DHAKA, Bangladesh

Youth-driven traveling groups in Bangladesh are seen as devoted to attracting new tourists and supporting Bangladesh branding among foreign tourists by advertising eye-catching tourist sites.

Coinciding with World Tourist Guides Day on Feb. 21, experts suggested a standard wage for youth tour guides, policy support, training for better service, and acquiring knowledge of historical infrastructures and archeological sites.

The South Asian country has more than 1,600 natural tourist spots, including the world’s longest natural sea beach, eye-catching mountains, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world, and ancient archaeological sites.

But many sites remain unexplored by foreign tourists, mainly due to poor service and a lack of branding where the new trend could bring a positive change, insiders believe.

Pothik (Traveler), an online platform with 22 youths, who act as travel operators organizes local tours, has 17,000 members.

Md. Niamul Haque, administrator and owner of Pothik, told Anadolu Agency that “foreign visitors’ numbers have been dwindling in recent years mainly due to lack of comfort traveling, global standard service from travel operators, language and communication skills.”

Meanwhile, a lack of adequate infrastructure and comfortable road transportation, expensive accommodation, and a lack of host community engagement in the tourism process are some of the major challenges, said Haque, who opened the group because of a passion.

“Tourists, certainly foreign tourists, want a tranquil and sound environment in tourists spots, clean and hygienic food and living services, and a comfortable journey. They also give good pay but we are yet to ensure all those despite a huge prospect of tourism in Bangladesh,” he said.

Speaking to the Anadolu Agency, Nishad Adnan, a teacher by profession at a private school in Dhaka and administrator of a youth tour group with more than 8,000 members, supports Haque.

“If youths are being patronized in the sector, Bangladesh could earn good branding, foreign exchange with a good reputation and it is needed for the country’s tourism sector,” said Adnan, who is also a local tour guide.

But most travel operators and hotels, including the world longest Cox’s Bazar coast, are profit-driven and do not provide world standard service despite travelers expending a comparatively high cost, he said.

Social media is also playing a significant role for youths to become tour guides and promote local tourism, according to both administrators.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in December, there were 1.64 million tourists visiting sites in fiscal year 2018-19. Of them, 291,000 were foreigners.

They also suggested investing more in the sector to promote more youth joining the sector in branding Bangladesh.

Bangladesh allocates less than 1% of the national budget for the tourism sector while the sector suffered a 200 billion taka ($2.34 billion) loss during the coronavirus pandemic, said insiders.

Experts for standard wage, policy support

Santus Kumar Deb, a Dhaka University associate professor and Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management, told Anadolu Agency that a booming sector like tourism needs professionals rather than conventional workers.

“And, we can recruit an increasing number of fresh graduates and youths in the sector if we can get new startups and entrepreneurs.”

“Local tourism stands in a good position but we witnessed fewer foreign tourists. If we want to secure a boom in attracting foreign tourists then we will have to ensure entry of youth in the sector, certainly educated manpower as tour guides,” added the professor.

Young people are now learning professionalism from the field which makes them fit for the job, he said. “In the developed world, youths and university students mostly do the job as tour guides professionally. We too can follow the trend.”

He urged the government to provide more Small and Medium Enterprise loans to youths so that they can invest in the sector and become professionally involved.

“Most of the tour guides take their work as a second job due to the low payment. Therefore, the authority should also ensure good pay and training as they are the ambassadors of the country to foreigners,” Deb said.

Government to start national registry, wage standardization

Md. Mazharul Islam, Assistant Director of Planning and Research at the Bangladesh Tourism Board, told Anadolu Agency that his agency has started working with the local administrations to provide training to youths and students who want to work as tour guides.

“We are working on a national registration of tour guides. Once it is completed, we will know the official number of tour guides and take youth-designed projects,” said Islam. “The tourism board is also working to finalize a comprehensive policy on the country’s tourism sector where we will determine the capacity of the industry and standard wage of tour guides.”

“In another study, we are determining how much skilled manpower is needed for the sector. Once the study is completed we hope so many young people and fresh graduates would get the opportunity to be involved in the sector,” he said.

“We also started community-based tourism through local administrations to engage native population, certainly youths, including as tour guides,” he added.

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