Tour operators seek mercy from political violence

The tourism sector may count a loss of Tk 100 crore in the next three months due to cancellations of planned tours by foreign travellers amid political violence.

Foreigners have completely cancelled their bookings for the rest of January, said Taufiq Rahman, chief executive officer of Journey Plus, a leading tour operator.

About 5,000 tourists were expected to arrive in Bangladesh until March, but they have either cancelled their bookings or are planning to do so, he said.

His comments come as the tourism industry has started to feel the pinch of the strikes and blockades going on for the past ten days.

The dire situation prompted the tourism sector to organise an urgent press briefing at the auditorium of the Bangladesh Tourism Board in the capital yesterday. At the briefing, Akhtaruz Zaman Khan Kabir, chief executive of Bangladesh Tourism Board, said the nonstop blockade and the accompanying violence are seriously damaging the sector.

Subsequently, the political parties were requested to exempt the tourism sector from the purview of their activities.

Rahman of Journey Plus said the blockade left 1,000 foreign tourists stranded in Bangladesh.

“They have not committed any crime. They have come to explore the country and its beauty and heritage. So, they should be provided with security and other support such that they return with some pleasant memories,” he said, while urging the government to provide financial assistance to firms who have been affected by the blockade.

Rahman’s company has already received 120 foreigners.

Faridul Haque, a former president of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), said the sector counted huge losses in 2013 due to political violence. “We didn’t even recoup the losses from that spell that another one has arrived. It is ruining the country’s image.”

Consequently, the tourism sector is being hurt for the long-term, he said.

BNP and its allies should not attack cars and buses carrying foreign tourists, said a number of speakers at the briefing.

Rahman, also a director of TOAB, said the tourist season, which kicked off in December, had a very good start, due to which the industry people were hoping to register a 20-25 percent growth in arrivals.

Bangladesh receives foreign tourists mainly from the UK, Japan and the US.

In 2013, a total of 3.92 lakh foreigners visited Bangladesh, generating direct jobs for 1.32 lakh people, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.