Hartal hits tourism hard
Around this time of the year, the beach of Cox's Bazar is usually crowded with tourists. But there is no crowd now, as people stay away from the longest beach in the world fearing political unrest could have them stranded there for days. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das
The tourism industry in Cox's Bazar is going through hard times due to political unrest and frequent hartals since February 28.
Most of the hotels and motels in the town remained almost vacant this month, the last month of the peak season, said hoteliers in Cox's Bazar, the home of the world's longest beach.
Businesses in Cox's Bazar consider the period from November to March as the peak season and April to October as the off-peak season. Targeting this year's peak season, they made considerable investment but are now on the verge of incurring a huge loss.
Humayun Kabir, general manager of Hotel The Cox Today, told The Daily Star that they apprehended a loss of Tk 5-6 crore this season. “We made huge investment ahead of the peak season, but tourists' turnout has been on the decline since February 28 due to continuous hartal and road blockades,” he said.
Corporate bookings that were fixed three to six months ago are also being cancelled now, he added. “Many of our corporate bookings have been cancelled and the latest bookings for March 28-29 were cancelled due to the 36-hour hartal.”
The political unrest has not only hampered the corporate bookings but also interrupted privately arranged family tours, which are a common feature at this time.
Families from across the country go on a trip to Cox's Bazar after the SSC examinations. But this year several examinations had to be deferred due to hartals and most of the families eventually either lost interest or did not feel it safe to go on their planned tour, Humayun observed.
“Our hotel had a full reservation for this season, but now just 20 percent of the rooms are taken and the rest are vacant,” he said.
Humayun added if there were train links between Cox's Bazar and the rest of the country, tourists might have used that service.
“It is regrettable that we could not install an 80-kilometre railway track from Dohazari in Chittagong to Cox's Bazar in the last 42 years since our independence,” he said.
“The Biman Bangladesh Airlines has stopped flight operations between Dhaka and Cox's Bazar for around seven months,” he said, adding, “The cost of a Biman ticket on Dhaka-Cox's Bazar route was Tk 3,975, whereas private airliners are charging around Tk 7,000 for the flight.”
Moreover, no shipping service has been initiated from Chittagong to Cox's Bazar for the tourists during the time of hartals or road blockades.
Sarwar Hossain, assistant front desk manager of Seagull Hotel, said they had already incurred a loss of Tk 3 crore this season.
Corporate bookings were cancelled frequently in February and March due to the political unrest, he added.
“The management has become unable to pay the remuneration of the employees and is compelled to send many of them on compulsory leave,” Sarwar said.
Sheikh Imrul Islam Siddique, chief executive officer of Seagull Hotel, told The Daily Star that they had sent one-third of their staff on leave to minimise the loss.
He stressed the need for train service so that tourists can come to Cox's Bazar and leave in case of political unrest.
“The prime minister formally inaugurated construction of Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway more than two years ago, but the work has yet to start,” he added.
Imrul also said there should be a shipping service between Chittagong and Cox's Bazar. “In that case, tourists can come to Chittagong by train and then to Cox's Bazar by ship.”
Nurul Islam, manager of Hotel Shaibal, told The Daily Star that only 20 percent of the hotel is now occupied, whereas it should have been jam-packed at this time of the year.
Nurul, who is also coordinator of Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, Cox's Bazar, said he had talked to the civil aviation and tourism ministry about resumption of Biman flight operations.
A Tk 350-crore project of upgrading the airport as an international one is now underway, he said, adding that, “The Biman officials said regular flight operations would resume after the project is completed.”
Nurul, also member secretary of the Sea Beach Management Committee, added they had contacted the private shipping companies who are operating tours from Cox's Bazar to the St Martin's Island to launch service between Chittagong and Cox's Bazar.
“They have assured us they would consider the matter,” he said.