Thanchi’s jobless tourism workers silently suffer amidst KNF-linked ban

THANCHI CORRESPONDENT, BANDARBAN

The Thanchi upazila in Bandarban is facing a critical situation as unemployed individuals in the tourism sector struggle in silence. Those involved in tourism are urgently appealing to the government to lift the ban that is currently in place. There is a fear that if the restrictions on tourist travel continue, it will have devastating consequences for the local economy and the livelihoods of ordinary workers in Thanchi, Ruma, and Rowangchari upazilas. It is crucial for the authorities to consider the financial well-being of the local population.

For the past eight months, from October 2022 to May 2023, travel restrictions have prevented both domestic and international travelers from visiting the three upazilas of Bandarban: Thanchi, Ruma, and Rowangchari. The ban was put in place due to various illegal activities, including militant training by the Kuki Chin National Front (KNF) and incidents of kidnapping and ransom targeting ordinary people.

As a result, numerous hotels, resorts, and guesthouses in these upazilas have remained closed for an extended period of time. More than 500 families of tourist guides, over 500 families of boat drivers, and more than 100 transportation workers associated with the tourism industry are currently facing dire circumstances. Business owners in the sector fear a major disaster if the situation continues in the tourism industry of these upazilas.

Ruma, Rowangchari, and Thanchi upazilas are well-known tourist destinations, offering a wide range of natural attractions, including the country’s highest hills such as Dim Pahar, Keukradong, Tajingdong, Remakrikhum, Ngafakhum, Belakhum, Amiyakhum, Devtakum, Bagalek, Rizhuk Jharna, and Kumari Jhana. Prior to the ban, these tourist centers used to attract thousands of visitors from home and abroad who wanted to experience the beauty of nature.

More than 1,500 local families depend on tourism for their livelihoods, working as tourist guides, boat drivers, transportation employees, and staff in hotels, motels, and resorts in these upazilas. However, due to the eight-month-long travel ban, tourists have been unable to visit the scenic spots in Ruma, Rowangchari, and Thanchi upazilas. Consequently, local workers are facing severe hardships as their source of income has vanished. With the increasing cost of goods, it has become extremely challenging for them to sustain their households.

Tourism officials are deeply concerned about the potential catastrophe facing the tourism industry in the upazila if the ban continues.

Shahidullah, the General Secretary of the Thanchi Hotel-Motel Resort Owners Association and Director of Hotel Discover, warned that the regional economy would come to a standstill if the ban persists. He strongly urged the government to lift the restrictions promptly, taking into account the financial well-being of the local population.

Mamunor Rashid, the General Secretary of the Tourism Guide Welfare Association, stated that their association consists of two hundred tourist guides who have been jobless and without income for the past eight months. They are facing various challenges, including the rising cost of goods.

Rashid appealed to the authorities to at least reopen the Sangu river route, allowing desperate tourists to visit places like Remakrikhum and Ngafakhum.

Former Upazila Chairman Khamlai Mro, representing associations such as the Engine-Operated Boat Owners Association, Tourist Guides Welfare Association, and Hotel Motel Resort Owners Association, called for urgent intervention from the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Minister to address the critical situation.

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