Bangladesh as a Tourist Destination: Globally tourism has evolved as one of the world's largest economic sectors contributing 35% of global exports of services (UNWTO, 2008). Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, tourism industry has been facing rigorous changes and the idea about tourism also been changed. This change can also be identified as change in the positioning from leisure to profitable economic sector. In Bangladesh, tourism and related travels services contributed BDT 5562.7 million through foreign exchange earnings in 2010 (BTB, 2014). Research in Bangladesh indicates that development of tourism brings economic benefits to local community in the forms of employment opportunities, increased income, development of small and medium size enterprises and land price increase (Rahman, 2010).
Tourists seem inclined to visit Bangladesh during the winter season. Generally January to March constitutes the peak tourist season, with the rainy season (July-September) constituting the lean period for international tourist arrivals. For instance, in 2009 total tourist arrival was 2,67,107 where average visitor arrival during the peak season was about 26,678 per month but during the lean season it was 18,256 (BTB, 2014). After two years, with increasing trend total tourist arrivals in 2011 reached to 2,92,000 (OIC, 2013).
Shifts in Stereotyped Image of Bangladesh as a Tourist Destination
There have been several changes in the approach towards tourism in Bangladesh to match with the global changes and contextual distinctiveness. The milestone shifts might be understood through the following changes.
1. Both foreign and domestic tourists are now prioritized instead of the initial focus on foreign tourists only.
2. Several destinations, culture and heritage are now highlighted as tourism products instead of dominant focus on the longest unbroken sandy beach of Cox's Bazar alone.
3. Television Commercial is now being used to promote Bangladesh as a tourist destination under the theme – Discover Beautiful Bangladesh through the school of life TVC. However, there was no such professional initiative to promote tourism in Bangladesh earlier.
Need for a New Image
In spite of the changed approach towards tourism in Bangladesh the country has been experiencing decreasing gains from international tourism. Therefore, it might be inferred that with the current image, Bangladesh has been unable to have a favorable balance of international tourism. The situation might be perceived from information presented in the following table.
Although many commercial interventions, investments, entrepreneurial efforts, and tourism related associations have been evolved, however the country is not yet able to attract good number of foreign tourists in a sustainable manner. Also tourist destinations in Bangladesh are not significantly unique in global perspective and thus destination oriented promotion of Bangladesh cannot be a strong unique selling proposition (USP) to promote Bangladesh. Therefore, we need a stronger and sustainable USP to gain competitive advantage.
Appropriate SWOT (Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat) and PEST (Political-Economic-Social-Technological) analysis might assist in achieving the foresaid goal. A new branding strategy might be adopted to incorporate this goal to promote hospitable people with diversified lifestyle and distinct culture as the new image. Therefore, we need to preserve the cultural traits and heritage instead of modifying those. We also need to realize that foreign tourists usually come to Bangladesh to experience new cultures that have authenticity and originality. Therefore, distorting cultural traits, heritage, and natural originality might eventually distract foreign tourists with long-term impacts on the image of Bangladesh as a tourist destination. Integrated approach involving culture, history, archeology, religion and nature, is what required harvesting the very best of all the existing tourism products.
The author is professor, Department of Marketing, Faculty of Business Studies, University of Dhaka and member, Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB).