A view of Inani Beach in Cox’s Bazar, a popular tourist destination in Bangladesh
Dhaka: Bangladesh is set to finalise a national Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the tourism sector within this week.
The SOP will contain a framework on how the travel and tourism industry will maintain health guidelines and social distancing after the reopening of their business, according to reports.
A tourism SOP is seen as mandatory for every country to attract the tourists, with the ongoing global travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic expected to be lifted early next month. Some European countries are going to resume their tourism season from the middle of this month.
The Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) is preparing the SOP to give health safety assurances to potential tourists. The tourism sector is among the worst hit by lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the virus.
“We are working on it (the SOP]). Right now, we are taking suggestions from different stakeholders regarding this. We will submit our final draft SOP to the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry within one week,” M Jabed Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, BTB, said on June 9.
After receiving the draft SOP, the Tourism Ministry will send it to the Health Ministry for their opinions.
“The Health Ministry could keep our SOP untouched or make amendments to it. After their feedback, we will finally publish the SOP for implementation,” Ahmed added.
The BTB had formed a committee with participants form the private sector to prepare the SOP. Protocols in the SOP cover subjects such as how service providers will interact with tourists while dealing with them at the airport, accommodations, restaurants, sightseeing and other activities during their stay in Bangladesh.
Jabed said they are following the guidelines of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) in preparing the SOP on tourism.
The UNWTO recently released a set of guidelines to help the tourism sector emerge stronger and more sustainably from the pandemic, while WHO released interim operational guidance on COVID-19 management in the accommodation sector on March 31.
The BTB Chief said the SOP will not be written in complex language, so that anyone can follow it. A mechanism to monitor implementation of the SOP may also be developed.
On June 8, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Bangladesh chapter, a private stakeholder, submitted the first draft of the SOP to the BTB.
“In the post-coronavirus era, the SOP on tourism will be an important criterion for tourists in choosing their holiday destinations,” said Toufiq Rahman, General Secretary, PATA Bangladesh.
Mentioning that many neighboring countries have already prepared draft protocols or their tourism SOP, he further said, “To re-establish our tourism business, we also need to prepare our SOP.”
Rahman added that PATA Bangladesh prepared the draft SOP to help the government with the national SOP. “We would like to supplement the government’s efforts with our draft SOP. The government could take points from our draft SOP while finalising the national SOP.”
The PATA draft SOP suggested designating Tourist Resilient Zones as either red, yellow or green regions.
Less crowded destinations such as the Sundarbans, Chittagong Hill Tracts, river tours, archaeological sites and museums are suggested as green zones, while crowded destinations such as festivals, bazaars, slums, ports or stations may be red zones.
The draft of PATA’s SOP also stated that social distancing will have to be ensured when allocating seats for travel – Sedans for one or two guests, seven-seater vans for two or three guests, 12-seater vans for 4/5 guests, 29-seater minibuses for 10/11 guests, and 36-seater coaches for 16/17 guests.
PATA Bangladesh’s SOP also said health certificates for service providers such as drivers, guides and assistants should be mandatory and their temperatures must be measured every morning, in addition to the use of masks, caps, goggles, gloves and other protective gear.
It suggested the BTB certify a list of tourism service providers including hotels, motels, resorts, transport companies, tourist guides, tour companies and restaurants, based on their health and hygiene situation.
Earlier, local travel and tourism service providers urged the government to place a specific incentive guideline to support the country’s aviation and leisure industry, as the ongoing global restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic had sent the sector into a tailspin.
The Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) estimated that tour operators of the country may lose nearly BDT 6,000 crore this year if the situation does not improve, while The PATA Bangladesh predicted the overall Bangladesh tourism sector would incur a loss in business of approximately BDT 9,705 crore till June, due to the pandemic.
On March 13, the World Travel and Tourism Council said that up to 50 million jobs in the global travel and tourism sector are at risk due to the global coronavirus outbreak.