Sylhet tourism on the road to recovery
Sylhet Division is littered with many haors, waterfalls, marshes, hills and tea gardens which make it an attractive tourist destination.
But shortly after the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, the local tourism industry and all other related businesses were shut down in an attempt to keep the deadly virus at bay.
And although the region was reopened to tourists on August 19 of this year, the prolonged shutdown has cast doubt on the ability of these businesses to recoup their losses.
That being said, on a recent visit to the area, it was found that tourist attractions such as Jaflong, Shahjalal Majar and Madhabkunda Falls, to name a few, were once again crowded with people. .
Pranesh Goala, chairman of Kalighat Union Parishad in Sreemangal upazila, said the regional tourism sector had lost several crore taka due to recurring blockages and restrictions on public movement.
“It will be difficult to make up for the loss now,” he added.
In the past, around 8,000 people visited Moulvibazar district every day and although the restrictions have been lifted, people are less willing to spend money on vacation due to the economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19.
Satrojit Acharjee, manager of a three-star hotel called Rest Inn, said he hopes the number of visitors will increase over time.
Even five-star hotels and resorts such as the DuSai Resort and Spa, Grand Sultan Tea Resort & Golf, and Lemon Garden Resort are now hoping to overcome their losses quickly.
Many of these companies have laid off up to 80% of their staff in order to cut costs during the lockdown.
Some of the staff have already been reinstated while the rest will be brought back in phases depending on the situation, according to industry insiders.
Abu Siddique Musa, chairman of Sreemangal Parjatan Sheba Sangstha, an association of hotel, motel and resort owners, said they are offering various offers, such as discounts, to attract more customers.
“We have received a good response so far and if this continues we can make up for the losses,” he added.
But even with the return of domestic tourists, some hotels and resorts that depend on foreign visitors for much of their income are struggling to survive.
“It will be difficult to recover from our loss without foreign tourists,” said Arman Khan, deputy general manager of Grand Sultan Tea Resort & Golf in Sreemangal upazila.
There are approximately 100 hotels, motels, resorts and cottages in Sreemangal upazila of Moulvibazar district.
SK Das Sumon, owner of Green Leaf Guest House, said he built the resort on his own.
And although the government collects a lot of revenue from its business through taxes, Sumon has received no support amid the current coronavirus crisis.
“We owe the banks several crore taka and don’t know how we can repay them,” he said.
Shamsul Haque, owner of Nishorgo Eco Resort, told this correspondent that he built the resort with foreign guests in mind.
“But lately only local guests are coming in small numbers due to Covid-19,” Haque said.
Nonetheless, the industry is doing relatively better now, bringing much needed relief to related businesses as well.
From roadside tea vendors to CNG rickshaw drivers, everyone is benefiting from the return of tourism as thousands of people in the region depend on the industry for income, he added.
Musa, also director of Sreemangal Tea Heaven Resort, said tourists from across the country flock to the area during the pre-pandemic-era summer vacation.
“But the coronavirus has forced us to start all over again,” he said, adding that although restrictions on public movement have been lifted, Covid-19 still remains a very real threat to the tourism industry.
According to Musa, the industry can continue as usual as long as everyone follows the health safety rules.
“However, lately the city of Sreemangal has been faced with traffic jams and it bothers tourists. The local administration must therefore take an urgent initiative in this regard,” he said.
Mir Nahid Ahsan, deputy commissioner of Moulvibazar, said the district is an important part of the overall Bangladesh tourism industry.
“We have already provided financial assistance to 200 resort, cabin and hotel employees on behalf of the district administration,” he added.
Abu Tahir Muhammad Zaber, director (marketing, planning and public relations) and deputy secretary of the Bangladesh Tourism Board, said the tourism sector should be reopened but operate at half of its capacity to accommodate tourists in order to maintain health safety guidelines.
“We have given instructions to all the deputy commissioners, in particular the deputy commissioners of Sylhet and Chattogram divisions in this regard,” he said.
In addition, mobile courts have been set up to monitor breaches of safety regulations.
“Everything will be 100% open, monitoring all the circumstances. The losses will be compensated gradually,” Zaber added.