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Future trends, implications and challenges

Potentials of tourism products and services in Bangladesh

Azizul Hassan and Haywantee Ramkissoon


“Potentials” is a buzzword that relies on many diverse aspects. Potentials must be spotted, well-planned and executed. The successful outcome of potentials carries weight based on valid and justified policy planning and measures to implement. Thus, the theoretical concept of potentials comes to reality in terms of successful implementation for the well-being of society and mankind. Tourism in Bangladesh has undoubted potentials. Currently, the potentials of tourism in Bangladesh arc recognized when development efforts are reflected in the development programmes and policies. Bangladesh, as a land of natural beauty and diversified cultures, possesses huge potentials for the development of its tourism industry. Ancient tourists argued that this land has always been able to attract a large number of tourists, priests, traders and wanderers from many different parts of the world. Based on the ancient relics, natural beauty and indomitable hospitality, Bangladesh offers enormous potentials to appear as an amazing tourist destination. This research finds that the country will experience a sharp growth of domestic tourists who will benefit from disposable income and the availability of leisure time (The Financial Express, 2018). There may be great potentials, however, these will require that tourist demands are met. This chapter analytically explains diverse aspects related to tapping the potentials of tourism products and services in Bangladesh.

Tourism in Bangladesh: potentials at the baseline

Every development design needs to have a set goal to reach. In principle, each of the initiatives is oriented towards reaching these goals. The tourism industry of Bangladesh is not the exception. The government of Bangladesh has declared 2021 as the “Year of Tourism” that deserves attention from the relevant policy planners, stakeholders and beneficiaries. The tourism industry of Bangladesh in this way is left to reach the set goals, which are believed to be attainable. The government of Bangladesh has set a clear vision for developing tourism in the country and has been working to attain this vision. The tourism industry of Bangladesh can possibly contribute to achieving the country’s vision for 2021 in many different ways.

Lonely Planet, the world’s most popular travel guide, placed Bangladesh in its top ten “Best Value” destinations list for 2019 and says, “Bangladesh creates astonishingly few ripples given everything it has to offer” (LonelyPlanet, 2019). Bangladesh as a tourist destination is also advertised in famous tourism and travel outlets. However, these are inadequate. The promotional and advertising activities of Bangladesh in the global media have never been satisfactory leaving a considerable gap in receiving the benefits of the global tourism industry. For decades, Bangladesh has been characterized as a natural calamity stricken and poor nation in the global media. It has not been branded as a country with tourism offerings. This is a significant drawback when the potentials of tourism in Bangladesh are already recognized but the publicity and media coverage remain poor and inadequate. The image of tourism in Bangladesh needs to be appealing in both the local and global media. Also, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is declared as “Dhaka, the QIC City for Tourism 2019” (Arab News, 2019).

Beyond diverse adversities, the tourism industry in Bangladesh has been developing rapidly. In the last few years, domestic tourism has expanded with good economic benefits. In many countries in Africa and Asia, expanding domestic tourism is often used a poverty alleviation tool (The Economist, 2019). Bangladesh is no exception. Domestic tourism can possibly contribute to overall tourism benefits including poverty alleviation and employment generation. However, there are not as many foreign tourists. The prime reason for the facilitation of domestic tourism is the rise of an affluent middle class in Bangladesh. This social class possesses both leisure time and disposable income. Tour operating businesses in the country also continue to expand mainly due to the involvement of this social class’s financial capacities. However, although the country witnesses a sharp growth of domestic tourism, there has always been inadequacy in terms of facility’ offerings for domestic tourists. Many of the existing and popular tourist attractions in the country still lack adequate tourist facilities and infrastructures, security and safety arrangements and useful communication codes.

In terms of nature-based tourist attractions, Bangladesh has a lot to offer. The most popular tourist attraction in Bangladesh is the Cox’s Bazar sea beach. The Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest (Islam et al., 2017). The Chat-togram Hill Tracts are next with three districts: Rangamati, Bandarban and Kha-grachari. St. Martin Island and Kuakata are also popular. Sylhet comes next with the tea gardens, Hazrat Shahjalal and Shahporan Mazars and many other resources, most of which are still unexplored and less known. Gazipur, nearby the city of Dhaka, is becoming a popular resort destination. Apart from all of these, several destinations in the country, like Netrokona, Sitakunda, Sherpur, Bhola and Barisal, are becoming popular in terms of domestic tourism. The trend of establishing attractive tourist facilities becomes visible in many parts of the country. For example, Paharpur in Naogaon or Sylhet’s Bichanakandi have no accommodation facilities for tourists, leaving these tourist attractions’ potential quite blurred and questionable.

