Thoughts on tourism
Sri Lanka has been identified as a premier location
for tourism by several foreign media reports. In fact, the New
York Times found it as the best place to visit in 2010. This is
a huge peace dividend or a direct consequence of the end of the
three decade old fratricidal war and the defeat of terrorism.
The Tourism Ministry also has acknowledged increased tourist
arrivals. It is said it expects over 500,000 tourists in 2010.
This, of course, is a meager amount going by international
standards. Our close neighbour Maldives with only the sun and
the sea as resources receives more than a million tourists a
Though the industry started in the 1970s Sri Lanka is yet to
formulate a comprehensive national policy on tourism
development. Neither does it have a consistent strategy, which
has kept changing not only with changes of Government but also
with changes of Ministers. The constant change of Ministers and
officials at the top hinders both formulation and implementation
of both policy and strategy.
At the beginning Sri Lanka offered and marketed only the sun
and the beaches to attract tourists. This was not changed for a
long time. Still it predominates.
Unlike many other countries Sri Lanka has a variety of
resources that could attract tourists. Just like India it could
attract tourists interested in our rich culture or our religious
pageants and other activities. In other words, the opportunities
for historical, cultural and religious tourism are many. India
has developed to its advantage religious tourism. Though most
Sri Lankans visit religious sites in India, the visits by
Indians and other South Asian nationals to our religious sites
are relatively minimal.
Nor have we fully utilized our capacity to attract
eco-tourists for Sri Lanka is one of the richest bio-diversity
spots in the world. There is also the possibility to attract
health tourists who could utilize both our Ayurvedic facilities
as well as state-of-art surgical facilities at our State and
private hospitals. India, for example, is attracting many
tourists from the Western countries as health tourists.
What is necessary is a holistic approach to tourism
development. The Tourism Ministry should cooperate with other
relevant ministries in drawing up a strategy for developing the
industry. The lack of understanding of the culture and
traditions of the country was visible in many plans for tourism
promotion. The best example is the 'Small Miracle' fiasco. We
are yet to develop a proper theme to express our own Sri Lankan
identity in tourist promotion.
The development of tourist infrastructure is also haphazard
and in certain areas.
It is at the whims and fancies of private entrepreneurs who
have the least interest in preserving the ecology or the
architectural values of the sites. It is not incorrect to infer
that many tourist complexes have been responsible for coastal
pollution. There is a dire need of a proper regulatory authority
to prevent such abuses of the environment.
Another aspect that is receiving step-motherly treatment is
the development of local tourism. The Provincial Councils and
the local government authorities should collaborate with Sri
Lanka Tourism in drawing out a comprehensive plan to upgrade
facilities at identified tourist hot spots and proper management
of such places.
Since the end of the war there is a huge influx of local
tourists to the North and East. Actually these areas lack even
the basic facilities such as shelter and dining to accommodate
them. There is a need for low-cost but clean and healthy
accommodation and dining facilities for the local tourists. The
old rest houses maintained by the Local Government bodies or the
Tourist Board are not functioning any more or are in a
dilapidated condition. It is necessary to update them or put up
new facilities to facilitate people to people contact between
various provinces in the country. It would provide a decent
living to the local population as well as a means of income to
the Government. The private sector too should be encouraged to
provide similar facilities.