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Promoting culinary tourism in Bandarban

Published : Friday, 3 November, 2017 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1813

Promoting culinary tourism in Bandarban

Promoting culinary tourism in Bandarban

What is tourism? Tourism is the activities of people travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environments for leisure, business or other purposes for not more than one consecutive year. Also tourism is a term that describes the movement and economic activity of people for every purpose other than their regular employment and normal day-to-day activity.
So, if we think about promoting tourism, particularly culinary tourism, in Bandarban of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs), we see that this hill district has every potential to provide unique and memorable experience to the tourists. Bandarban is truly a place of tourist attraction and full of resources. Its nature, foods, crops, peoples' lifestyles, culture and heritage, and the people themselves are great resources for attracting tourists.
So what is culinary tourism? Culinary is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences. By combining travel with these gastronomic experiences, culinary tourism offers both locals and tourists alike an authentic taste of the place.
Bandarban hill district is a world in which there is unique harmony between people and nature. There is greenery all around, the local culture is unique, and the biodiversity is exceptionally rich. Such amalgamation of culture and biodiversity has resulted into diverse ingredients and cuisines. So, when you enter Bandarban, you enter a different culinary world.
To support rural livelihoods through tourism development in Bandarban, Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) signed a letter of agreement with the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) of Bangladesh. It was under the European Union funded support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica) initiative.
More recently tourism has become an important generator of local employment. The Himalica Tourism Pilot Project in Bandarban, implemented by Bandarban Hill District Council (BHDC), works with local communities to develop tourism attractions and create linkages with other sectors such as agriculture, handicrafts, and commerce. The approach lies in promoting sustainable tourism development, which is environmentally and culturally sensitive, and ensures a good spread of incomes in the local economy.
To spread tourism income in the local economy, the project is promoting culinary tourism in Bandarban hill district. According to Dr Anu K Lama, Tourism Specialist, ICIMOD, culinary tourism promotion is one of the key interventions that helped integrating farm-based value chain stakeholders' livelihood with tourism value chain. By mainstreaming ethnic cuisines and local organic ingredients within the gastronomic and hospitality sectors (such as resorts/restaurants) of Dhaka, Chittagong and Bandarban, the scope and opportunity of spreading tourism benefits to community members has been ensured. Activities such as local food festivals, chefs' training, production of recipe books and menus and their adoption by hospitality sectors are important steps in this direction.  
For this purpose, the BHDC of MoCHTA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Women Culinary Association of Bangladesh (WCAB) and Inventor. The overall objective of this partnership is to promote culinary tourism of Ruma Upazila, Bandarban hill district across Bangladesh.
Till date, WCAB and Inventor have trained a batch of 15 participants from Bandarban and adjacent areas at the International Training Institute of Culinary Arts (ITICA) in Dhaka. The one month training was conducted by renowned chefs from five-star hotels and experts from WCAB. The training was focused on basic culinary skills development and presentation of Bandarban ethnic foods meeting high-end restaurant standards.
In addition to such capacity building training, culinary culture, practice and world of ethnic communities of Bandarban has been promoted through production and publication of local ethnic menus and recipe book.
As a writer of this story, I had the opportunity to visit Bandarban, especially Ruma Upazila recently, and witnessed the popularity and demand of culinary tourism there. The concerned trained chefs are running their business and doing the job well. And they recommended that the more youths -- both male and female -- must be trained in the future so that Bandarban may truly be positioned as 'the heart of the hill tracts'.
Although culinary tourism development is in its early stages in Bandarban, Dr Lama suggests, "There is a tremendous possibility and scopes in really turning the culinary landscapes of Bandarban, or even hill tracts for that matter, into exclusive brand -- the brand that represent slow food, rich ethnic food culture/ingredients and sustainable lifestyles. Developing the sector to its full potential will require the support of government and private sectors, working with local communities. It will be important for all national and local stakeholders to adopt and support Bandarban's tourism vision, which is "Bandarban hill district will be nationally and internationally known as the most attractive and authentic nature and culture destination in Bangladesh."
Dr Lama further states, "To ensure that tourism development (including culinary tourism) is on a sustainable development path, MoCHTA with technical support from ICIMOD, has developed Tourism Destination Management Plan for Bandarban. Goal number three of the plan specifically talks about maximizing local participation and benefits through action focused in strengthening local supply chains such as fruits, vegetables, coffee and honey, their value addition (processing and packaging) and linkages with hotels/resorts/restaurants in Cox's Bazar for tourist's consumption ."
There is no doubt that Bandarban, a crowning jewel for adventure and cultural tourism in Bangladesh, is gaining its popularity day by day. But are the community ready to receive the tourists? And what's in it for them? Such moral imperatives behind tourism development should be the core of the sustainable tourism development philosophy in Bandarban hill district.
Highlighting such values, Dr Surendra Raj Joshi, Programme Coordinator, Himalica project of ICIMOD stated, "Bandarban is interesting place to visit and visitors' (mainly domestic tourists) number will keep on growing with improved connectivity, access to information and development of new destinations. But, efforts are required to create incentives for local communities and enhance their preparedness so that they also get interested in receiving tourists."  
Given this imperative, Bandarban needs a clear tourism roadmap to integrate all activities with active participation of local communities. The Himalica Tourism Pilot Project in this regard, aims to enhance sustainable tourism development and management with particular emphasis on benefits to local communities.

For this reason, culinary tourism development in Bandarban hill district, with tremendous scope and potentials to maximize tourism benefit sharing and integrate value chain, deserves great attention and promotion.  

Parvez Babul is a journalist,
columnist, and author

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