There have not been any beneficial and tourism-friendly development policies and strategies aimed to develop the tourism industry of the country. The government framed the new Tourism Policy in 2010 (Hassan and Burns, 2014).

It emphasizes the tourism potentials underlining the development of community tourism, eco-tourism, pilgrimage tourism, rural tourism, archaeological tourism and riverine tourism within the cultural and traditional perspectives of Bangladesh. The National Tourism Policy prioritized the tourism industry, being led by the private sector. A tourism board was formed primarily for publicity and marketing abroad. A specialized law known as the Exclusive Tourist Zone and Tourism Protected Area was enacted for attracting foreign investment and sustainable development of the sector (Hassan and Kokkranikal, 2018). Tourist facilities have also been moderately developed. Still, more standard facilities are required for keeping up with the changing tastes and trends.

Bangladesh, a South Asian country, is a democratic republic that has political stability in recent times. This stability actually has resulted in a consistent growth of its GDP, which was 7.86% and 7.28% in financial years 2018-2019 and 2017-2018, respectively (World Bank, 2019). This growth is followed by the socio-economic development and investment in its tourism industry. Travel and tourism accounts for 3.8% of employment and 4.3% of the GDP (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2018).

As shown in Table 18.1, Bangladesh is in the 9th position; this decade, the economy of Bangladesh will have a significant GDP contribution from travel and tourism. In reality, domestic tourists in Bangladesh have disposable income along with sufficient time for tourism and leisure (Honeck and Akhtar, 2014). Also, the government has a commitment to support tourism as a major economic industry.

Bangladesh and neighbouring countries

Bangladesh is a relatively new destination in the global tourism arena with enormous tourism resources and unlimited potentials. Tourism in Bangladesh witnessed slower growth in recent decades. The other neighbouring countries of

Table 18.1 Countries where the contribution of travel and tourism to GDP will grow the fastest from 2019-2029

Fastest Growth

10-Year Real Growth

Travel & Tourism GDP

Annualized %

1 Qatar


2 Myanmar


3 India


4 China


5 Azerbaijan


6 Anguilla


7 Uzbekistan


8 Benin


9 Bangladesh


10 Kyrgyzstan


Source: World Travel and Tourism Council (2019a)

Bangladesh (i.e. India, Nepal and Maldives) are said to have vastly developed their tourism industry infrastructures and turned it to a major source of foreign currency earning. In reality, Bangladesh is far behind (Hassan et al., 2020). However, Bangladesh has a tourism market that definitely has promise for expansion and further development. In terms of tourism service capacities and tourism offerings, Bangladesh always held a solid position. Thus, the availability and abundance of resources for tourism activities are well-versed with the intervention of effective policy planning and implementation. Resources for tourism products and services need to be readily accessible for the rapid and sustained development of the tourism industry. Most of the tourism natural resources of Bangladesh, tangible and non-tangible, could contribute to promoting the destination to neighbouring countries. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives have plans for the rapid and quick formulation and implementation of longterm policies for future tourism development. The government of Bangladesh is keeping pace in this regard to catch up the success of these countries (Dhaka Tribune, 2019).

Tourism resource development and sustainability concerns

One of the most important and crucial aspects of tourism is sustainability, that is, the way to keep intact tourism resources for the next generations (Pulido-Fernandez et al., 2019; Ramkissoon and Sowamber, 2018). Examples include ecological destruction in the Sundarbans, St. Martin’s Island and many other natural tourist attractions. In the last decade, Cox’s Bazar has witnessed a sharp increase in its tourism infrastructure development. However, most of these developments came in an unplanned way. This happened because of the urgency to accommodate the pressure of extra tourists. A similar consequence happened in St. Martin’s Island when the influx of mass tourism started leaving drastic effects on the island’s fragile environment. Negative effects of mass tourism also took place in other major tourist attractions of the country such as Sylhet’s Tamabil, Jaflong and Bichanakandi and the Sundarbans. Future generations might not be able to enjoy the beauties of these tourist attractions. Involvement of local indigenous knowledge and resource adequacy arc important for sustainable tourism development in Bangladesh. Sustainability needs to be ensured in almost every initiative geared towards tourism development. Significant challenges need to be dealt with, including environmental sustainability for protecting biodiversity and keeping it unharmed from tourism practices and initiatives (Islam and Shamsud-doha, 2019).

