Exploring bewitching Bandarban

Rafiqul Islam
Thursday, September 14th, 2017


Bandarban is one of the most attractive travel destinations in Bangladesh due to its natural beauty and diversified culture of ethnic communities. Most of the highest peaks of Bangladesh are located in Bandarban district. Two highest lakes – Boga Lake and Raikhiang – are also there. Although most of potential tourist destinations are situated in the district that have a huge scope to flourish, no significant attempts are yet to be viable to explore the tourism potential in Bandarban.


The benefit of tourism has remained very limited for the local people although community-based tourism development can be the most suitable concept for tourism development in Bandarban.


Considering the tourism potential of the hill district, finally the government of Bangladesh has initiated steps to develop the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which is known for its natural endowment of hills, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls, as a tourism hub.


In January 2015, the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) of Bangladesh signed agreement with the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) for implementing a pilot project to support rural livelihoods through tourism development in the Bandarban district, specifically in the surrounding hills of Ruma Upazila.


The pilot project under the European Union-funded Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas (Himalica) Initiative is working to enhance sustainable tourism development and management in ten paras of Ruma Upazila, with particular emphasis on benefits for local communities.


The project aimed to impact at both community level to increase incomes of target groups and at strategic level through the development of this Tourism Destination Management Plan.


Meanwhile, ICIMOD and MoCHTA jointly prepared the Tourism Destination Management Plan (TDMP) for Bandarban Hill District, which was launched in Dhaka on 25 May 2017 in the presence of the Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon.


The TDMP targets to pursue four core goals – organising and planning effectively for tourism growth; developing attractive and sustainable tourism products and services; promoting a popular brand and image; and maximising local participation and benefits.


Under the plan, various ambitious targets have been taken to increase the number of visitors to Bandarban by 10 percent per annum, to increase the daily expenditure per domestic visitor from Tk 1,550 to Tk 2,500 in Bandarban overall and from Tk 1,350 to Tk 2,000 in Ruma, to increase the percentage of visitors staying in Bandarban for 2-3 nights from 37 percent to 45 percent and those staying 4-7 nights from 37 percent to 40 percent, to retain at least 70 percent of tourist expenditure in the local economy, to increase tourist expenditure on local produce and handicrafts from Tk 200 to Tk 500 per visitor and to ensure that at least 80 percent of those employed in tourism is from the local people.


MoCHTA Secretary Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura said the Himalica project is going to be expired by the end of 2017 and after competition of this project, the government will take steps to implement the plan, identifying potential tourism spots and analysing the success of current project.


Key challenges


An analysis of tourism performance, conducted by ICIMOD, revealed that tourism is a major economic force in Bandarban since tourists spend more than Tk one billion per annum in the area.


Although foreign tourist arrivals are limited there, domestic tourism demand for Bandarban has increased over the past few years. Revenues accruing to local entrepreneurs and communities have unfortunately not matched the growth in tourist numbers and tourism investment has been of a relatively limited scale. The limited scale and scope of tourism products and services in the area presents a major opportunity cost to the region, since it is clear that a large percentage of visitors are day-visitors or come for short overnight stays, resulting in limited expenditures, and economic and employment spin-offs, the analysis says.


The ICIMOD has identified 40 key gaps in Bandarban tourism destination value chain, which include lack of coordination among tourism stakeholders, inadequate tourism management capacity in the Bandarban Hill District Council (BHDC), limited variety of accommodation facilities and tourism activities, low brand awareness of the area, gaps in services and products quality, security and permit restrictions, poor site and trail planning, land tenure uncertainties and limited involvement of local communities in tourism.


According to tourism experts, poor infrastructure and accommodation and uncertainty in hills are some of the major barriers to flourishing tourism in Bandarban. These barriers discourage both local and foreign tourists from visiting potential tourist spots in Bandarban.


Developing the tourism sector to its full potential will require the support of a range of stakeholders, representing government bodies, private sector and community interests, they said, asking all the national and local stakeholders to adopt and support the tourism vision 2025 for Bandarban.


Himalica Project’s tourism and mobilisation officer Khemajon Tripura said engaging local community will be a major task to promote tourism as it is quite impossible to implement the TDMP without their involvement.


Involving local communities in community volunteerism is a must to look out for safety of visitors, apart from providing them with information and advice.


Bikram Kishore Tripura said mobilising fund for the implementation of the Bandarban Tourism Destination Management Plan will also be a challenging task for the government.

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