The formal launching of a six-nation tourism organisation called 'We Asia' on Friday on the sideline of a three-day travel and tourism fair 2017 indeed augurs well for tourism. The platform, having Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar as its members, is expected to make a coordinated approach to attracting more tourists to the region boasting unique natural beauty, notable archaeological sites, rich culture and long trails of adventure. 'We Asia' has met the long-felt need for partnership in tourism destination in South Asia. Incidentally, Atlanta-Canada partnership and Mekong Tourism Alliance in Southeast Asia have succeeded in wooing a large number of tourists from abroad. Can 'We Asia' do it? Here is an example. Under the Mekong alliance, a tourist can travel to four countries with a single visa.
The main barrier to tourism in South Asia, as identified at a seminar at the fair, is tough visa regime. That relaxed visa rules could make miracle happen in this regard is amply evident from the fact that Bangladeshis topped the list of tourists in India last year. India has done away with its earlier stringent token system for getting visa and introduced walk-in system to get it. Medical tourism of Bangladeshi patients to India is now at its peak. As a result, it is earning millions of dollars from Bangladesh alone on account of tourism every year.
'We Asia' is certainly a step in the right direction for promoting tourism in the six countries. But the authorities in Bangladesh should not forget that each of the six nations is a competitor in wooing tourists. Officially, 65 countries are allowed to get on-arrival visa in Bangladesh but the country now hardly sees any rush of tourists taking advantage of this. Incidentally, Bangladeshis cannot avail this facility in India and vice-versa. It is time for Bangladesh to give a serious thought to the reasons behind the country's failure to lure more genuine tourists. Foreigners visiting Dhaka and Chittagong to attend seminars or sign deals with their Bangladeshi business counterparts should not be enlisted as tourists.
Bangladesh, however, has all the attractions to emerge as the world's new tourist destination. But organisations related to tourism have not yet made any attempt to woo hundreds of thousands of Buddhist tourists from China, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other Buddhist-populated countries. A large number of precious relics and treasures of their religion are located in Bangladesh. Package tour programmes with Nepal and Bhutan hold out a great promise.
The country can easily be linked with the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India through operating ocean cruises. On the other hand, it is time to expedite the process of bringing the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, under eco-tourism. Although the four-nation motor vehicle agreement involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal is now facing difficulties in its implementation, it could go a long way in promoting travel of inter-state tourists. What is badly needed now is a well-thought-out plan to attract tourists putting in place innovative and sincere officials at the helm of affairs. Tourists choose places that are their money's worth.