Reaping tourism’s benefits | Daily News

Reaping tourism’s benefits

Over the past six decades, tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification, and has become one of the fastest growing and most important economic sectors in the world. International tourist arrivals have grown from 25 million in 1950 to nearly 1.3 billion today. Similarly, tourism revenues earned by destinations around the world have grown from US$ 2 billion in 1950 to US$ 1,260 trillion in 2016. The sector represents an estimated 10% of the world’s GDP and 1 in 10 jobs globally.

Tourism is expected to grow at an average of 3 percent annually until 2030. This growth reflects the progressive expansion of access to tourism thanks to the decline in the price of air transport (with the rise of Low Cost Carriers) and the growing middle class. The availability of holidays and disposable incomes has also contributed. The sector has experienced uninterrupted growth despite challenges such as the global economic crisis, natural disasters and pandemics. Tourism cannot be treated in isolation – it relies on and also affects sectors such as infrastructure, energy, transport, sanitation, health, education, literature, hospitality and retail. It has a huge impact on job creation. Tourism also plays a pivotal role in advancing cultural understanding and bringing people from different continents together.

Today (Sept 27), the world celebrates the contribution made by tourism in various ways on World Tourism Day. This year’s theme is Digital Transformation for Tourism. From online ticket purchases to Instagram, the digital revolution has transformed tourism in an unprecedented manner. It is possible to take a Virtual Reality (VR) tour to a given destination before going there for real. Instead of risking your life for a selfie (itself a staple of travel), one can use a drone to capture astounding travel images. Had a good or bad experience while travelling? Just head over to one of the message boards on travel to sound off. Such digital technologies have brought positive momentum to societies and economies around the world. They have connected us on a global level. Digital technologies can transform the way we travel, reduce the ecological burden of tourism and bring the benefits of tourism to all.

Sri Lanka is poised to take advantage of the latest trends in tourism, having already become one of the most “instagrammable” destinations in the world. Sri Lanka has been ranked in the top 10 or 20 of most “must-see” destination lists published by many leading online newspapers and magazines. Tourist arrivals have increased drastically since the end of the war in 2009 and Sri Lanka is well on its way to attract 2.5 million tourists per year. But for more tourists to come, there should be several more requirements.

The first is a more welcoming entry process. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a task force to study the possibility of granting visa free entry to visitors from certain tourist-friendly nations in order to boost arrivals. Some of the countries under consideration are India, China, and some European and West Asian countries. This proposal is aimed at encouraging more people to visit Sri Lanka and avoid the “chaos” at immigration counters, which will also be countered by installing more E-Gates at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) for passenger processing, as seen in Dubai and Singapore.

Another problem is the projected shortage of airline seats into Colombo, in the backdrop of plans to bring in 2.5 million tourists. Prior to 1983, most of the world’s leading airlines flew into Colombo, but the majority withdrew citing security concerns amidst a sharp drop in tourism. Now only about 35 airlines (including SriLankan) operate flights to Colombo. We must attract more airlines to Colombo (and Mattala) to meet the goal of 2.5 million tourists in the short term.

Fortunately, more airlines are planning to operate flights to Colombo. The Russian airline Aeroflot will be flying to Colombo from Moscow five times a week using Airbus A330 planes from October 28. Among the other airlines planning to launch regular services to Sri Lanka in the next two-three months are Edelweiss (Switzerland), Thomas Cook (UK) and Vistara (India). Also waiting in the wings are Biman Bangladesh, US-Bangla Airlines, Royal Nepal Airlines, Lion Air (Indonesia) and several other airlines. All these extra flights will boost tourism and other inbound travel. Sri Lanka must also make use of existing and new bilateral air services agreements (some of which have not been properly utilized) to get more airlines into Colombo. Moreover, the BIA will be able to accommodate many more airlines and passengers when the current expansion is completed sometime in 2020.

The country also needs more hotel rooms for the anticipated higher numbers of arrivals. In this context, the entry of several renowned chains such as Shangri La, Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott, Sheraton, Next, ITC, Cygnett and Inter-Continental will be a boon for the tourism sector. Moreover, the sector has the potential to generate around 100,000 new jobs. The authorities must also develop domestic tourism. In keeping with the Tourism Day theme, the latest digital tools and social media should be extensively used to promote our resplendent isle.


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