Bangladesh: Young people turning to tourism business

The Daily Star
Visitors enjoy their time at Shimul Bagan, which sits by the Jadukata river in Sunamganj’s Taherpur Upazila.

Young people in Bangladesh are increasingly joining the country’s largely untapped tourism sector on completion of tertiary-level education instead of running after government and private jobs.

They are finding out new spots and making them popular to serve the growing number of people with disposable incomes.

Many have built resorts, restaurants and pleasure boats in various parts of the country by making investments, thus creating jobs for others.

One of them is Imranul Alam.

He started touring with friends in 2009 when he was still studying at the undergraduate level in Dhaka.

Alam set up a tour operating business, albeit on Facebook, five years later along with three friends after completing his master’s in Japanese Studies from the University of Dhaka. They had virtually no money.

“Experience was our only capital along with mental strength,” recalled the 33-year-old.

In 2016, they gave the business a formal shape after gaining experience and named it Tour Group Bangladesh.

Now, the business is worth around 4-5 crore Bangladeshi taka ($465,868-582,336) and about 100 people are employed.

The group has resorts and restaurants, built on the leased land in the Sundarbans, St Martin’s Island, Sajek in Rangamati, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Sreemangal, and Tanguar haor in Sunamganj.

It runs cruise ships in the Sundarbans, boats in Tanguar haor, and a car rental business in Bandarban.

“We operate tours in and out of the country. We are offering a lot of tour opportunities in Asia,” Alam said.

Alam and his friends are not alone.

There are many young people who have made a foray into the tourism segment in recent years as it provides huge business potential as people in droves have started exploring the country riding on increasing purchasing power and a relatively good communication system.

The contribution of the tourism sector to the gross domestic product is estimated at 3.02%, which is about Tk 77,000 crore, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

The sector accounts for 8.07% of the total employment. Domestic tourists spent an estimated Tk 74,959 crore in 2018-19.

“When we started, young people did not come to the tourism business in a big way. The situation is changing,” Alam said.

Over the years, many of them have become entrepreneurs, operating tours locally as well as abroad.

The Online Travelers Association of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh e-Travelers Association, two platforms of tour operators, have around 300 members, and everyone has a travel company.

Mainul Islam Raju, owner of Diganta Travel Freak, a tour operator, began his business in 2018.

He leased a cottage in Sajek in 2019 and three more resorts in St. Martin’s Island and bought eight katha of land in the island.

By organizing tours, it started making a profit of around Tk 20,000 per month. In 2019, it went up to Tk 35,000.

This prompted him to rent an office in Khilgaon of Dhaka. But he was forced to shut it after the coronavirus pandemic spelled disaster for the tourism sector.

When the pandemic eased in 2020, he began sharing an office with another person in Paltan. It returned to profit from September 2020.

M Badruzzaman Bhuiyan, chairman of the Tourism and Hospitality Management Department at the University of Dhaka, says the tourism sector is doing well despite various challenges.

Now, the Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) or the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation should guide these young people, he said.

“This is because if you have a guardian, you will be able to take advantage of the potential of the tourism sector.”

There were 40 lakh to 50 lakh tourists in Bangladesh about two years ago. The number has gone up to 20 million said Jabed Ahmed, chief executive officer of the BTB.

“As a result, this has become a huge market. As the number of tourists is increasing, it is becoming an attractive place for investors as well.”