A great opportunity | Daily News


A great opportunity

Sri Lanka enjoyed nearly 10 years of peace from May 2009, which catapulted Sri Lanka to the world’s front-ranking tourist destinations. Lonely Planet declared Sri Lanka as the ‘Number One Destination’ for 2019, which resulted in an upsurge in tour bookings. Sri Lanka was well on its way to meet the intended tourist arrivals target for the year when the Easter attacks took place, shattering the peace and plunging the country into an unprecedented crisis.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, it was immediately clear that tourism would be the most affected sector. Many airlines and inbound tour operators immediately went into cancellation mode and hotels became empty shells bereft of the clamour of tourists. Entire areas that depended on tourism slid into a state of despondency. Even though things are not as bad as they initially seemed and tourists did start trickling in, the industry badly needed a catalyst that would send a strong message that Sri Lanka is safe and open for visitors.

This came in the form of the annual gathering of the world Dawoodi Bohra Community led by His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, which is now being held in Colombo. The leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community delivered the first sermon of the Ashara Mubaraka in Husaini Masjid in Colombo in the presence of over 21,000 Bohra community members from all over the world.

As has been his practice over the last few years, Syedna announced that the series of ten sermons would centre upon a single theme. This year he has chosen to base his sermons on an extensive counsel given by Imam Ali bin Abi Talib to his son Imam Hasan, grandson of Prophet Mohammed.

Dr. Syedna and the Bohra community deserve plaudits for going ahead with their gathering in Colombo post-Easter, even as several other international summits scheduled to be held in Colombo, including the CITES parley, moved elsewhere. This is a huge vote of confidence in our security and logistical capabilities as they would not have come here if they were not 100 percent satisfied. Furthermore, many of the delegates had brought their families along, which is an extra sign of confidence.

Needless to say, this is a major boost for the inbound travel industry and the hospitality sector which were reeling since Easter. The hotels in Colombo are fully booked until September 10 and almost everyone connected to tourism, from taxi drivers to food vendors, is benefitting in some way. It also strengthens the local economy, as the visitors make use of local goods and services during their stay. One expert has estimated that the cumulative benefits to the economy would exceed US$ 51 million, which is not to be scoffed at in today’s climate.

While independent and group tour travellers are still the most significant segment of visitors, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) visitors are becoming increasingly important in the overall tourism landscape. Many countries including Si Lanka offer generous incentives and concessions to this group of travellers as the economic benefits are enormous. The fact that Sri Lanka has successfully hosted the Bohra World Convention on two occasions is ample testimony to the fact that the country is fully equipped to host a gathering of any size.

In this context, we cannot comprehend why anyone should oppose having this conference here, unless they are driven purely by hate and prejudice against the wider Muslim community. Some of the extremist ethno-religious organisations protesting against the Bohra gathering have been vilifying the whole Muslim community since Easter and the Bohras too have earned their wrath. This exposes a tribalist mindset that demonises the other communities and religious groups. Besides, this gathering was announced much earlier than Easter and anyone could have made objections back then. Their attempts to block the meeting now smacks of a desire to destabilize the community and fan communal flames.

As a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country, Sri Lanka cannot be selective about who comes in, as long as they have fulfilled legal admission criteria. Our written laws expressly prohibit discrimination against anyone possessing a different religion or ethnicity, foreigners included. Hence, we cannot ban a gathering of Bohras while allowing a group from another community/religion to hold a meeting here. Such laws apply equally to all.

Sri Lanka prides itself on openness, diversity, hospitality and the friendliness of its people to make it a home away from home for travellers from far and near. Thus intolerance and ignorance are two vices we can do without as we seek to regain the glory days of tourism.

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