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BD’s tourism in trouble for Myanmar conflict

GULAM RABBANI | February 13, 2024 00:00:00

Winter is typically a time to break away from the urban routine and travel to the verdant hills of Chittagong, the sandy beaches of Cox's Bazar or the crystalline waters of Saint Martin's Island.

In fact, the winter touring sentiment is the lifeblood of Bangladesh's tourism sector.

However, the heated political climate surrounding the early January national elections put many travel plans on hold. Tourists intended to holiday after the polls; tour operators also organised packages accordingly.

But the spillover of violent armed conflict in Myanmar threw a wrench into those plans.

People are avoiding southeastern tourist destinations like Teknaf, St. Martin's, Bandarban's Naikhongchari and other areas.

Tourist flow to beach town Cox's Bazar remains normal for now, according to tour operators, who believe the Myanmar conflict is a blow to business. The sector, just beginning to recover after two years of Covid-led restrictions, is closely monitoring the situation.

In the first week of February, authorities announced the closure of all tourist ships to St. Martin's via the Teknaf route for security reasons.

Hotels and resorts immediately began cancelling bookings upon news of the ship service suspension. Simultaneously, demand for return bus tickets surged. Cashing in on the situation, bus operators charged passengers one and a half to two times the regular fare.

Abdullahil Mamun Niloy, owner of Orchestra Beach Resort on Saint Martin's Island, told The Financial Express that mid-level resort and restaurant owners have been severely affected by the suspension of tourist ships.

Sazzadur Rahman, owner of Saint Castle resort on the island, echoed the same.

While the movement of tourist ships from Teknaf remains suspended, travellers can still reach Saint Martin's by alternative routes, as ships sailing from Cox's Bazar-Saint Martin's and Chittagong-Saint Martin's continue their operations.

The tourism sector on Saint Martin's Island relies heavily on ships from Teknaf due to the shorter travel time. Few tourists are willing to endure the longer, 6-7-hour journey from Cox's Bazar, especially considering the higher fares compared to the Teknaf route.

Shiblul Azam Koreshi, president of the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), said, "The ongoing conflict in Myanmar near the Bangladesh border has significantly impacted us."

"The tourism sector suffered heavy losses before the national election due to political unrest. However, just as business was returning to normal after the polls, the security crisis at the Myanmar border has thrown businesses into a new dilemma," he added.

Mr Koreshi said, "A jetty was planned for the Sabrang area in Teknaf to serve tourist ships heading to Saint Martin's. Once built, we won't need to cross the Naf River near the Myanmar border anymore."

He recommended that the government allow more ships to operate from the Cox's Bazar jetty during this crisis period.

Despite the Teknaf-Saint Martin's route closure, Cox's Bazar hotels and motels reported adequate tourist numbers.

Washington Barua, assistant manager (Business Development) of Long Beach Hotel in Cox's Bazar, confirmed they have sufficient guests.

Similarly, Muzahirul Islam Rifat, manager (Sales) of Sea Pearl Beach Resort in Cox's Bazar, said the border situation has not created any crisis for visitors in Cox's Bazar.

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