The domestic tourism sector has been hit hard by the escalating tension surrounding Sunday's general elections as visitors stay away from popular tourist destinations such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Cox's Bazar and Sylhet for fear of getting stranded.
The slump comes at a time when the sector typically clocks in impressive numbers for favourable weather and school holidays.
The peak season for the tourism industry is from the middle of December to January, but the number of local tourists moving around came crashing down to only 10 percent of last year's at this point, said industry leaders.
Local tourists numbered 70 lakh in 2017, up from 60 lakh a year earlier. Besides, there were 7.78 lakh inbound foreign tourists last year, according to tour operators, hotels, resorts and the Bangladesh Tourism Board.
This huge number of tourists contributed to the country's steady economic growth, but this time might be different, said industry leaders.
Khairul Anam, general manager for sales and marketing at Nazimgarh Resorts, which runs three resorts in the Sylhet region, said occupancy normally stands at upwards of 95 percent in December, but this year it is hardly 10 percent.
“In the previous years, it was very tough for visitors to book rooms from December 30 to January 1 because of New Year celebrations. But this year we have no reservations. In fact, we have no guests from December 28 onwards.”
Corporate houses used to organise several representative conferences from the middle of December through to the middle of January, but they too made no bookings.
“I think the business entities are waiting to see how the political events unfold,” he said, adding that the events organised by business entities accounted for a major portion of Nazimgarh's revenues.
As of December 26 some tourists can be spotted, but they are on their way out, said Sujit Barua, general manager of Hotel Mishuk in Cox's Bazar, the home to the longest unbroken sea beach in the world.
“Since last week we have found no foreign tourists in Cox's Bazar save for some foreign NGO officials,” he said, adding that the beach town will be out of tourists from Thursday.
Barua, who was a general manager at the motel run by Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation in Cox's Bazar, said they had anticipated the business would slow down, but the current situation was beyond anyone's imagination.
To stay away from the tense situation at home, people are travelling to India, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand, as the cost is almost similar.
Bus operators, who run services between Dhaka and tourist destinations, also received very poor response from travellers, forcing them to withdraw vehicles.
Instead of showing up at tourists spots people are heading to their village homes as they want to cast votes, said Md Abdus Sattar, general manager of Green Line Paribahan.
Green Line, which normally operates 10 buses to Cox's Bazar every day, has halved its bus frequency since last week. It will suspend all trips to the district town from December 28.
“There is no movement of holidaymakers, so we will make our decision after the election,” Sattar said.
At least four resorts in Gazipur also painted a similar gloomy picture.
Atikur Rahman, manager of Greentech Resort and Convention Centre, said it had no overnight guests on December 25 save for a daylong workshop.
“There is no room booked until the polls day,” he added.
People are now busy with the election and political issues and have little interest in travelling, said M Mustafizur Rahman Jewel, head of sales at Dream Square Resort in Mauna, Gazipur.
Rangamati Water Front, a popular resort in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, had no guests in its six cottages.
“The last time a guest stayed at the resort was on Friday. But as of Tuesday, there has been no further booking,” said an executive of the resort.