Role of Rural Tourism Development in Bangladesh Economy

Tourism is considered as a composite of activities, services and industries that deliver transportation, accommodation, shopping, entertainment and hospitality services available for individuals and/or groups who are away from home. The exceptional growth of global tourism over the last 60 years is one of the most remarkable economic phenomena of the 21st century.
It has emerged from being a relatively small scaled activity into one of the world’s largest industries and a rapidly growing global economic sector. The total contribution of tourism in the global economy accounted up to 9.8% of world GDP which was around 7.2 trillion USD. There are several types of tourism such as coastal tourism, rural tourism, etc. However, they all play a common role in the development of economies through a multidimensional framework. Recent statistics of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) highlighted that tourism development in 2015 was responsible in supporting 284 million jobs worldwide. The tourism industry is labor intensive in nature offering a wide range of job opportunities both for skilled and unskilled workers. Such prerequisites of tourism development are ideally matched by demographic features of labor force structures of developing nations to which Bangladesh is no exception. Thus, tourism can play a pivotal role in shaping the economy of Bangladesh and complement all of its policies aimed at achieving the tag of a middle income country by 2021.

Rural tourism, a variant of Ecotourism, is a branch of activity that has been becoming increasingly popular in the developing countries in the recent time. Bangladesh, despite being open to encourage tourists by offering its wide array of distinctive endowments, rural tourism still hovers around its primitive stage.

Previously, rural tourism was limited to traditional farm-based or agricultural tourism. However, with the wind of changes, this matter has captured a wide range of potential activities including, touring, water based activities, land based activities, conservation activities, cultural activities, gastronomic activities, health or fitness activities and many more. It offers magnificent opportunities for tourists to experience traditions and lifestyles of local people, events, culture, heritage, cuisine and crafts, which are not available in urban regions. Contrary to conventional tourism, rural tourism provides the ideal opportunity to get in proximity with natural beauty and also to get accustomed to national heritage. It is a beautiful blend of seasonality and local events, where tourist activities are based on the preservation of culture, heritage, warmth and traditions. By adopting traditional beliefs and values to modern life, a new dimension in the sustainable development of tourism can be introduced with minimal harmful impact, but benefiting the local community economically and socially.

Bangladesh, a country of 86038 villages could offer its rural landscape, wildlife, heritage to attract visitors within the country and abroad. Endowed with vast natural assets, our country has huge potential in being host to international tourists all-round the year. Many countries have already been utilizing the rural advantages as an alternate source of livelihood and employment. Mahasthangarh, the ancient capital of Pundra Kingdom (situated outside Bogra, on the bank of Karatoa river) is the oldest archaeological site of Bangladesh. Due to the rustic greenery, our country can promote other activities like fishing, trekking, boating, swimming safaris in Rangamati, Khagrachhari, or Bandarban. Wildlife safari into the jungles of Sundarban and Chittagong with trained guides can add a new dimension to the development of tourism in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a lot of canals crossing through the whole area. The boat sailing can be seen in these canals. The boat travel is an interesting part of the tourist attraction. Traveling at night in full moon light is an admiring experience which tourists should take advantage. The boat race is popular water event in many rural areas of the country. This is an integral part of Bangladesh history, tradition, literature, culture and sports. Consequently, it’s a part of the folk culture as well. Many people from distant regions come to see this event with great interest and with good promotion, the quality of this sport can be enhanced. Many of the pre-harvest and post-harvest rites are held in rural Bangladesh, which could be a good attraction for tourists. Pre-harvest rites like Megharani, hudmadeya and ben-biya (wedding of frogs) can be a good source of entertainment for tourists. Kuakata holds many outdoor sports events and is a great source of attraction for tourists coming from Western nations.

The tourists can directly participate in these rural games. If a clean and aesthetic accommodation along with hygienic food is provided while staying in the farmhouse, then the tourists could taste the pastoral flavor of real rural Bengal in a true sense. Furthermore, resort like Nilgiri in the hill tracts of Bandarban and the lush green tea gardens in Sylhet could also be added to the illustrious list of picturesque tourist sites within the nation.

Although Bangladesh has shown some improvements in its tourism indicators over the years, but there is a lot of scope to improve them further. According to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the total contribution of tourism in 2014 to Bangladesh’s GDP stood at 8.1 billion USD compared to neighbouring India and Sri Lanka, with contributions of 125.2 billion USD and 8.2 billion USD respectively. In addition, tourism also accounted for 18, 94,000 jobs in Bangladesh which was way more than that in Sri Lanka with the figure of 819600 jobs. The total capital investment with regard to tourism in Bangladesh was around 0.8 billion USD which was way less compared to 34.5 billion USD in India. However, the growth rates of tourism’s contribution to overall GDP and employment in Bangladesh is sluggishly increasing which is a matter of concern for policy makers in the country.

