Contributed by A Z M Saifuddin, Managing Director of Paper Rhyme and Asif Rahman, Head of Strategic Planning of Paper Rhyme
It is very difficult to come to a conclusion in few words about a country’s branding future. Yet this is just a humble submission to regenerate the process for a global industry worth US$4.6 trillion whereas the software industry globally is a US$500 billion plus. Today the tourism industry globally generates over 250 million jobs. In the contest of Bangladesh, the vast potential of tourism as an employment creator and wealth distributor remains untapped yet. The size of the tourism industry will become a major catalyst for Bangladesh’s growth.
It would, however, be wrong to come to a conclusion that nothing at all has been done. Revisiting the history of the country and doing a quick background check reveals that we have been, over the last 40 years or so, been growing. From an almost non-existent stage in the global scenario, we have been working on gathering together the building blocks for the making of the Bangladesh that we would like the world to know. A war of independence, the establishment and practice of democracy and the gradual development of infrastructure have all been parts of those initial footsteps of a baby nation. Today, Bangladesh, one must admit, has established a face for itself that is more familiar to the outside world. After the golden fiber of Bangladesh, jute; a promising Garment Sector catering to the needs of many countries, the establishment of February 21 as international Mother language Day are very good examples indeed. Individuals stepping forward in their respective fields of work and making a name for the country, like the honor Professor Mohammad Yunus has brought to us by bringing home the Nobel Prize, the recent success story of Mr. Fazle Hasan Abed’s Knighthood all go on to show that individuals are not sitting down idle either, as Nation Building and therefore branding is not the sole responsibility of any one person or corporation, but the job of the nation as a whole. Over the last 40 years nation has produced a great deal of entrepreneurs; just to site an example, today PRAN, an FMCG brand has become a global brand. So now that we stand at a point where we are not an unknown territory to the rest of the world anymore, the necessity to focus on the Tourism Industry has more prospects and possibilities too. Under the name ‘Visit Bangladesh’, Bangladesh Tourism Board has started activities in different parts of the world like doing road shows, taking parts in WTM, Kunming Fair, Fair in Singapore etc This is where we must move forward from, and that’s where the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ come in a bigger way.
Some would term it as a chicken and egg situation. Others would feel more comfortable with the term ‘Catch 22’. The fact is, while thinking about Tourism as an Industry in Bangladesh, one cannot but wonder why we are lagging so far behind in this sector. What needs to be done? Do we need to develop our infrastructure to the point where it automatically generates tourists’ attention, Or should we focus on whatever tourist footfall we already have so that they in turn result in greater tourist inflow to the country? A lot has been said on the issue over the last several years. Experts have expressed well-thought out opinions, the public have had their share of say too, but the “Chicken or Egg” issue has sadly remained where it was. I would rather look at the omelette instead, since I believe both infrastructure-development and attention towards existing tourists can very well go hand in hand.
Perhaps it’s my career in advertising that makes me look at everything like I look at Brands. And my first question (to myself) is where does Brand Bangladesh stand as far tourism is concerned? This Bengal of Gold, we must admit, has a lot to offer to the thirsty eyes of the globe trotter! Natural Beauty, Unique Food, Wildlife – you’ll find it all here, but something must be wrong. Otherwise, how come the typical Westerner, for example doesn’t think Bangladesh as soon as she thinks travel? How come, as far as Top of Mind recall is concerned we lose out to India, Malaysia, Thailand and even places like Bhutan and Burma? Pardon my branding-oriented approach to problem-solving again, but I would say the only point where we failed is in positioning Bangladesh in the Global Tourist Map. ‘Natural Beauty’, ‘Fine Cuisine’, ‘Exotic Wildlife’ have all been ‘taken’ by other countries first. So if you ask me again, – Why hasn’t tourism flourished the way it could have in Bangladesh? I would reply, “Because it’s not always what you present, but how you present it!” And very frankly speaking, it’s high time we chalked out a workable blueprint of how to present Bangladesh to prospective tourists.
Don’t get me wrong, I dislike being drenched in statistics as much as many of you surely do, but there is some tourism in Bangladesh. According to the books Over 20,000 foreign holidaymakers, mostly European and Japanese, visited Bangladesh last winter, which is a solid 30 per cent year-on-year growth in the trend. At present, a total of 10 local tour operators forged tie-ups with around 50 international operators across Europe, Japan and the USA, earning about USD 22 million. European and Japanese tourists spend on an average $800 during their seven-day stay in the country. I have, for whatever reason had to look into the Tourism Industry in great detail recently and I know for a fact that the tourists who do end up stepping within our borders generally love their tour experience here. My Brand-Hooked Brain working as it always does, looking to find a USP for Brand Bangladesh, I have personally asked many of them what it is that they liked about our country. Does it have anything to do with nature, man made luxuries, food? What is it? I’ll be very frank with the answers I got in each case, “No! I’ve seen better (in such and such country)”. I clung on, desperate to find an answer. I dug into research papers and findings, and realized that the most recent findings indicate that the typical tourist complains of “having enough” of nature, cuisine, etc. They want something else. Then I tried looking at the problem from a whole new perspective. Before I make this article sound like just another article, I’d invite the reader to participate in the write-up with me.
Let’s play a game together. How many of you have met a lone foreigner out in the streets of Bangladesh who acts more ‘at home’ than does the average Bangladeshi, including many of us who are adept at writing articles in foreign languages about Bangladesh? I bet many of you know of people like the one I just mentioned. The next time you meet someone like that, ask them what it is about Bangladesh they like most! The answer will come in many differently phrased words, but here is how you can sum it up – “The People and their (welcoming) way of Life”. In other words, if we have to position Bangladesh as a Travel destination now, we have to remember, “It’s not about the places, but the faces”! That is the core essence of Bangladesh, and very rightfully too. How else would you explain our emergence as one of the nations with the highest GNH (that’s Gross National Happiness, and yes, they measure that!) despite the poverty, various forms of unrest and lack of even the very basic needs? And a quick recall of the fact that today’s tourists want something other than nature or man made luxuries shows that this is the arena around which we need to position Brand Bangladesh – It’s people and what they have to offer.
Creating Believers of the Brand Never Fails
Many of you might have raised an eyebrow or two in response to my answer answer to the Chicken or Egg question. Yes, we believe it’s about time we thought about the omelette instead! We believe that development of the country’s infrastructure can go hand in hand in focusing on creating, through effective communication at the right touch points and spreading the word about the ‘wonderful faces’, manifestation of happiness this country has to offer via all the people who, for various reasons, travel outside the country. This would include a wide variety of people including students, businesspersons, as well as first time tourists, and even people who leave the country for other purposes, including medical treatment, etc. We need to create a Brand Ambassador out of each of them. And that’s just one aspect of the multi faceted approach that we have in mind.