When people consider a trip deep into South Asia it is usually Thailand and India that they go for. But lying nestled in between the two is a country with vast potential and unspoiled landscape; waiting to be discovered. It is usually the trails blazed by backpackers that set the scene for those to come. It takes a brave adventurer to really go off the beaten track and with recent political unrest, only the true explorers would chance Bangladesh.
The travel and tourism board of Bangladesh knows that they can build the necessary budget infrastructure for considerably less capital outlay then required for the mid-tier tourism market. Take for instance Thailand, which was at one point a no-go area. The government reacted quickly to the arrival of backpackers, by building small short stay lodges for low cost, and the injection of money flowed through to the more upmarket resorts. Right now, Thailand is one of the most popular destinations on the globe, with everyone from honeymooners to budget travelers looking to spend vacations there.
The country is a green wonderland, decorated with waterways and bursting with friendly locals. In Bangladesh, get used to a slower pace of life; the poor infrastructure and as of yet underdeveloped tourism industry means, if you are expecting to move quickly through towns you will be disappointed. It isn’t a ‘tick-the-box’ kind of country, you need to relax, unwind, and plan your journey with care. Bangladeshis have built a reputation on being incredibly friendly; as tourism remains in its infancy. In Dhaka- the capital, locals will treat you as a novelty and will be keen to show you around, this is true north and south of the country.
Bangladesh has many hidden gems with Dhaka, Khulna, The Sundarbans, Sylhet, Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bandarban, The Sangu River, Cox’s Bazar; all worth visiting. River trips are a good way to get away from the more populated areas and are a chance to see the natural beauty at The Sunderbans.
The country is full of rivers with over 700 dissecting the small country. The result, as you would imagine, is lush, hypnotic-green landscapes. There are just as many kilometers of riverways in the country as there are roads, so boat journeys are unavoidable but offer a very unique way to see the sites.
Natural beauty of Bangladesh
The natural beauty of Bangladesh is at its zenith at the Sundarbans National Park; the largest mangrove forest in the world. It is home to more than 400 Royal Bengal tigers, the largest single population of tigers in the entire globe. An enormous network of waterways stretches for about 80 kilometers from the Bay of Bengal. In Bangladesh, travel opportunities are varied; boat and bus will provide you with access to most locations, but be prepared to learn patience.
A four-day boat trip into the belly of this forest is often marked as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Between December and February, it is even possible to walk out to the Swatch of No Ground, a massive deep-water canyon just a short distance from the Sundarbans. Whales and dolphins can even be spotted by lucky tourists. The Madhabkunda waterfall is one of the largest in the country and on the way to the summit, you can see wonderful views of tea gardens and rolling hills. Rubber and lemon plantations complete the picture.
Tourism in Bangladesh statistics
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council Bangladesh had 463,000 international tourist arrivals in 2015. This is expected to grow to 652,000 in 2025, and the flow of expenditure is predicted to amount to BDT 18.4 bn, an increase of 5.7 percent pa. Travel and tourism is expected to rise by 7.8 percent per annum over the next ten years with a figure of BDT 132.1 bn predicted for 2025. Tourism in Bangladesh generated 1,281,500 jobs in 2012 or 1.8 percent of the country’s total employment.
One million Chinese tourists are expected to arrive in 2016 to visit the country’s rich Buddhist Heritage sites. Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister–Rashed Khan Menon told press at a meeting of ambassadors. An ambitious target, given that there were only 10,000 Chinese tourists in 2015. But the sector could go along the way to support the GDP contribution of the clothing industry.
Tourism in Bangladesh problems and prospects
Tourism Bangladesh features some challenges to rise to the heights achieved by nearby Thailand. Backpackers hate bureaucracy, and visa controls have improved a lot but the process could still be fine-tuned to ease passage from India.
Accessibility needs to be improved, for example getting around The Sundarbans and Bandarban. Opening up areas of the forest to tourists to travel accompanied by a ranger would put the area firmly on the map for trailblazing tourists.
Short-term rental bungalows that are cheap and clean, but cozy in design are what adventurers want, nothing too fancy. The government has an opportunity through public/private partnerships to construct bungalows in these destinations. Homestays with double-room cabins made from wood and thatched roofs would be ideal. Open-air kitchens allow guests to cook communally and chat about their trip agenda.
Setting up tourist-friendly villages will entice backpackers and adventurers. The government could provide funding to educate the owners with basic hospitality-level English, enough to set their guests up and to give them directions around the village to nearby hot spots.
What does the Future Hold?
Bangladesh has huge potential and could one day have the tourist numbers that Thailand has. The government needs to collaborate with local communities to invest in necessary public transport infrastructure and homestays. The only thing putting off most potential tourists is having a comfortable place to stay, with an English speaking host and a road network to access natural beauty. Traditional Bangladeshi hospitality needs to be utilized to foster the huge untapped tourism potential of this beauty in the Bay of Bengal.