According to a report in The Daily Star, 5,29,000 visitors came to Bangladesh during 2006-2010 and the country ‘earned US$ 413.00 million’ during this time. Accepting this figure as accurate, I am writing this post.
I also found in that report of the Daily Star that Bangladesh government gave Tk.650.00 million to the Tourism Board ‘for promoting and branding Bangladesh’. I have no information or idea about how the money was spent but sadly, I still cannot find any significant effort of using ICT in promoting tourism in the country. Especially when it comes to Internet, I really cannot find a large web portal in which you can find all the information of the tourism sector of the country.
The tourism sector has huge potential for the economy of the country. The country is blessed with natural beauty. The entire Hill Tracts, Sylhet, Sunderbans, The two sea beaches are very beautiful and can attract many tourists both foreign and local. Historical sites like Paharpur (Somapura Mahavihara) and Mohastangar symbolizes the rich heritage of the country. Bangladesh is also rich in cultural heritage. The rich tradition of Puthi recitation is there. Many people living near the Sundarbans forest recite Bonbibi’s Puthi with the goal of remaining safe from the attack of tigers.
One of the major reasons of our failure in the tourism sector is the lack of use of ICT and modern technology. We do not have any notable website or online presence here. We are still far behind in adopting modern technology in terms of booking and reservations in hotels and motels outside of Dhaka. Finally, there is no good e-commerce based website or web portal in which consumers can find and buy books, photos, videos and other products associated with historical and cultural significance.
It is not that tough to build a website on tourism by the private sector. However, it is almost impossible to make a profit out of it. Simply, there is no revenue model for it. For this, we need the spread of e-commerce in Bangladesh. Suppose our company or organization could build a website on the tourism sector of the country and even could put substantial amount of text, photos and videos. After that, there is hardly any potential to earn money and sustain it.
If there was widespread use of e-commerce in the tourism sector then we could provide to link hotels, motels and other service providers in the tourism sector like Airlines and travel agencies, tour operators etc. Then whatever transaction would take place due, we would earn a commission of 5% to 10%. This sounds too easy to implement but the reality is that most companies in the tourism sector in our country do not have this kind of vision.
Secondly, in our country, a tourist guide is identified merely as a person who can speak English well. Many tourist guides are not aware of the rich cultural heritage of the country. It often discourages tourists to make a trip outside of Dhaka. Again a good website can help the guides as well the tourists.
When it comes to doing research, Bangladesh has a lot to offer. It is really an unexplored country. Most of the fields are empty. Brahmo movement and Society in Dhaka, Marwaris in Bangladesh, Art and Architecture of the Pala Age, Bonbibi of the Sundarbans- these are some of the examples that can attract a lot of researchers. Again, the use of ICT and e-commerce can help the researchers. Also, it is not that expensive to make and upload some videos in YouTube and Facebook. Then, the foreign scholars and professors might get interested about these topics.
Despite these limitations and problems, I am optimistic about the tourism sector. Internal or local tourism has increased to a great extent. During the winter season and major holidays, thousands of people visit at least Cox’s Bazar. The average GDP growth has been constantly hovering around 6% and this can have positive impact in the growth of the tourism sector. If I am not wrong, tea was the second highest export earning product 30 years ago. However, now the demand for tea has increased so much in the local market that we are becoming a tea importing country.
For increasing the use of e-commerce and ICT in the tourism sector here are some recommendations:
1. Without any delay, we need a large web portal about tourism sector of Bangladesh in English language. That web portal will have text content, videos and photos about at least 1,000 places of 460 Upozilas.
2. We also have to create 1,000 videos for Facebook and Youtube. The length of the videos will be around 5-10 minutes. Each video will be in two languages: Bangla and English.
3. With the help of Banks and mobile financial institutions, the government should ensure that all the hotels and motels located in the popular tourist destinations will have online payment system for reservations and booking.
4. We need an online directory on Tourism which will be updated every year.
5. The Tourism Board should join hand with the Home Ministry to set up a special help line (mobile phone number). In times of trouble, the tourists will be able to call or send sms to that number and get help from the nearest police station.
6. We also need to make a large e-commerce based web portal on traditional products of the country. Anyone from any part of the planet will be able to buy the products with their credits cards.
7. I have been directly or indirectly involved with the ICT sector of the country for last 15 years. I know very well that nothing will change overnight. The process of change in our country is often painfully slow. However, if we can adopt e-commerce and ICT in this sector then things will really move rapidly.