The rise of tourism | Daily News


The rise of tourism

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his Policy Statement delivered in Parliament on Friday, mentioned several industries that have the potential to propel Sri Lanka to the front ranks of Asia. Among them was tourism.

In the President’s own words, “one sector we can swiftly develop is the tourism industry. This sector, which earned US$ 4.4 billion in 2018, has space to grow to one that can earn revenue in excess of US$ 10 billion within the next few years. We will introduce a systematic programme to achieve this”.

In a boost to this goal, CNN Travel editors have selected Sri Lanka as one of the best places to visit calling it an essential destination.

It also urged readers not to miss the Kandy Esala Perahera, the annual festival of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Although Sri Lanka is known for its sandy beaches, CNN Travel says that tourists should take a tour inland and immerse themselves in the rich history and culture. Says CNN: “Start in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the country’s capital in the 12th century. This UNESCO Heritage site has ruins of Buddhist temples and is frequented by Buddhist monks. A little over an hour to the west by car is the rock fortress, Sigiriya. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, this ancient volcanic formation that soars over 200 metres was developed into a palace fortress in the latter half of the 5th century. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Sigiriya is one of the most-visited landmarks in Sri Lanka.”

In another boost, Sri Lanka has been ranked first for the category of Asia’s Best Nation for Wildlife Tourism by Top 10, one of Asia’s premier publications. As per the survey conducted on Asian countries, Sri Lanka was ranked first among five shortlisted countries for the category of “Asia’s Best Nation for Wildlife Tourism”. This is perhaps no surprise, given the wealth of wildlife on offer in our National Parks and elsewhere. Lonely Planet, on its part, has continued with Sri Lanka in the Number One position despite the April 21 attacks.

Indeed, the April 21 incidents practically decimated the local tourism industry overnight as several leading hotels were targeted by the attackers. Bookings were cancelled en masse, many airlines pulled out and even the remaining tourists left. However, in a remarkable turnaround, the tourism industry bounced back in a few months after all source market countries withdrew their adverse travel advisories. Right now, arrivals are at near-normal levels, bolstered by the issue of free visas on arrival to citizens of 48 countries.

The inbound travel and tourism industry now has a positive outlook and is well on track to realize the previous target of four million tourists per annum in the short term. Many new airlines have commenced services including LOT Polish (Warsaw), Salaam Air (Muscat) and Vistara (Mumbai) while others including Biman (Dhaka), Ethiopian (Addis Ababa) and JetStar (Australia) are reported to be waiting in the wings. Several leading hotel groups are constructing hotels in Colombo and elsewhere.

These developments will address two major concerns – the lack of seats inbound to Colombo as well as the lack of rooms during peak demand times. New attractions such as an upcoming cable car project in Nuwara Eliya should also help attract more tourists.

In developing the tourism sector, the authorities should not neglect the domestic tourists. They kept the industry alive during the dark days of 1988-89, the height of the conflict and of course, after the Easter Sunday attack.

However, now that tourism is back on track, there have been disturbing reports that some tourist establishments in the outstations were denying entry to local travellers. This “tourism apartheid” must end now. Everyone has the right to use hotel and restaurant facilities regardless of skin colour, ethnicity and other differences. In fact, according to several media reports, tourism authorities have threatened to take legal action against establishments found guilty of engaging in this discriminatory practice, which could ultimately result in the cancellation of their licenses. This is indeed the correct approach as tourism apartheid cannot be tolerated at any level.

We should also tap in to new source markets such as Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, Oceania and South East Asia. The current and proposed new flights from destinations such as Warsaw, Addis Ababa, Ho Minh City and Sydney should help in this endeavour.

We must also be mindful of the impact of Climate Change on the tourism industry and take steps to mitigate its effects from now onwards. Ours is a unique island but for tourism to thrive, it is essential to preserve our natural beauty, biodiversity and other attractions in a pristine state.

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