Rural tourism can be associated with a wide range of socio-economic impacts like generation of foreign exchange, raising employment rates, enhancing the global image, increasing government revenues and contributing to the transformation of an agrarian economy into a modern service industry. The local residents with few skills can readily work as food servers, retail clerks, or simply as tourist guides. Furthermore, rural tourism can offer business opportunities to the local community. This can be a pathway to eliminate rural poverty which can eventually be helpful in overall poverty eradication. According to a report by the World Bank in 2009, approximately 2, 67, 00 tourists visited Bangladesh and earned 5762.24 million BDT, whereas, in 2010, 303,000 tourists visited Bangladesh contributing 5562.70 million BDT to the domestic country.

Tourism accounts for roughly 2.2 percent of Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product. Tourism revenues can be used for environmental improvements such as village paving and traffic regulation schemes, sewage and litter disposal. These can help in retaining existing population and businesses and attracting new enterprises and families. The rural people can also learn to improve and maintain a healthy environment and preserve natural habitats. Moreover, the income from such tourism activities can supplement rural household income. Through rural tourism, education and health of the rural community can be improved and also, local people will be introduced to the modern culture. Moreover, rural tourism can provide conformity to an idle image of community, which can lead to deepened personal ties and community solidarity. Most significantly, it can help in reducing rural migration to urban areas. Another important aspect of rural tourism development would be the fact that it would lead to infrastructure development, especially in the rural areas. Development of infrastructure is extremely important for overall development of an economy since it facilitates intra-country trade by improving connectivity across different regions.

Rural tourism had been employed as an imperative tool to resolve several macroeconomic problems in many nations across the globe. Developing countries like Kenya had managed to energize its rural tourism sector through efficient management and maintenance of the nation’s natural endowments. Similarly, a case study of tourism in Rajasthan , India, stated tourism practices when implemented with proper planning, assessing and if due care is given to nature, culture, society then it becomes sustainable tourism practices. The contribution of tourism in rural development can be expressed not only in financial terms, but also in terms of jobs, contributions towards funding conservation, encouragement of adopting new working practices, enjoyment for improved quality life and injection of new vitality for weekend economies. Malaysia has shown that community based tourism is often considered as one component of a broad based plan to improve rural and urban economies. The socio-economic development in remote, rural areas can be achieved by increasing tourist spots in those regions. In order to develop and strengthen the rural tourism sector calls for a complete tourism package, strong community leadership, support from local government, funding for tourist development and strategic planning efforts. Moreover, coordination between local governments and businesses along with cooperation among tourism entrepreneurs are vital in enhancing the capability to promote and distribute information about the area and relevant tourist destinations. This is also extremely important from globalisation perspective since recent studies revealed that globalisation and economic openness complement tourism development. Some communities may also aim to improve tourism in the off-peak season or shoulder months to increase tourism revenue and build sustainable, year round tourism economy.

Tourism risks degrading natural resources in rural areas, provided there is no proper regulation and can have profound effects on the environment. To safeguard rural resources, careful planning and development of authentic attractions are imperative. Sufficient training has to be ensured for quality services. Furthermore, proper actions can be taken to conserve our historical relics from physical damages. Countries like Nepal, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka attract a substantial number of tourists every year, generating huge foreign currencies. Bangladesh, as of now, had not been able to make just use of its enormous reservoir of natural assets in the form of tourist spots and as a consequence, the pace of rural tourism development had lagged behind the potential level.

Currently, underdeveloped tourism infrastructure, inadequate natural heritage promotions, tourist insecurity, political instability, poor community support and nominal investment in the tourism sector have hampered the development of rural tourism in Bangladesh, depriving the nation of potential economic growth. The pervasive rurality with a unique range of sights and sounds the world is yet not introduced to, rural tourism can be a great importance here. The simplicity of rural living, the timelessness of rural landscape is truly priceless. Rural tourism can reduce poverty, generate employment, empower women and provide a platform for the country to grow in true sense of development for Bangladesh. Thus, if effective measures are taken and executed to leap over the hurdles hampering the development of rural tourism, Bangladesh can readily take off towards the path that would lead its economy towards being a member of the middle income countries in near future.