SRI LANKA has remained a dream
destination for travellers through the centuries. Many travellers of
yore had left their footprints on our soil and their memories in books,
some of which are still in publication.
Tourists have continued to visit this ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ in
spite of a protracted conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
However, the stark reality is that Sri Lanka still attracts only
around 600,000 tourists a year, whereas Singapore attracts six million.
The latter is much smaller and has almost no natural and ancient
The secret lies mainly in marketing. Singapore has marketed itself
worldwide as a great destination. Adequate air links, superb
hospitality/transport infrastructure, man-made attractions and the
absence of any kind of conflict have certainly helped.
The Government has perceived the need to embark on an aggressive
tourism promotional drive, on a proposal made by the new Tourism
This is aimed at getting more tourists and achieving US$ 1 billion in
earnings within the next two to three years. Employment generation will
be an added bonus.
This is a laudable and timely move as the tourism industry is
emerging from the 2004 tsunami devastation and looking forward to
welcoming more visitors.
The conflict has had some impact, though not on the scale that some
pessimists feared. One factor in Sri Lanka’s favour in this regard is
that tourists have never been the target of any terrorist attacks.
The decision to defer the charging of US$ 10 visa fee is another step
in the right direction.
Although the visa fee would have earned a substantial amount of
foreign exchange, the time is not exactly ripe for such action as we
need to offer all possible concessions to visitors as well to the
industry under trying circumstances.
In this context, making the hotel sector eligible for industrial
electricity rates is another prudent decision. The debt moratorium on
the hotel sector and duty concessions for certain imports will also help
hoteliers to tide over financial constraints.
Several more issues have to be tackled in the long term. The lack of
airline seats to Colombo is worrying. More scheduled flights are needed
to accommodate greater numbers of tourists.
The authorities must also ensure that Colombo becomes a regular port
of call for cruise ships which usually carry more affluent passengers
than the average chartered flight.
More upmarket hotel rooms will also be required for high-spending,
The promotional campaign should target new tourism markets in
addition to the established markets such as UK and Germany. China is one
new market with which Sri Lanka has seen success.
Eastern Europe, where a new-rich class has emerged, is another
promising market. In fact, before trying to penetrate far-away markets,
the industry should look at attracting more regional visitors especially
from countries which have religious ties with Sri Lanka.
While taking every possible step to develop inbound tourism, the
industry must also focus on domestic tourism.
After all, it is the locals who kept the industry alive during the
dark days of insurgencies and the height of the terrorist conflict.
Tourist hotels should have more affordable packages for local
travellers. The construction of more accommodation facilities for locals
is also welcome.
As a Tourist Board slogan so aptly puts it, Sri Lanka is a ‘Land Like
No Other’. Our compact island has a myriad of natural, cultural and
eco-tourism attractions which are perhaps unparalleled anywhere else in
The time has certainly come to tell the citizens of the world about
this unique island and invite them to see its inherent beauty with their
The National Question: Principal indispensable features of a
EVERY Sri Lankan should be assured that he is
equal in all respects to any other Sri Lankan, and free to develop
his potential to the fullest, including the unhindered right to work
towards attaining any position in the public or private sector,
solely based on his merits. There should be no bar to his progress
based on race, religion, caste, gender, occupation or political
Investors must feel this is a place, where they can get speedy
I want to ask you to just draw a line about the
past. I want you to cooperate with me and very earnestly, with great
humility, I am calling upon all of you to help us develop this
country. This cannot be done by me, or the Secretary or the Chairman
On My Watch:
Tiger tracks in Tamil Nadu
“Five Years of Ceasefire Agreement - What Next?”
was the rhetorical topic of the symposium organised by the National
Peace Council, known more for its capability in organising seminars
and workshops on peace.