Clouds gather over tourism sector

Clouds gather over tourism sector

The grisly attack on a young woman on Cox's Bazar beach couldn't have come at a worse time. Just over two weeks ago, the beach-centred hotel, motel and rest house owners expressed their high optimism over a large turnout of tourists this season. It was set to resume after a long stalemate prompted by Covid-19 shutdowns in mid-2020 and 2021. With the beach-goers off-limits, the hotels had to incur huge losses in business. As the winter began setting in, the tour operators found reasons to feel reassured, eying a brisk business. But their stars appear to be in adverse positions, at least for now.

The carnal assault on a young mother by a group of notorious hoodlums is feared to deal a severe blow to the dreams of the already buffeted tour operators. Thanks to its wonderful scenic beauty, and its reputation as the longest unbroken beach in the world, Cox's Bazar has been drawing tourists in large numbers from home and abroad. The number of overseas tourists, however, witnessed a decline in the recent past for security reasons. On the contrary, the number of domestic tourists kept soaring unabatedly. Before the long pandemic-induced shutdown, the beach had occupied the position of two of the most favourite sites in the country, the other being the Sundarbans. In the recent years, the number of people being attracted to the beach had been rising exponentially until it was hit by the pandemic closure.

A remarkable drop in the sea-loving tourists is feared to start plaguing the Cox's Bazar, and the other sites including that in Kuakata. That the beastly attack on a helpless housewife accompanied by her panicked and bewildered husband would leave a deleterious impact on tourist visits to Cox's Bazar is implied. The said couple went to the beach from Dhaka like scores of others. It has long been found that of all the tourists visiting Cox's Bazar, the largest number of them arrive at the beach town from the capital. Moreover, most of them belong to the affluent segments of society checking in the expensive hotels and resorts. However, when it comes to the young women's outward elegance as well as dazzle, they turn out to be the targets of the local gangs. They do not make their swoop on the tourists from Dhaka for valuables like ornaments, as they do it for satiating their orgiastic desire. The ugly incident of gang-raping a helpless woman carries enough elements of bringingindelible disrepute for the site. From now on, domestic tourists might think twice before setting out for this beach.

Except the sexual attack on a foreign woman a few years ago and the isolated incidents of eve-teasing on the beach, the reputation of the site has been tolerably up to the mark. Indiscriminate littering on the beach, however, remains a menace at the spot. A large fleet of cleaners is engaged in duty on the beach. In spite of this mixed state, the beach has continued to draw crowds of tourists. But the horrible incident which occurred on the beach on December 23 is feared to detract considerably from its earlier reputation. This is bad news for both the tourists and tour operators --- the hotels, motels and rest houses in the seaside town.

According to people watching the developments of the country's tourist sector, the evolution of Bangladesh tourism has yet to gain a normal pace. From the economic point of view, this trend of uneven progress cannot ensure a sector's reaching the desired goals. The tour sector watchers may feel inclined to associate the Cox's Bazar beach incident with petty occurrences in other places. It's because, no matter how negligible a tiff might be, it takes no time to snowball into a full-blown quarrel --- and in cases, the urge to take revenge overwhelms scenarios. Instead of greeting the people from far-away areas, the criminally bent sections of local youths demonstrate a veiled hostility towards the tourists. This is an unexplainable phenomenon.  In the end, worse forms of nastiness dominate the spots concerned. Given the scores of small incidents, the overall atmosphere of sight-seeing continues to get vitiated. Assaults on families comprising teenage girls and exceptionally dressed women turn out to be common. Apart from the major beaches of Cox's Bazar and Kuakata, Bangladesh youths continue to venture into newer tourist spots. Most of them lie in the remote areas, far from localities. The normally innocent youths from Dhaka and the large cities remain vulnerable to many untoward incidents in these areas. After the occurrence of any such incidents, the big-city male and female youths become bewildered. Seeking police help proves futile, like seen in the country's stellar tourist spots. A major impediment to the smooth growth of Bangladesh tourism is the absence of some basic prerequisites, especially at the spots. One of them is the presence of strong posses of tourist police.

 Had there been unremitting patrol on the Cox's Bazar beach during visiting hours, the ugly turn of events involving innocent women's defilement could have been averted. There are postings for tourist police on the beach. The tourist authorities remain content with this measure. The flipside is they remain oblivious to the fact that the number of tourists is increasing every year. In place of several thousand just a decade back, in December-end these days half a million people come to Cox's Bazar to enjoy the sea and welcome the New Year. In order to cope with the fast increasing number of tourists, uniformed strike forces along with tourist police ought also to be posted in the beach area.

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