Tourism coming out of woods
Business of hotels and resorts in tourist destinations is rebounding slowly as the Delta Covid-19 variant and dengue have turned customers very cautious over whether they would go on holidays.
However, some holidaymakers are thronging beach cities, hill tracts and other tourist attractions after months of being limited to their homes for strict lockdowns since the beginning of March.
On August 19, the government allowed all tourist spots, community centres, resorts and recreation centres to reopen, on condition they run at 50 per cent capacity with all health safety protocols in place.
After the reopening, Cox's Bazar, the top holiday spot with about 470 hotels and motels and 2,000 food outlets, is drawing some guests.
Of the 200 rooms at the Ocean Paradise Hotel and Resort, 100 has been opened, according to Chairman MN Karim.
"Things are improving slowly. Business in the weekend is good," he said
"On a regular day, there are only 25 to 30 rooms occupied with guests. When it's Friday and Saturday, it crosses 50," said Karim. According to Rashed Mahmud, managing director of Grace Cox Smart Hotel, they opened 36 rooms out of the 72 they had for guests and all were getting booked on the weekends.
"However, other than Friday and Saturday, the number of bookings fall substantially," he said.
He said to run a property at 50 per cent capacity costs the same as in full capacity.
"Since buses can operate in full capacity, I think we should be allowed to open all of our rooms as they are separate. With maintaining health guidelines, we are confident to operate fully," he said.
Asked about the recent government stimulus package, he said, "Last week we contacted the bank but they said they haven't received the instruction on how this stimulus package would be disbursed."
Bangladesh Bank last month declared a new Tk 1,000 crore stimulus package for hotels, motels and theme parks suffering for the ongoing business slowdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The owners of residential hotels and theme parks will be able to get funds from the scheme at 4 per cent interest. Banks, however, will enjoy an 8 per cent interest as the government will provide a subsidy of 4 per cent.
Abdul Kaium Chowdhury, managing director of Hotel The Cox Today, said banks were not cooperating properly.
"The way banks should deal with us, they are not doing that. We still are not getting anything from them," said Chowdhury, who is also a top leader of Cox's Bazar Hotel-Motel Owners Association.
"The tourism season hasn't started yet and if the mass vaccination takes place, I hope we will do better in the peak season of November and December," he said.
Hotel The Cox Today, which has 272 rooms, is running at half capacity.
Rana Karmakar, general manager of Mermaid Beach Resort on Marine Drive Road in Cox's Bazar, said, "We have been getting a good response from tourists since the reopening."
"The response is quite good during the holidays. Before the pandemic we used to have 70 per cent of our capacity full with tourists, but now it has dropped to 50 per cent," he said.
He said they applied at the deputy commissioner's office for incentives for their staff. They have not gone for job cuts or a salary cuts during the pandemic, he said.
To attract tourists, many hotels in Cox's Bazar are offering discounts teaming up with airlines.
A holiday package of domestic private carrier US-Bangla Airlines offers a two-night, three-day stay at international standard hotels, Dhaka-Cox's Bazar-Dhaka air ticket, airport-hotel-airport transfer, breakfast and many more, at Tk 11,290.
Customers of another private airline, Novoair, can get a three-day and two-night package to Cox's Bazar from Dhaka with equal monthly installment facility for six months starting at Tk 1,899 per month.
The package includes airfare, hotel accommodation, airport to hotel to airport transfers, and complimentary breakfast for two persons.
Bangladesh's hospitality industry was the first to feel the effects of the ongoing pandemic and is forecasted to be the last to recover even though the economy has reopened.
According to the Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh, the sector had to incur a loss of around Tk 20,000 due to the pandemic since last year.
Hotels and resorts in tourist destinations started their slow recovery in August last year, after the lockdown measures and other restrictions were slowly eased.
According to industry insiders, the hotels in Cox's Bazar were operating in full swing in November and December last year and in January this year as many hotels were forced to decline customers due to an influx of booking requests during these months.
"I hope the Covid situation won't get worse in the coming month as we are preparing for a good winter," said Abdul Kaium Chowdhury of Hotel The Cox Today.