For a country that has the world's largest mangrove forest Sundarbans, the good old port of Chattogram, sandy beach Cox's Bazar, the beautiful Teknaf peninsula and eye-catching Saint Martin Island, "sea tourism" can help beat Covid blues by generating billions of dollars. All that's needed is an integrated initiative to connect these popular destinations by marine terminals, say experts.
"Bangladesh has a huge potential in the sea tourism sector. Just we need an integrated initiative that will help the country generate robust economic growth," Dr Md Kawser Ahmed, Professor of the Oceanography department at Dhaka University, told UNB. "We can earn billions of dollars through sea tourism if the Sundarbans, Chattogram, Cox's Bazar, Teknaf and Saint Martin Island could be connected."
While sea tourism has the potential to help Bangladesh get the 'developed country' status by 2041, at the same time, the government should take appropriate steps like fixing environmental taxes for tourists not only to generate revenue but also to protect the country's valuable resources, according to Dr Md Kawser.
"We propose the government to fix Tk500 for a tourist landing on Saint Martin Island and a minimum of Tk1000 every night as environment tax. We hope tourists will pay this willingly. We also pay toll tax on Padma Bridge like the Jamuna Bridge," he said, also stressing on the need for introducing scuba diving at Saint Martin to attract tourists.
Bangladesh, the professor said, can be a prime destination for foreign tourists in South Asia. "Bangladesh can take an initiative in the future to connect Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and India by marine routes. So, government-to-government agreements are needed for making this a success," he said.
But another expert, Research Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Khandoker Golam Moazzem said that tourism is needed in this country, but not at the cost of the environment. "We have to give priority to the environment at first. We can't destroy our resources in the name of tourism. So, we have to conserve the corals too."
Dr Khandoker said the government has to embark on a long-term plan to run passenger vessels in the seas prioritising the nature first policy. "Then, domestic and regional tourists will visit the spots. And the tourism sector will play a significant role in Bangladesh's economy," the economist said.
Shiblul Azam Koreshi, the owner of Abakash Parjatan on Saint Martin Island, said the island is not that attractive to tourists nowadays. "Around 2000 tourists visit the island daily during the peak season (December to February). Now few domestic tourists visit the island due to bad weather and Covid pandemic," he said.
The vice president of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) also said that sea tourism will bolster Bangladesh's economy. "The government is building a tourist zone in Sabrang of Teknaf. Now tourists can enjoy the Bay of Bengal utilising the world's longest marine drive."
"The government should focus on the blue economy to tide over the economic crisis. As Bangladesh won in the maritime boundary case with Myanmar and India in the International Tribunal, there is no problem in the Bay of Bengal. Ocean economy, known as the blue economy, offers opportunities in fishery, mineral resources, shipping and energy as well," he said.
Shiblul said there are now 150 Abakash and 70 restaurants on Saint Martin Island. "The government should also set up a 'waste treatment plant' here as soon as possible. Moreover, the solar capacity should be improved to light up the site," he said.
Bangladesh has the right to fish and explore resources within 118,813 square kilometres of the Bay of Bengal. Sources said the ocean contributes around USD 6.0 billion annually to the Bangladesh economy. The gross value addition (GVA) of Bangladesh's ocean economy was USD 6.2 billion in 2015.
The total contribution of the tourism and travel sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh was Tk 840.2 billion or 4.3 percent of the country's GDP in 2016, according to Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) data. And according to the World Travel and Tourism Council ((WTTC), the sector would grow by 7.1 percent each year raising the total contribution to Tk1,783 billion or 4.7 percent to the country's GDP by 2027.