We need to get the act right
Posted on August 2nd, 2010

Dr. Tilak S Fernando

“ƒ”¹…”Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is gearing to invest US$10 billion to earn US$500 million in the near future. To this end the plan is to erect nearly 2,000 to 3,000 new hotel rooms by the end of 2010. Official approval to construct new hotels in Passekudah and Batticaloa to promote Eastern beaches as tourist destinations and new zones earmarked at Kuchchaveli north and five Islands in Kalpitiya are to be transformed similar to that of Maldives’.

Plans to build a domestic airport at Uchchamunai, an underwater amusement park in Kandakkuliya, Golf Course in Dutch Bay, Race Course and Cricket Grounds in Kalpitiya; Fishing Tourism, Leisure Tourism and Ayurvedic Tourism are all in the Government’s pipeline to be implemented “ƒ”¹…”to attract the global appeal’. These will certainly coincide with the idea of making Sri Lanka the cynosure of the Far East no doubt, but when we look at brass tacks what do we see right in front of our eyes?

At the very threshold to the country toilets at Katunayake International Airport giving tourists the first impression of the “ƒ”¹…”paradise island’ stinks to high heaven making millions of rupees invested to develop it to international standard “ƒ”¹…”flush away’ by the sheer neglect of officials who are in charge. Although the toilet facilities at the car park cannot be compared with any international standard, this too suffers from the same malady.

Basics of tourism

Hotel accommodation, no doubt, is an essential aspect in a tourist concept. Equally a variety of food and drink plays a vital role with foreign visitors who turn up to experience the diversity of an exotic Island, multiplicity of a different culture and to intermingle with its people in the comfort of “ƒ”¹…”decent’ accommodation. What most of the star hotels provide as accommodation would be basic facilities to Westerners as every household in developed countries these fall into the “ƒ”¹…”standard’ category! What is of prime importance would be to maintain proper hygienic conditions, cleanliness, courtesy and service with a smile. To assess whether needs of tourists match with that of their demands, just some star hotels alone would not be a yardstick.

The world today has been reduced to one single global village with millions of people crossing international boundaries thanks to the advancement in air travel, cheap holiday packages and charter flights. Nowadays any tourist-income orientated nation should concentrate on the normal ordinary folk who want to get away once a year from their stressful rat race like lifestyles rather than focusing on the business traveler alone and five star treatment.

The current trend in global tourism is linked to “ƒ”¹…”package holidays’ where travellers pay a lump sum and tour operators take the strain out of clients. Professionals in this game get concessionary bulk booking rates from airlines and hotels to make such packages exceedingly attractive to their clients. In such a state of affairs we cannot expect the “ƒ”¹…”modern tourist’ to spend lavishly during their visits except on their souvenirs.

Another category of tourists is adventurer types who travel light with backpacks. Their outgoings would be minimal and some like to mix and live with natives to gain experience. In a broad generalization, it is not every tourist’s ambition to travel in chauffer driven limousines at lightning speeds on Sri Lankan roads bringing their heart into their mouth!

Popular tourist destinations across the world offer tourists the opportunity to travel freely on public transport to suit their timetables. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka this opportunity is flawed due to poor infrastructure for tourist movements.

Overcrowded buses and trains force tourists to chauffer driven cars and coaches and during their travel on the road star hotels are the only option for any emergency or call of nature. Is it possible for a tourist to drive around in a self-driven hired vehicles in Sri Lanka which is a common feature in any popular tourist destination?

Lack of vision

Where have been our tourist authorities all these years? Have they been able to look beyond their noses except expanding hotels only and neglecting the basic tourist requirements? Public toilet facilities at Pettah and Badulla bus stand are a disgrace to the country where no one can even get near apart from using them, despite paying a levy for its maintenance. Such facilities at railway stations make no difference.

Can tourists travel in “ƒ”¹…”sardine-packed’ buses? “ƒ”¹…”Observation cars’ in luxury trains, for tourist travel, are hazy and travelers in them can only have a panoramic view of dust particles rather than the scenic beauty of the country. All these boil down to one thing – a sheer lack of commonsense or a vision to improve the facilities.

Tourist literature is only confined to hotel receptions and a little kiosk at the airport and this makes tourists on arrival to be taken around as robots by tour operators and local agents. Learning from our past experience when tourists swamped the golden beaches of Down South (during President Premadasa’s tenure), white shapely female bodies started to sunbathe in the nude at a star hotel compound and walked in G-string bikinis along the Galle Road, while male odd muscular pieces of humanity were scouting for young boys for sexual pleasure, which in turn enticed some of the young and local eyes and turned the whole act into a pied piper scenario.

Tourist Police which once seemed to have gone with the wind was resurrected soon and under the purview of the Tourism and Defence Ministries, it was re-established as a New Tourist Police Division under the theme “ƒ”¹…”Prevent, Protect and Delight’.

Rather than only being money orientated, tourist authorities have a right to preserve and maintain our cultural values ensuring that foreign tourists are not allowed to behave reprehensively or expose themselves indecently for a fistful of dollars which would affect our centuries old cultural and traditional values drastically as much as female tourists in turn should be safeguarded from unacceptable behaviour by the local folk, especially ogling at females at beaches which is quite offensive.

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