In order to align with its sustainable development goals (SDGs), Bangladesh needs a consistent and reliable flow of foreign currencies. At present, the main sources of foreign currencies are the export of ready-made garments (RMG), the remittances sent by the Bangladeshi diaspora working abroad and the export of a few other commodities (Shahzalal and Hassan, 2019). However, these have never been adequate for meeting the development needs of the country. Thus, the country needs to rely on loans and grants from other countries. The urgency to explore more foreign currency earning avenues is important for halting domestic and external loan increases. In this regard, tourism can be a solid and reliable source of ensuring foreign currency inflow to Bangladesh. The country is adorned with panoramic beauty, there is also the rich cultural Buddhist heritage and natural and cultural heritage (Shabnam et al., 2019). These tourist spots can be an addition to the foreign currency earning platform.

Tourism resources development

Active role of the government

The government of Bangladesh has taken initiatives for the general development of the tourism industry. However, some of them have left positive impacts and some others have not. There is further need for more work on the development initiatives so they can generate more support for tourism development. The government needs to actively move forward with timely and effective plans to capitalize the potentials of the tourism industry. There is a pressing need for governmental agencies to attract new entrepreneurs to invest in the tourism industry of Bangladesh, and perhaps governmental financial organizations need to provide more incentives. New tourism entrepreneurs need to be welcomed to initiate their plans and investments. The government also needs to continue research and monitoring for identifying the drawbacks of the tourism industry and implement policies for stakeholder engagement (Hassan and Burns, 2014; Dewnarain ct al., 2019).

Involving the private sector

With the involvement of private sector in the tourism industry, the country has witnessed some encouraging outcomes. Bangladesh has now many five-star hotels and other accommodation, good transportation and other relevant tourist facilities. The country will badly need larger private sector investments to accommodate future tourist demands. Private sector partnerships are being encouraged to promote Bangladesh’s tourism industry. This has resulted in the building of tourism resources including motels, hotels and restaurants. This also resulted in a range of benefits for locals in terms of employment and livelihood support. A good number of local youths work as tour guides across Bangladesh and in the Sundarbans and Lawachhara, in particular. With the growth of domestic tourism demand, there is a need for more tourist facilities. Local people in the community will also get the opportunity to sell locally made tourist products and services. World Travel and Tourism Council (2019b) listed Bangladesh in the “Top 20 Countries: Fastest Growing in Terms ofT&T GDP”, stating that in 2018, travel and tourism GDP growth was 11.6% and by 2029, a total of 741,000 jobs will be created. So far, there has not been a good inflow of direct foreign investments. A strong and effective private-public partnership is yet to be established to encourage and promote tourism enterprises in the country.

Using indigenous knowledge

The locals should be involved in sustainable tourism development (Islam and Carlsen, 2016; Ramkissoon and Sowamber, in press; Nunkoo and Ramkissoon, 2016). Locals can offer accommodation for tourists, creating the chances to interact with the tourists as well as earn a livelihood (Situmorang et al., 2019). This initiative also gives rise to community-based tourism enterprises in terms of tourism promotion and attracting foreign tourists. All of these initiatives can contribute to a better quality of life for the locals (Ramkissoon ct al., 2018) and contribute further to positive economic impacts in Bangladesh. Involvement of the locals in tourism promotion promotes domestic tourism, and remote tourist attractions with natural and cultural assets are shown on the map. It is very important that in the process policy guidelines are followed, and public support for tourism development is essential (Megcihi et al., 2020). Following gradual development in the tourism industry, the local people may enjoy better lifestyles. Local people from many remote parts of Bangladesh can showcase their tourism products and services and make a livelihood from tourism (Sowamber and Ramkissoon, 2019).

