Make Cox’s Bazar more tourist-friendly and eco-friendly

Marine DriveParvez Uddin Chowdhury

Given Cox's Bazar's spectacular natural attractions, it should have been one of the popular tourist destinations in Asia as we have world’s two most populous countries beside us – India and China. But that has not been so.

Cox’s Bazar, the tourism capital of Bangladesh, is home to the world’s longest unbroken sea beach sloping down into the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal. It’s a unique place having both marine and mountain tourist attractions. Though it is the longest beach in the world, the overwhelming majority of the tourists are local. Less than 5 per cent of its tourists are international.

Cox's Bazar seaside
Parvez Uddin Chowdhury

Many say this is because Cox’s Bazar is a conservative, "non-bikini" beach and the city is not a cosmopolitan one. International tourists often do not feel comfortable to walk on beach due to people staring and begging, being pestered by hawkers and cameramen and unsavoury behaviour by other tourists. Apart from that, the majority of the local tourists visiting Cox’s Bazar do not find it quite up to the mark.

Being a middle-income economy, there has been a substantial increase of middle-class people in the country who have surplus money to spend on holidays and tourism. Also for people living and working in the cities, rest and recreation breaks are needed for stress relief. As a result, tourism is booming across the country.

Just six to seven years ago, Cox’s Bazar used to be a buzzing tourist city only in winter, from November to February. Apart from winter, it would be deserted, dull, and tourist-based businesses remained nearly closed. But now it is a bustling city, full of tourists every day. Though there is a peak time when it becomes absolutely flooded with tourists, mostly in December and January, now tens of thousands of tourists flock to Cox’s Bazar in every weekend regardless of the season.

Cox’s Bazar is a city of tom-toms, the battery-run three-wheelers. For intra-city movement, it is the only vehicle used by both local people and tourists. After arriving Cox’s Bazar, the first people most tourists will meet are the tom-tom drivers. They often wait for the tourists to get out of buses and hotels. However, the sad thing is that they often charge tourist double fare. Many hotels also take advantage of the tourist boom by increasing food prices and hotel rates unreasonably and that sometimes makes the headlines.

Crowds throng the beach
Parvez Uddin Chowdhury

On top that, people travel to Cox’s Bazar from Dhaka, Chittagong and other parts of the country for a relaxing and crowd-free time but what often happens is they find themselves in a more madding crowd and sometimes stuck in annoying traffic jams in Cox’s Bazar.

With the inaugurating of 85km long Marine Drive along the beach in 2017, a huge window of opportunity for tourism has opened. In the meantime, most of the land along the road has been bought up by individuals and companies. Many tourist spots have already developed on the Marine Drive.

Many resorts and hotels are under construction but the only thing we now need to focus on is good planning and regulation, targeting eco-based sustainable tourism so that the Marine Drive does not become a concrete jungle, like Cox’s Bazar. Eco-based responsible tourism will conserve the environment and ensure the well-being of the local community. As it is becoming trendy worldwide, it may attract more international tourists as well.

As environmental concerns are growing day by day, we are struggling a lot to make our cities green, clean and healthy. Every year, there are concerns growing regarding the environmental degradation Saint Martin’s Island is going through. The areas along the Marine Drive are ecologically critical and so we have to make balance between tourism and care for nature. To do that, we need effective systems and regulations in place, at the same time people have to be aware and responsible.

The hotel-motel hub
Parvez Uddin Chowdhury

A few years ago roads and footpaths were very poor in Cox’s Bazar but recently a lot has been renovated and developed. Now businesses have to focus on improving hospitality more than profit mongering and other irregularities should be checked and curtailed.

Tom-tom drivers in Cox’s Bazar need no driving license to drive and they have no basic training on road traffic. To give a better experience to the tourists, Tom-tom drivers could be oriented on basic hospitality and tourism along with basic traffic rules. At the same time, it is also important for tourists to have awareness about environment, cleanliness and eco-spirituality, so they behave responsibly. For that, hotels can take initiatives to make their guests aware about the issues by short online courses and putting up awareness banners and posters.

There has been a brilliant anti-plastic campaign at Cox’s Bazar beach by Bidyanondo Foundation a few months ago. They built a giant monster by plastic waste collected from beach to make people aware and help grow common civic senses, so tourists become aware of dumping plastic here and there while visiting Cox’s Bazar and the beach. Cox’s Bazar needs more of such campaigns to build public awareness on eco-tourism, environmental awareness, hospitality, cleanliness, eco-spirituality and so on. 

* Parvez Uddin Chowdhury is a development worker