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Without tourists, 500 hotels left empty

Upscale Hotel Seagull is located at Sughandha Point along the beach. A visit on 15 May revealed the hotel quite empty. At least 150 rooms of the hotel were vacant.

Seagull’s chief executive officer Imrul Siddiqui said that the hotel did not have guests as the government had closed the beach for tourists since 1 April. He added that the hotel was counting losses of Tk 300 thousand (Tk 3 lakh) everyday while paying salaries of its employees, utility bills and more.

Eco-friendly Mermaid Beach Resort in the Pyanchar Dwip area is a great favourite among foreign tourists. All its 51 cottages with modern facilities, with a capacity to accommodate 100 guests, were found empty.

The resort’s managing director Mahfuzur Rahman shared his experience, similar to that of Seagull. The authorities of the resort have been struggling to pay salaries of more than 300 employees and other operational costs. He said that without visitors, the resort’s losses was over Tk4.5 million (Tk 45 lakh) per month.

The 2km Kalatali beach area has more than 400 hotels, motels, guesthouses and cottages. This correspondent found no visitors there during a recent visit. Most of the related employees, specifically 95 per cent, were furloughed before 1 April. In the field visit, only two to five employees were found guarding the accommodation facilities.

General secretary of the Federation of Tourism Owners Association, Cox’s Bazar, Abul Kashem Sikder told Prothom Alo, around 700 accommodation and food service providers including hotels, motels, guesthouses, cottages and restaurants had incurred loss of around Tk5 billion (Tk 500 crore) in 45 days.

Among the accommodation facilities, 45 are upscale starred hotels and 130 general hotels. The federation of seven associations of hotel,motel and restaurant owners has estimated that the establishments counted losses of Tk 103,000 (1.3 lakh) per day during the lockdown. The federation covers at least 709 hotels, motels and restaurants–all remained closed since 1 April.

Abul Kashem Sikder said that the district-based market places and shops remained open while the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed only on tourism business. This was farcical.

He warned that the situation would worsen more if the government does not allow limited tourism complying with health guidelines along the beach.

“The restrictions on tourism business will be devastating. The operational costs of these hospitality establishments are Tk12 million (1.20 crore) in total which is deemed as a loss because of no tourists,” he said.

The Hotel Resort Owners Association of Kalatali-Marine Drive covers 52 hotels, motels and resorts. All the facilities remained closed during the Eid holidays–the peak season of tourism in Cox’s Bazar.

General secretary of the association Mukim Khan said, "We are giving priority to the Covid-19 restrictions to contain the virus infection. Despite this, we are considering the livelihood issue as around 5,000 employees of the 52 hotels, motels and resorts have been without jobs."

According to Mukim, most of the hotel staff did not get monthly salaries and allowances in April and May. “The government should open limited-scale tourism in Cox’s Bazar,” he reasoned.

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All the 70 hotels and guesthouses under the Cox’s Bazar Hotel Motel Guesthouse Association remained closed for one and half month. The association president Omar Sultan said, “Most of the hotels are running on bank loans. There is no alternative to vibrant tourism to prevent the business from collapsing.”

Related businesses cited that most of the hotels and restaurants in Cox’s Bazar remained closed for five months since 17 March last year due to the coronavirous outbreak. After the end of restrictions on August 17, it took at least three months to prepare the hotels and restaurants for the visitors. The hotels and restaurants ran in full capacity only in February this year. However, a fresh blow of the Covid-19 restrictions hit the business in March–leaving the hotels, motels and restaurants closed for indefinite period. The unending loss in the business has exhausted the entrepreneurs.

No Eid festivity for 30,000 staff

Sajedul Karim, hailing from Pabna district, used to work at a Kalatali-based hotel. His monthly salary was Tk17,000. Sajedul, his wife and three children live at rented house in Jhautala area.

As he did not get his monthly salary and allowance in April and May, the his family could not celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr on 14 May.

Sajedul, the 45-year-old man hotel employee, said that he was furloughed at the end of March and received salary on of that particular month. The hotel closed from 1 April. The date of reopening the hotel is still uncertain. He owed his landlord Tk22,000 as house rent for two months. He had to manage the family expenditure by selling his wife’s gold ornaments and taking private loans. This correspondent found his despondent about his future.

Cox’s Bazar Hotel Motel Guesthouse Officers Association’s general secretary Kalim Ullah said, around 30,000 people work at more than 700 hospitality establishments. Of the employees, 90 per cent were laid off at the end of March. They received salary for March. The authorities did comply to their demands for their dues of April and May. “The hospitality staff have been living miserably in their rented houses across the town. None of them have received any aid either from the government or private initiatives. The economic hardship has destroyed their Eid festivity,” Kalim Ullah said.

The Cox’s Bazar district administration has been restricting tourists’ access to the beach since 1 April to contain the coronavirus infection. Law enforcement agencies were alert to refrain tourists, even the locals, from taking to the beach during the Eid holidays.

*This report appeared on the online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.

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