Cox's Bazar News

Cox's Bazar airport gets ready to host international flights in December
Cox's Bazar airport gets ready to host international flights in December

The country's main holiday destination Cox's Bazaar is slated to host international flights from next December. Reportedly, this project is being completed within the stipulated timeframe and that is welcome news. Tourism has been prioritised by the government as a means to bringing in much-needed foreign exchange and the commissioning of this vital piece of transportation infrastructure will certainly help the country in making inbound international travel a lot easier.

According to a report published in this newspaper, "Bangladesh's maiden maritime runway on the bay beach will be operational by December for hosting international tourist flights as the project may be completed ahead of time." Ahead of time is not a term that is synonymous with mega projects in Bangladesh, but given that this is national election year, it appears that a lot of mega-sized projects have been fast-tracked for completion ahead of the election. That said, the US$185-million project that is turning the domestic airport to one of international standards should go a long way in attracting more tourists to the longest unbroken seabeach in the world.

Of course, simply having an international standard airport is not going to automatically transform Cox's Bazaar into a regional tourism hub. Tourists will not come in their hundreds of thousands to visit the beach alone. They require all sorts of entertainment that do not necessarily align well with local tradition and while the hotel industry has picked up pace in the area, it is not a done deal. There are dozens of beaches in the region and in neighbouring countries or within Asia. Pinning hope just on the "longest unbroken sea beach" is going to be a tough sale to foreign tourists who demand quality nightlife and beverages to accompany.

This has been a sticking point for decades that has held back tourism in this country. Bangladesh wants to cash in on nature's abundance through tourism, but it has not done enough to make foreign tourists want to come to the country. Obviously, the authorities cannot turn Cox's Bazaar into something out of Thailand or Goa (India) without facing significant social backlash. But what has stopped the country from setting up private, exclusive beach destinations open only to foreign tourists? These facilities need to be planned and executed simultaneously with the airport upgrading.

Then there is the cost factor. Tourism needs to cater to all sorts of tourists. Thailand for instance has made a killing over the last 40 years in tourism. While it is very easy to paint that country red with the insinuation that tourists go there because of massage parlours, that nation's tourism industry has evolved into world class entertainment well beyond the usual stereotype. It caters to tourists of all budgets, starting from backpackers to the most exclusive of travellers.

As the transportation side of things is being addressed, policymakers need to look at other Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia, where people are much more conservative than Bangladeshi society. Tourism is booming there, but not here. Bangladesh cannot afford not to diversify its economy. It can no longer afford to sit by and hope remittance will pick up or exports will magically rebound. Tourism can fill some of the void that is happening in remittance. It is time to think outside the box, to rethink tourism that gives good value for money for tourists in an environment that is safe for them and one which does not clash with local culture. Such ideas may be frowned upon by some, but it has worked in many other countries and there's no reason why it can't work here too.