Tourist spots like the Sundarbans under the forest department are yet to open for holidaymakers
- Tourist spots waiting for more guests to overcome Tk9,705cr losses till June
- Hotels and resorts are offering 30-50% discounts
- Cox's bazar hotel-motel occupancy rate 25-30% of normal time
- Hilly sites also getting back guests slowly
- Local admin discourages visits to Sylhet, while Sundarbans yet to reopen for travelers
- Dhaka people prefer spending weekends in nearby Gazipur resorts
Muhammad Iftekhar-Ul-Haque, a resident of Dhaka's Mohammadpur area, is the principal architect of an architecture firm. After being cooped up at his home office amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he was gasping for fresh air in a bid to shake off a monotonous life.
He was in a dilemma whether to make a holiday trip amid the pandemic as tourist spots started reopening and restrictions on movement went away.
Finally, he readied his backpack and headed for Cox's Bazar sea beach with his family members as the tourist spot reopened for travelers on August 17.
Like Iftekhar, more and more people are now making holiday trips to their nearest resorts and different tourist spots as the Covid-19 situation does not show any sign of ending anytime soon.
Tourism industry insiders said although most of the tourist destinations have already reopened and the number of holidaymakers is on a slow but gradual rise, the number of travelers is yet to reach an expected level.
They said the hotels and resorts are offering special discounts to retrieve the pre-pandemic businesses.
The accommodations are welcoming guests by maintaining safety guidelines, including hosting fewer guests than the full capacity and ensuring that visitors comply with social distancing rules during their stay.
While hotels and resorts at the sea beach and hilly sites are getting some guests, tourist destinations under the forest department are yet to reopen.
To resume tourism businesses, the Bangladesh Tourism Board on August 5 this year published a standard operating procedure.
Tourist flow to Cox's Bazar 30% of normal time
Cox's Bazar has around 450 hotels, motels and resorts. Jol Tarongo – a five-star category rest house – is offering a 50%discount until September 30.
Architect Iftekhar said they stayed at the rest house with a discount.
"The staff were in face masks and other health safety measures were satisfactory. My four-year-old child has enjoyed the stay very much," he said.
Abul Kashem, general secretary of the Cox's Bazar Hotel Motel Guesthouse Owners Association, said, "Although it is not the tourist peak season, hotels now have 30% occupancy in comparison with normal times. Around 40% of staffers are working at present, while the others are on leave."
Riyad Iftekhar, organizing secretary of the Cox's Bazar Hotel-Motel Officers' Association and general manager of White Orchid Hotel, said, "Still, the travelers have coronavirus fears. So tourists are not coming as expected. Though some couples and individuals are coming, the number is not significant."
"Most of the hotels have their two or three rooms filled with guests at discount rates. It is difficult to meet the daily expenses of the hotel with such dull business. Even then we are continuing service hoping to make up the losses in the upcoming season," he added.
Abdul Quader Mishu, director of hotel Ocean Paradise in Cox's Bazar, said, "Many corporate houses choose the rainy season for indoor meetings and conferences. But the Covid-19 situation and dilapidated roads of the entire district are contributing to the dull business."
"Even then the guests who are coming are well served by us through maintaining health guidelines," he added.
Hotels, motels and restaurants in Patuakhali Kuakata beach area reopened on July 1. Around 10,000 people employed by 130 hotels and motels in the area have resumed their work.
Motaleb Sharif, general secretary of Kuakata Hotel-Motel Owners Association, said, "Kuakata has around 50% of tourists now in comparison with August-September last year. We are expecting more guests in the coming days."
Hilly areas recovering virus shock slowly
Tourist destinations in the hilly areas have started to recover from virus shocks slowly as travelers are crowding the sites.
Hotels and motels in Bandarban reopened on August 21 and on August 22 in Rangamati.
Sirajul Islam, general secretary of the Bandarban District Residential Hotel-Motel Owners' Association, said, "There are 57 hotels and motels under the association. Despite the increasing number of travelers, all hotels and motels are not getting the same number of guests."
