Sustainable tourism need not be an oxymoron
The tourism industry in Bangladesh always has to tread on a tightrope, balancing economic development and environmental preservation. On this World Tourism Day, the country is standing on untapped opportunities that would allow the sector to flourish. For the nation to act as a model for other countries, it must figure out a more efficient way to prioritise protecting nature without sacrificing economic growth.
Although Bangladesh's tourism sector is still in its infancy, accounting for slightly more than three percent of the country's GDP in 2023, it possesses an incredible amount of untapped potential. The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, and the never-ending coastline of Cox's Bazar are only two examples of the country's natural beauty. However, there are issues with the sector as a whole, particularly concerning the environmental damage it causes.
For instance, Cox's Bazar is in jeopardy due to the coastline's catastrophic erosion, brought on by climate change, while illegal logging and pollution are slowly choking the Sundarbans. Despite the Sundarbans being designated a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is still struggling. These issues highlight why the tourism industry needs to make strides toward improving its environmental sustainability.
Corporations investing in projects that benefit the environment should be more than a passing trend or demonstration of a company's commitment to social responsibilities. This is a practice that attempts to protect the environment and simultaneously ensure the firm's profitability, a delicate balance. Such expenditures may take on a few different forms in the tourism business. For example, eco-friendly hotels typically use renewable energy and building supplies sourced from the immediate area to reduce negative environmental impacts. Investing in waste management and water purification technologies is another way to mitigate harm.
Costa Rica is an excellent model for understanding how to practise ecotourism. The Central American nation has invested a lot to preserve natural resources, eliminate waste, and promote eco-friendly projects. As a result, Costa Rica has become a leader in sustainable tourism on a global scale and has garnered the attention of millions of eco-conscious travellers. Bangladesh can learn much from the country, like how successful government incentives can support environment-friendly development.
Initiatives mindful of the environment can bring significant benefits in Bangladesh's tourism sector. Solar-powered lodges with rainwater collection systems could be an eco-friendly and a financially advantageous accommodation choice in the hospitality industry. Guests will have the opportunity to have a genuine, environmentally conscientious experience if investments are made in cultural centres and eco-lodges, which might leverage the region's diversity and natural beauty. Bangladesh, often known as the "land of rivers," can capitalise on the expanding water tourism business by offering tours in boats powered by solar energy.
Cox's Bazar is in jeopardy due to the coastline's catastrophic erosion, brought on by climate change, while illegal logging and pollution are slowly choking the Sundarbans. Despite the Sundarbans being designated a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is still struggling. These issues highlight why the tourism industry needs to make strides toward improving its environmental sustainability
The tourism industry is in desperate need of a clearly defined regulatory system that considers environmental standards; for instance, certain environmental criteria should be in place to issue business licences and monitor operations. A national eco-certification programme should be implemented for businesses that fulfil specified sustainability requirements to support the change toward greener practices. This would serve as an incentive for companies to make this shift. Businesses that go out of their way to implement eco-friendly policies ought to be rewarded with tax rebates, subsidies, and loans with significantly reduced interest rates. Any initiative, including sustainable tourism, must be co-created and co-managed by the people living in the area to save the natural environment and local culture. Creating cooperative partnerships with global organisations like the World Tourism Organization to share information and combine resources should be considered. And awareness programmes that instruct tourists and residents on the significance of environmental stewardship must be developed.
As Bangladesh increasingly becomes a popular tourist destination worldwide, the country's government must work to guarantee that economic growth is not unsustainable. Investments in green technology may help the nation become a pioneer in sustainable tourism, and at the same time, will ensure that benefits are not only monetary in nature but also environmental. Let us celebrate the optimism for a brighter tomorrow in Bangladesh and for all of humanity on this World Tourism Day.
Dr Mohammad Shahidul Islam is an assistant professor of marketing at Brac Business School, Brac University. Email: [email protected].
Views in this article are the author's own.
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