July 17, 2024, 3:38 pm

FT Online

2019-08-25 21:52:45 BdST

Island-based tourism still lies untapped

Island-based tourism projects are going painfully slow, putting a damper on the already sluggish country's tourist sector that eyes inbound sightseers.

According to experts, the government has made little progress in developing island-based tourism despite having huge prospects here.

Like Malaysia, Thailand and the Maldives tourist hubs, Bangladesh has a number of islands which can attract high-end adventure-seekers as well as ecotourists.

But the country has signally failed to develop those popular spots to attract tourists for a distinct lack of a visionary plan, they said.

Moheshkhali Island, famous for Adinath and Buddhist temples among other highlights, is a case in point.

But its unique ecotourism in the beach town of Cox's Bazar has hardly benefited from the ambitious 'Digital Island' project.

Even the entire island is dotted with dilapidated roads and unfriendly jetties that offend the eye.

No speedboat or country boat offers life jacket despite tour operators' repeated calls for the authorities to ensure proper life-saving equipment.

The jetties on both sides have no proper equipment for safe loading and unloading, especially for tourists who are not used to travel by sea.

Touch Creation Ltd managing director Mahbub Hossain Sumon said smooth communication and other jetty facilities are a requisite for island-based tourism.

There is hardly any maintenance of the jetties along with proper management, he told the FE.

"Awareness building among boat operators is a must and they should be well-trained in handling tourists."

The Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) has undertaken three island based tourism projects-Naf Tourism Park, Sabrang Tourism Park and Sonadia Ecotourism Park.

BEZA seeks to modernise tourism in the next five years and aims to generate $2.0 billion for economy by creating 0.2 million new jobs from these parks.

It wants to attract local and foreign tourists alike in addition to creating scope for additional domestic and overseas investment in the flagship projects.

A recent spot visit to Sabrang at Teknaf found that 800 out of 1,000 acres of land was under development.

Tenders were awarded for only 220 acres for land filling and the construction of a protection embankment.

China Harbour got the land-filling job to be done at Tk 850 million and DIRD Group got the embankment building work at Tk 550 million.

Only 5.0-10 per cent work of land filling has so far been finished by using a local machine since the contract was signed in January 2018.

Harbour has failed to fill the land as they could not extract sand from the sea, said a BEZA employee working on the project.

DIRD was due to build a five-kilometre embankment by this June, but it could only complete 70 per cent work after extending time twice until November.

The authorities claim to have done 60-per cent land filling for Naf park at Jaliardwip. But the master plan is yet to be completed to woo investors.

There is a 227-acre reserve forest in the park area along with some 300 fish ponds. The total land development will take place on 273 acres.

Doha Group and Development Design Consultants will develop the master plan for both Sabrang and Naf parks.

Contractor MM Builders, which has been doing the land-filling work, is also facing the same problem in land filling for lack of sand in Naf river, the authorities said.

BEZA chairman Paban Chowdhury said the master plan and a feasibility study report on Sonadia Island would be completed in the next two months.

"BEZA will rehabilitate 334 families to another place. It's trying to compensate the greenery which was destroyed earlier,

Regarding Sabrang, Mr Chowdhury said master plan for the park will be ready by September and work on the protection embankment by June 2020.

Land development was a big challenge. Power connection has already been made, but water is a big problem there, he cited.

"We've allotted 200 plots to local investors. By 2021, we hope they can build hotel, motel there."

On progress in Naf park development, the BEZA chair said 80-per cent work on land filling is completed.

Chattogram Dry Dock Ltd has been doing embankment work and Chattogram University of Engineering and Technology designing a cable car of 90 kilometres in length.

They are expected to finish the study by this December, said Mr Chowdhury.

Tourism expert Ziaul Haque Howlader said islands like Moheshkhali, Char Kukri Mukri, Sonadia, Kutubdia, Hatiya and Nijhumdwip are potential hubs of high-spending ecotourists.

Ecotourism facilities have to be developed here for which huge investment is required, he observed.

"Progress in island-based tourism development is very sluggish. The sooner we get investment, the better the situation would be for wooing foreign tourists."

Meanwhile, tour operator Mahbub Hosion Sumon said St Martin's has been marred for unplanned and uncontrolled island tourism.

The government must ensure ecotourism in islands, not multi-storey concrete structures like the ones at St Martin's, he said categorically.

Day-night activities should be in place in the islands for the development of island based tourism, added Mr Sumon.

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