Domestic as well as foreign investors are increasingly showing interest in pouring money in the tourism sector in Bangladesh, which, industry insiders say, is attributable to massive infrastructure development, including improvement in airport facilities.
Over the past couple of years, a number of private companies have proposed investing over $410 million, or approximately Tk4,500 crore at the current exchange rate, mostly for building luxurious hotels, motels, resorts, and recreation centers in different areas, including Cox’s Bazar, according to information obtained from the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (Beza), and the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation.
Entrepreneurs are, however, more interested in investing in the three tourist parks that are under construction in Cox’s Bazar because of Cox’s Bazar Airport being turned into an international airport, said people concerned.
Meanwhile, progress in at least 10 projects, being implemented by the Parjatan Corporation, involving a total cost of Tk350 crore, is rather slow because of various challenges, including the Covid pandemic.
Cox’s Bazar tourism parks
Beza is setting up Sonadia Eco-Tourism Park in Maheshkhali, Naf Tourism Park in Teknaf’s Jaliar Dwip, and Sabrang Tourism Park in Sabrang areas of Cox’s Bazar with a view to making the sea beaches, the coral island of Saint Martin’s, and other tourist spots in the district more attractive.
In the period between 2020 and 2022, 16 companies obtained land allotment at Sabrang Tourism Park and have made investment proposals to the tune of $288 million.
In addition, four other institutions that are expecting to get land allotment at the tourism park have proposed to invest $61.95 million.
These investments are likely to create employment opportunities for more than 10,000 people.
Beza officials told TBS that 50% of the land development work at Sabrang Tourism Park has already been completed and the rest of the work will be finished by this December.
Two or three companies want to start construction of their buildings at the park soon, they added.
There will be an exclusive zone for foreign tourists coming to Sabrang Tourism Park, Beza Executive Chairman Shaikh Yusuf Harun told TBS.
“We have submitted another project proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). If given the nod, we will be able to create connectivity by constructing roads, electricity substations, and laying pipelines for gas and water supply in the park,” he added .
According to Beza sources, two foreign companies will build hotels and other facilities at Sabrang. The two firms are Netherland-based Lizard Sports BV, and Singapore-based Inter-Asia Group. They were given land allotments at the tourism park in late 2020.
Inter-Asia Group will build a cultural center, a museum, an amphitheater, an amusement park, a hotel, and resorts at Sabrang Tourism Park by investing $90 million.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar is being developed on 30,000 acres in Mirsarai, Chattogram, of which 200 acres have been earmarked for tourism.
Three companies have got land allotment there and have made investment proposals to the tune of $60 million.
In 2020, Sayeman Beach Resort Limited was allotted six acres of land in the industrial city. The company will invest $29 million to build a hotel there.
Besides, Amaze Infrastructure will invest $16.15 million, and Techno Group $15m to build hotels and resorts there.
What investors say about tourism parks in Cox’s Bazar
Sabrang Park is located on an area of 1,027 acres along the coastline in the country’s southernmost upazila of Teknaf.
Once implemented, the tourism park project will open a new horizon in Bangladesh’s tourism sector and create direct and indirect employment opportunities for around 35,000 people, according to Beza.
There will be five-star hotels, eco-tourism, marine aquarium, and sea cruise facilities at the park.
East West Travels and Tours will build a hotel on a one-acre plot of land there by investing $2.72 million. The company signed a land lease agreement with Beza on September 21.
Mahamudul Hassan, director of East-West Travels, told TBS that about 24 lakh people from Bangladesh visit foreign countries every year because of a lack of tourism facilities in the country.
“Once the project is implemented, those who are used to traveling abroad will visit Sabrang Tourism Park. And because of the availability of all kinds of tourism facilities, foreigners also will come to visit the park.”
Asked when the firm will start construction work on its hotel, he said, “There are still no roads, no utility facilities such as electricity, water, and gas. Without these, there is no point in starting the work.”
Iftekhar Ahmed Tipu, chairman of Ifad Group, which is also going to invest in the park, told TBS, “We have started talks with international chain hotels to build a five-star hotel on a six-acre plot. We will also construct a resort and a small amusement park on another one acre of land.”
Improvement of services stressed
According to tourism sector insiders, the construction of the third terminal of Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, the transformation of Cox’s Bazar airport into an international airport, and other ongoing projects to modernize and expand the other airports in the country are attracting investors to the country’s tourism sector.
At the same time, they have warned that if services at the airports are not improved to international standards alongside infrastructure development, foreign tourists will not feel much attraction to visit the country.
“If Cox’s Bazar airport provides world-class facilities, then many tourists from foreign countries will visit there, even more so many foreign tourists will take transit there after visiting neighboring Nepal, Bhutan, and India. After staying a couple of days in Cox’s Bazar , these tourists will go on to Thailand or Singapore,” Dr Santus Kumar Deb, chairman of the tourism and hospitality management department at Dhaka University, told TBS.
BPC projects one slow lane
Most of the projects being carried out by the Parjatan Corporation are running behind deadlines.
Projects that were taken up in 2018 to build tourist centers in Noakhali’s Nijhum Dwip, Barishal’s Durgasagor, Panchagarh, and Chapainawabganj were supposed to have been completed by June 2021, but that did not happen.
Ziaul Haque, manager (business development and public relations) of the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, said, “The Nijhum Island project cannot be worked on during monsoons. Due to this factor, the work slows down. We hope that various kinds of development work, including building cottages, will be completed here by FY24.”
About the other projects, he said land acquisition and boundary wall construction have been completed.
“Project work has been delayed to a large extent by the pandemic. Now [as the Covid situation has improved]work is going on in full swing.”