Considering stakeholders’ opinions

Apart from the popular ones, there are a number of new tourist spots in Bangladesh having enormous potentials and largely unexplored (Dhaka Tribune, 2018). One of the reasons for this is the lack of proper development and promotion planning for the tourism industry (Zarci and Ramkissoon, in press). Some of the tourist spots include relatively less-known hills, beaches, forest areas and other places that are becoming more popular mainly due to the rising influence of social media. Still, most of these tourist spots remain unexplored by both foreign and local tourists. There is a need for the government and destination marketers to sustainably promote these unexplored cultural and natural assets (Ramkissoon, 2016; Ramkissoon and Uysal, 2011, 2014). Diverse local tourist groups including adventure-seeking youths are becoming attracted to new tourist spots rather than the conventional ones such as the Sundarbans, tea estates in Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar. Proper initiatives need to be taken to develop tourist spots in relatively remote areas including the Nafakhum and Bandarban districts, Remakri, Paddamukh, Thanchi and Amiakhum and Sylhet’s Bichhnakandi and Ratargul, along with some other recently popular areas.

The government needs to offer the necessary logistical facilities along with other initiatives to further assist the growth of domestic tourism, as well as promote Bangladesh’s tourist offerings to attract international tourists. There are social media groups and private tourist agencies working closely both to market and develop these new and uncommon places and redefining them as vibrant tourism attractions. The coordination between the relevant ministries and departments attached to the tourism sector is essential to represent the government’s willingness to work with the private sector for sustainable tourism development (Ramkissoon et al., 2013).

One of the popular tourist magazines in Bangladesh, the “Bangladesh Monitor” believes that the tourism industry in Bangladesh is a rather neglected one. The government has not taken any initiative to prepare a master plan aimed to develop this industry, no effective tourist guidelines have been deployed and there is no concrete plan to target and encourage tourists (The Daily Star, 2013, 2018). No master plan has been developed, which means the authorities are less likely to work coherently to improve the new tourist attractions with immense potentials. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) and the Ministry Civil Aviation and Tourism (MOCAT) should work together to identify new and unexplored tourist spots and develop and promote these spots with logistical support. These collective efforts may be able to attract both domestic and overseas tourists as well as enrich the tourism industry. The government encouraged these initiatives in an attempt to make the tourism industry economically viable and attractive. The government appears keen to offer relevant and necessary policy support for this industry to develop (Hassan et al., 2020; Hassan and Kokkranikal, 2018).

Understanding geo-politics: Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation

According to The Independent (2019) and The New Nation (2019), Bangladesh expects to realize potentials of the tourism industry through the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) tourism cooperation. From 30 to 31 August 2018, the 4th Summit of the BIMSTEC Member States was held in Kathmandu, Nepal, where members agreed to take solid initiatives for promoting intra-BIMSTEC tourism. These Member States tasked the relevant authorities to devise strategies to create opportunities based on earlier initiatives. This includes the plan that was adopted earlier, the Plan of Action for Tourism Development and Promotion for the BIMSTEC Region. The BIMSTEC Member States agreed to take concrete measures to facilitate tourism by ensuring the security and safety of tourists supported by smooth transport connectivity. These states insisted in their commitment to develop and promote the Temple Tourist Circuit, the Buddhist Tourist Circuit, eco-tourism, the Ancient Cities Trail and medical tourism.

Understanding geo-politics: focusing on the Asian regional tourism market

Again according to The Independent (2018), Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh on 14 October 2016. Bangladesh and China came to an agreement for expanding cooperation and exchanges in education, culture, tourism and other relevant areas. These two countries also agreed to promote interactions between the youths, think tanks, media, non-governmental groups, women’s organizations and local authorities. Xi Jinping proposed that China offers huge importance on cross-border tourism under the Belt and Road Initiative (BTI). At present, China generates the largest number of outbound tourists in the world, numbering 144 million per year (China Daily, 2018). Bangladeshi tourism industry insiders believe that the country with its tourism products and resources has the capacity to attract many foreign tourists mostly originating from countries like India, Myanmar and China. These tourists, known as special interest tourists, can enjoy destinations and resources attached to Buddhism. India has been promoting its Buddhist Circuit to attract Chinese tourists. In Myanmar, tourists from China are the second largest group in a few popular tourist destinations like Mandalay and Yangon. These Chinese tourists also visit religious sites in Myanmar including Hpa-An, Bago, Mon State, Pindaya and the ancient cities like Mrauk-U, Bagan and Nabulc Ngapal.