Mostafa Kamal, manager of Sairu Hill Resort on Chimbuk Road, Bandarban, said the resort has 26 rooms and all of them were booked within a few days of reopening.
There are around 300 open jeeps (tourist vehicles) in the district town. With the increasing number of tourists, about 150 vehicles are being rented every day, said transport workers.
Meanwhile, Rangamati tourist sites see more visitors from local and adjacent districts than other parts of the country.
Ramzan Ali, who leases out boats at Rangamati Tourist Ghat, said, "The number of visitors enjoying boat rides and waterfalls is increasing day by day."
Sajek Valley in Khagrachhari has been open for tourists since September 1.
"Tourists have started to come since the reopening while many are contacting us for room booking in advance," said Superna Dev Barman, president of the Sajek Cottage Owners' Association.
Local administration discouraging tourists from going to Sylhet
Although the key travel destinations have reopened in Sylhet, the local administration is still discouraging tourists there.
Sylhet Deputy Commissioner SM Kazi Emdadul Islam said, "We are not encouraging tourists from outside the district to visit the spots as the Covid-19 infection is still taking its toll every day. However, the local tourists of Sylhet can visit the spots."
Gowainghat, one of the major spots enriched with natural beauty, attracts people to popular destinations Bisnakandi, Ratargul, Jaflong and Lalakhal. These areas usually remain crowded during any vacation.
Sumat Nuri Jewel, president of the Sylhet Hotel Motel and Guest House Owners' Association, said, "We have lost around Tk500 crore in the last five months. Now tourists have started to come again. The administration should encourage tourists from outside the district so that we can counteract the virus fallout."
Around 150 hotel and resorts in Moulvibazar district employ around 3,000 people. Tourist spots in the district formally reopened on September 1, though some opened their shops after Eid-ul-Adha.
"We got a good number of tourists after the last Eid. But in the last few days, the number has dropped suddenly. We hope tourist numbers will increase from next month," said Sajal Dash, director of SKD Amar Bari Resort in Sreemangal.
"Travelers are not much aware of the virus infection while they make trips. We even have to request them to wear face masks," he added.
Crowds increase in Gazipur resorts
Most of the over 200 resorts across the country have resumed operations by maintaining health safety measures, according to the Tourism Resort Industries Association of Bangladesh (TRIAB).
TRIAB President Khabir Uddin Ahmed said the number of guests is still lower than in previous times.
Gazipur–the resort hub of the country — is returning to normal as more and more tourists crowd there, especially on the weekend. The district alone has more than 100 resorts.
Chhuti Resort at Joydebpur of Gazipur is offering 50% discount until September 30.
Abul Hossain Aabir, head of sales of the resort, said, "Now the bookings are around 30%. We are getting more than 200 guests during the weekend on average."
Ismail Hossain, an officer of Sarah Resort, said that the resort gets enough guests on Friday compared to other days of the week.
Sundarbans yet to reopen for travelers
The largest mangrove forest in the world is yet to reopen for travelers. Around 50 local tour operators and 5,000 families who depend on tourism are facing tough times at present.
A local tour operator, Nazrul Islam, said that they have contacted the forest department and district administration seeking a reopening there.
"The authorities said the Covid-19 situation is not over yet. Besides, the breeding season of wildlife is going on. They informed us that the Sundarbans may reopen for tourists from November."
The Sundarbans-dependent tourism people formed a human chain recently and submitted a memorandum to the district administration demanding a reopening.
Md Moyeen Uddin Khan, a conservator of forests in Khulna circle, said his office did not get any directive from the authorities regarding the reopening of the Sundarbans for tourists.
Meanwhile, Lawachhara National Park and Madhabkunda Waterfall in Moulvibazar under the forest department are yet to reopen for travelers.
Monaem Hossain, forest officer of Sreemangal Range, said, "The tourist spots under the forest department will remain closed until October this year according to the decision of the ministry."
The Business Standard Cox's Bazar, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Bandarban, Rangamati and Gazipur correspondents contributed to the story