Covid-19 darkens tourism in Rangamati, Bandarban
The global Covid-19 outbreak has affected life and the economy like never before around the world. The travel restrictions that have accompanied this pandemic have wreaked havoc on the transport and tourism sectors. According to the United Nations specialized agency, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Covid-19 pandemic caused a 22% drop in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020. The UNWTO said that the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60 percent and 80 percent compared to 2019 figures. The tourism crisis across the world is jeopardizing millions of livelihoods and threatening to reverse progress made in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Bangladesh, thousands of people involved in the tourism sector in the mountainous districts of Bandarban and Rangamati are unemployed and living miserable lives with families.
The buzz of local craft shops, tourist transport and all the shops in the hillside neighborhoods has died down. People, who depend on the sector, are struggling to make ends meet.
Sixty hotels, motels and resorts in Bandarban have remained closed since March, leaving owners to count huge losses every day, the UNB correspondent in Bandarban reports.
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Meanwhile, the district was put under another 21-day lockdown starting Thursday in the second phase as it was declared a ‘red zone’ (area with a high number of coronavirus cases).
Sirajul Islam, Secretary of Bandarban Abashik Hotel, Motel & Resort Malik Samity, told UNB that they had been counting a loss of Tk 20-25 lakh every day for three months as families of over 1,000 staff went through a difficult period.
Most handicraft shops owned by members of local ethnic communities remained closed, he said, adding that the pandemic had left the whole district in great dismay.
Asked about assistance, Islam said the district administration provided 1,000 Tk to each of the hotel’s 270 staff ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
“Apart from a little help, we haven’t received anything from the government,” he added.
Usually more than 40,000 tourists visit Bandarban daily and leave the district, Sirajul Islam said, adding that they have lunch at different hotels here which closed after the pandemic started.
“We have 5,500 places in hotel residences for tourists and all of them have remained vacant for the last three months,” he added.
He said hundreds of local transport workers, who basically ferry tourists to different places, have been left jobless.
Rangamati is silent
All 200 tourist boats are idle without tourists for more than three months.
Moinuddin Selim, chairman of Rangamati Hotel Malik Samity, told UNB that 50 hotels, motels and resorts have already lost more than Tk 18 crore since March.
Other sectors are also counting losses, he said.
“We were forced to lay off our staff because we couldn’t afford to pay them,” Selim said, noting that staff and their families are going through an extremely difficult time.
More than 2,000 tourists daily visit different sites in Rangamati from February to June, he said, adding that the rush of tourists usually decreases during the monsoon.
“The loss that we have already counted is really difficult to recover,” he said, noting that every day more than 200 buses were used to enter the neighborhood with tourists, who stopped.
Selim urged the government to provide easy loans to rescue the tourism industry.
UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said the world was facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
“Tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy,” Zurab said.
(Additional reporting by Oli Ahmed of Rangamati and Aminul Islam of Bandarban)
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