign companies are interested in investing in tourism.
Khan Jahan Ali built the Shaṭ Gambuj Mosque in Bagerhat in the 15th century. In 1985, Unesco declared the mosque a world heritage site. Currently, the Department of Archaeology has the responsibility of maintaining the mosque.
Afroza Khan Mita, Khulna and Barishal divisional director of the department, said, "People are interested in the historic mosque. However, many tourists do not visit it owing to poor road transportation."
With the opening of the Padma Bridge, linking the south-west of the country with the northern and eastern regions, the number of tourists visiting the site will increase. People from the capital will be able to reach the mosque in just three hours, and return to Dhaka on the same day, she said.
She said, "Not only will the number of tourists keen to see the mosque go up, but other archaeological sites in Khulna will also see a rise in the number of visitors."
At present, tourists can visit seven key archaeological sites in Khulna. There are more than 100 historical sites in the division.
Mohammad Jayed, custodian of a museum in the Shaṭ Gambuj Mosque premises, said that around 2.5 lakh tourists visited the mosque in the current fiscal year, with the government earning Tk55 lakh in revenue.
He believes the bridge will raise the number of visitors and revenue two-fold or three.
"We do not get enough guests except in the winter. But after the opening of the bridge, there will be a tourist rush round the year," predicted Mohammad Kamruzzaman, a hotelier in Bagerhat.
Sundarbans tour to become easier
Around 2.5 to 3 lakh tourists visit the Sundarbans – the world's largest mangrove forest – every year, earning the government Tk3 crore in revenue.
"Currently there are 7 ecotourism centres in the Sundarbans. We expect more tourists after the inauguration of the Padma Bridge. The forest department is building four tourist centres in advance," Chief Conservator of Forests Mihir Kumar Doe told TBS.
Unesco declared the Sundarbans a world heritage site in 1997. He said the newly built four eco-tourism centres will accommodate the tourist rush.
But, since the Sundarbans has a sensitive ecology, too many visitors will not be allowed at a time into the mangrove forest, according to Mihir Kumar.
Mohammad Belayet Hossain, Divisional Forest Officer (East Sundarbans), said easy transport is a prerequisite for the development of the tourism industry.
"Due to the lack of better transportation, the number of visitors to the Sundarbans has been low. The Padma Bridge will resolve the problem, as both domestic and foreign tourists will be able to visit the mangrove forest easily.
Niyamul Islam, a tourist guide in Bagerhat, said if the number of tourists increases, different establishments will be set up by the government as well as private entrepreneurs. And that will create jobs for local residents.
Bagerhat getting ready
Bagerhat Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Azizur Rahman said the administration is taking up various initiatives to make Bagerhat more attractive to domestic and foreign tourists.
"Already 80% of the construction work of a three-star hotel has been completed at a cost of Tk12.77 crore by the Parjatan Corporation. Besides, 100 people are being trained as tourist guides at the initiative of the district administration," he noted.
He said that the development of the local tourism industry will create several lakhs of jobs in Bagerhat and further enhance the living standards of the people.
Superintendent of Khulna Tourist Police Dewan Lalon Ahmed said the police are now providing services to tourists in six zones of Khulna. They are ready to provide security to more tourists, who are expected to visit the region after the opening of the bridge.
Apart from Khulna, the Tourism Board says the Padma Bridge will help the tourism industry flourish in the country's south-central Barishal too.