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Tourism takes yet another hit from Rohingya influx

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Kamrun Nahar | May 05, 2018 00:00:00

The influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar that started in August 2017 spelt disaster for the country's tourism industry.

Major tour operators in recent times have been facing various Rohingya related questions, especially on security issues and impact on tourism sector of Bangladesh, while participating in international travel marts or press conference or seminars.

Tour operators said many foreigners have misconceptions about Rohingya refugees that they move around freely in Cox's Bazar and adjoining tourist zones creating security concern.

"A propaganda by Myanmar government terming the Rohingya as extremists, to some extent, helped grow the misconceptions among the foreign tourists," an industry insider told the FE.

The tourism sector is very much spotted during this time as international media grabbed the Rohingya issue prominently while Cox' s Bazar is a major tourist destination having 120 kilometres long unbroken sandy sea beach.

Tourists flock to Cox's Bazar even in the rainy season as some of the tourist destinations like Sunderbans remained closed after March 15 and hilly areas face the precariousness of landslide and other hazards in this season.

Journey Plus chief executive Taufiq Rahman recently participated in Arabian Travel Market 2018 in Dubai of UAE from April 22-25.

"These type of questions were raised there during a press conference with the Bangladesh tourism minister present. The minister assured the audience that Rohingya was not a problem for Bangladesh tourism sector or there was no security threat," Taufiq Rahman said.

Mr Taufiq also attended many other international travel and tourism events including Japan, UK, Hong Kong facing the same embarrassing queries. He said the negative impression about Bangladesh is yet to be removed from the mind of the foreigners. Many of his counterparts in some countries have been cancelling their tour operations to Bangladesh for an indefinite period without showing any reason.

"Earlier I had inbound tourists from Japan, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Australia, China and Poland. But 90 per cent of these tourists refrain from visiting Bangladesh after Holey Artisan tragedy except from China and Poland," he said.

There is a lack of effort to promote Bangladesh after this type of man-made crisis to the tourist generating countries on the part of the government.

Echoing Mr Taufiq, chief executive officer of Vision Holidays Shariful Islam said the negative impression has not changed yet. At the international fairs buyers mainly raise questions about the Rohingya and the subsequent damage of tourism spots.

Bengal Tours, another major inbound tour operator of the country mainly attracting tourists from Japan, US, UK, France, the Netherlands has been hit severely after seven Japanese were killed in Holey Artisan attack.

Managing Director of Bengal Tours Masud Hossain told the FE that earlier about 6000 tourists came through his company of whom about 3500 were from Japan. But now, the number has dipped to about 1200 in 2017-18 of whom there may be about 600 from Japan.

A hotel employee at Gulshan area said before Holey Artisan attack, there was 60 per cent Japanese guests in their hotel which is now nil. At present, 60 per cent of their boarders are Indians who are not tourists.

Cox's Bazar district additional police super Afruzul Haque told the FE that influx of extra one million people from another country is certainly a big crisis. But it has not hampered the tourism environment of Cox's Bazar as the refugee camps are far away from the main tourist zone.

Movement of the Rohingya people is also restricted, there are many check posts for ensuring security of the tourists, he said.

"At the moment there are over 1800 foreigners in Cox's Bazar including leisure tourists. There is no reason to be worried as the government is trying its best to keep the situation perfect," he added.

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