Unlocking the potentials of the Buddhist tourism circuit

Bangladesh, as a country with a majority of Muslims, has several traditional sites for religious tourism. The country also attracts pilgrims to its Islamic Holy sites. In line with this current trend, the country has many different sites with importance attached to Buddhism that are largely untapped and niche (Bhandari, 2019). Millions of Buddhists mostly live in the South East Asia, East Asia and Far East countries. The Bangladesh Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, as the responsible ministry, aims to promote sustainable tourism in the country (MOCAT, 2019). To facilitate potential Buddhist tourist flow to the country, the government of Bangladesh has stressed regional cooperation to develop the strategic tourism resources of the country. Examples can be found in the ancient Buddhist heritage sites that scatter across the country from Bogra’s Paharpur to Cumilla’s Shalban Bihar, and others for which China has initiated development support (China Daily, 2018). The panoramic natural beauty’ of Bangladesh coupled with the world’s largest sea beach, Cox’s Bazar, remain the conventional attractions for the tourists. Bangladesh must adequately develop the potential of these tourist attractions, followed by establishing relevant tourist facilities.

In Bangladesh, a good number of people can possibly be engaged both in direct and indirect Buddhist tourism activities. Even though there is also a serious shortage of skilled manpower and human resources in the tourism and hospitality sector, the tourism industry in Bangladesh can contribute to training and development, contribute to poverty alleviation and address unemployment issues in the country. The generation of employment and the reduction of poverty can be made possible by reaching a specific level of tourism development in a country. Tourism in Bangladesh can be a usefill and important means to achieve its sustainable development goals (SDGs), and Bangladesh’s tourism sector will benefit from both the policy support and effective implementation.

Tourist facilities development

All forms of transportation including road, rail, water and air must be developed to allow the Buddhist tourists to reach their destinations without unexpected hassles (Hasnat and Hasan, 2018). Separate, special training facilities are on the

Potentials of tourism products and services 325 way to connect Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and China. The inland waterways of Bangladesh have immense potential for the development of Buddhist tourism and the services need to be developed adequately for this purpose. Bangladesh as an extended tourism destination possesses enormous potentials for attracting tourists originating from China, Japan, Myanmar and India. These potentials need to be unlocked by both the private sector and the government to allow the tourism industry of Bangladesh to grow. Some major obstacles may need to be removed perhaps by providing on-arrival visa ease through both land and sea ports. A positive role of the government is essential to remove obstacles so that these foreign tourists can consider Bangladesh an extended destination. Private sector tourism enterprises also need to establish wider engagements with India’s and Myanmar’s tour operators. Also, ocean cruise tourists have created new opportunities that Bangladesh can explore.


The tourism industry in Bangladesh has experienced ongoing development relying on different factors. The country has mostly been able to oversee its tourism industry in a great way, but priority tourism niches require attention. The tourism industry in Bangladesh will thrive if it can capitalize on its potentials. To date, the country is said to have been partly successful in reaping such potentials. The injection of both private and public investments, increasing attention of expatriate and non-resident Bangladeshis to visit their friends and family members, disposable income of the locals and adequate time for leisure activities all support the tourism industry of the country. Bangladesh already has its National Tourism Policy and supporting legislative frameworks aiming to make positive contributions to the tourism industry. These help the tourism industry of Bangladesh to develop. However, the national tourism policy has not been updated on the basis of local and global changing perspectives. The National Tourism Policy needs to be able to spot and address the barriers and challenges for achieving a well-deserved tourism industry. Thus, the policy and complete set of legislative frameworks arc required to be both reorganized and modernized. The global tourism industry is highly competitive and demands a stakeholder approach for sustainable tourism development in the country to address not only the country’s but also broader societal goals (Ramkissoon and Sowamber, 2012). Bangladesh still requires several short, mid- and long-term projects supported with a considerable amount of budgetary allocation. The tourism industry also needs to be prioritized in the national development agendas, plans and programmes. Drawing on limited existing literature on tourism development in Bangladesh, this chapter aims to encourage future researchers to further explore the country’s potential in developing its tourism sector aligning with its sustainable development goals.


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