A six-nation tourism organisation named ‘We Asia’ was launched in Dhaka Friday on the sidelines of a three-day Biman Bangladesh Travel and Tourism Fair 2017 that began Thursday.
Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar jointly formed the organisation aimed at working together for promoting tourism.
Speaking as the chief guest at the launching ceremony, civil aviation and tourism minister Rashed Khan Menon stressed the need for developing a single platform among South Asian countries to ensure uninterrupted campaign to promote tourism.
“Nature, culture and adventure of the South Asian countries are the same. So, we will have to promote tourism through a single platform,” he said Mr Menon also emphasised on making tourist-friendly policies and easing visa procedures by the countries as well as ensuring low-cost and safe travel for every tourist.
West Bengal Tourism Minister Gautam Deb attended the function as the special guest.
Meanwhile, tourism experts at a seminar at the same venue Friday regretted that South Asian countries still are lagging behind in promoting regional tourism due to complications, complexities in visa procedure and political arena.
Their observations came at the seminar titled ‘Regional Tourism Initiative: What Next?’, organised on the second day of the Travel and Tourism Fair.
They also warned that if South Asia fails to overcome complexities, ease tourist movement and develop a seamless mechanism among the countries, the scope for multi-country tourism will be lost.
Tour Operators’ Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) and the Biman Bangladesh Airlines have jointly organised the fair where 13 countries are participating.
Former adviser to the caretaker government Abdul-Muyeed Chowdhury moderated the seminar with president of Inbound Tour Operators Association of India Suddhabrata Deb as the keynote presenter.
In his presentation, Mr Suddhabrata said the focus of regional tourism is now more of geographical than political one.
Bangladeshi tourists to India has now outnumbered the long- time topper USA and become the largest tourist-generating country for his country, he pointed out.
For promoting regional tourism, a seamless region is needed. But South Asia could not yet emerge as a seamless region compared to South East Asia and other developed world as tourists cannot move from one country to another smoothly due to various obstacles, he said.
That’s why tourists cannot extend their staying in one country in this region and visit some other neighbouring countries which is happening in South East Asia, Mr Suddhabrata said.
“Officially, 65 countries are allowed to get on-arrival visa in Bangladesh. But Bangladeshis cannot avail this facility in India and vice-versa,” he said, adding that complications and complexities are the main enemies of regional tourism.
Other experts said there is no destination partnership in South Asia. For example, there are Atlanta-Canada partnership and Mekong Tourism Alliance in SE Asia. Under the Mekong alliance, one tourist can travel to four countries with a single visa.
They called for easing the process of border crossing with the government and aviation agencies being more active to promote regional tourism.
They also urged the tourism, aviation and hospitality fraternities to act as a unified pressure group on government agencies and create multiple number of regional forums involving all the stakeholders.
Referring to the recent ranking of tourism of 141 countries by World Economic Forum (WEF), executive director of Hotel Bengal Inn Abdul Aziz said Bangladesh is still a low-ranked – 125th country in the tourism sector.
The Bangladeshi tourism sector people and others talk inside rooms but do not take any effective initiative outside to develop the industry and nothing has been done at the regional level, he regretted.
Regional countries have been developing tourism industry but Bangladesh is not, he said, adding that visa is the biggest problem for promoting tourism. Tourists want easy access and smooth travel across the countries.
Modhusudan Acharya, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agent said the South Asian countries have been driving alone with their destinations individually. Of the 102 billion global tourists, 14 per cent visit the South East Asian region indicating that the potential lies here.
Explaining how Nepal became one of the major icons in global tourism, he said the government’s role should be more proactive in tourism promotion by including the sector in its development plan.
He also said South Asia is still lagging behind in involving women in tourism sector compared to other regions. He laid emphasis on collective investment, connectivity for smooth travel across borders, easing visa regime, and redistributing and rediverting tourists to other countries for tapping the potential of regional tourism.
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