Action needed not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg
Posted on April 19th, 2012

Dr.Tilak Fernando

The latest records on tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka reveal that an increase of 15.7 percent in January alone has created a record for the first time in the history of the tourist industry, adding the total intake of tourists to over an 800,000 mark up, so far .

We have been relying on the Western tourist arrivals for too long. In the past, tourists were only wealthy retired affluent folks who explored either Asia or Africa by taking a sea journey. With the passage of time wheels have turned in different directions with the advancement of science.

Today Westerners do not have to be well heeled to travel abroad. Thanks to innovative technology in the aircraft industry the world has been reduced to a single global village where two persons are not more than twenty four hours apart! Competition amongst air craft manufacturers and the emergence of ‘Tour Operators’ have made air travel much easier for the bourgeoisie with special package holidays, charter flights and/or buying tickets at airport- ticket- counters.

Modern tourist

Modern tourists plan their holidays carefully in advance taking many factors into account. They would study historical values and traditions of a destination, conditions of travel, hotel accommodation and even the type of aircraft before they commit to any package.

Tourist arrivals on the increase

So, it will not always be the white shapely blonde who takes a break for two weeks to recline on a sandy beach and walks about wearing a g-string bikini creating a Pied-Piper scenario in local towns or even the odd muscular pieces of humanity who at times get branded as ‘paedophiles scouting for young boys’!

Today airlines introduce cut-price, block-bookings with hotel accommodation and air fares thrown into the bargain at negotiated special concessionary rates with airlines and hotels. Such packages make tourists parsimonious because bulk of their expenses is wrapped up in the deal. This restricts their spending to a minimal. Hence, the tourist arrival figures may sound statistically impressive but the par value of their spending ratio becomes debatable.

Expatriate traveller

To my thinking, it’s the Sri Lankan expatriates with families who bring more foreign exchange and spend much more than any single foreigner would do. Unlike in the case of a package holiday maker expatriates pay a higher air fare as opposed to subsidised rates for foreign groups. Expatriates rent private vehicles to sightsee, take their families and friends with them; wine and dine at star rated hotels spend converted foreign currency whereas package-deal tourists are well looked after with transport, board and accommodation at hotels.

Criticism

The divergent two tier charging structure between foreigners and locals in visiting places of interest often get criticised by foreigners. In January, two visitors from London scoffed at the charge of Rs.3,800 each to visit Sigiriya; Rs.2,800 to view ruins in Anuradhapura; Rs. 1,200 to enter Dambulla Rock Temple whereas locals were charged only a ‘paltry sum’! During the recent English Cricket tour 8,000 spectators supposed to have arrived but the comments by some on TV coverage said it all for charging exorbitant prices at Galle. Of course, funds are necessary for the upkeep of such places and no one denies this fact, but we need to adopt some form of decorum in the application of charges and make facilities available so as not to offend visitors. Do we need to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

Orientation

SriLankan Airlines too bears a certain degree of responsibility towards tourist promotion. Generally international airlines promote their own destinations with intensive marketing strategies.

National Carrier’s efforts in this area need to be widened. As much as advertising ‘Male’ or ‘Dubai’ on video screens during flights, National airline’s priority should be to focus on Sri Lanka as well without giving priority to audio programmes of music or tele-dramas during in-flight entertainment. Could this be due to incoherent liaison between the SriLankan Airlines and the Tourist Board?

The Tourist Board being a big organization usually takes time to make decisions and implement even when pointed out certain criteria beneficial to the tourist industry due to various hindrances such as adopted antiquated systems and rules and regulations affecting the real aspect of resolving a problem.

SriLankan London-Colombo flight, for instance, could land in Colombo first and proceed to Maldives rather than doing the opposite and bringing half empty planes to Colombo! Such changes may help some tourists going to Male to stop over in Colombo and get a first hand sensation on Sri Lanka.

Concentrating primarily on tourist hotels alone will not help the industry but needs to look at dire necessities such as decent/clean public conveniences scattered round the island. Modern traveller does not necessarily mean a foreigner.

Now many Sri Lankans travel intensively within the country and there is nothing more embarrassing than having to control one’s muscles and having to take to one’s heels if one were to get the urge for a call of nature while travelling! The emergence of electronically operated ‘Super-Looks’ in major cities all over the world tackle this problem effectively to help the general public overcome such human needs.

Today the West is in utter turmoil politically and economically. The future economy is going to revolve around East Asia where Sri Lanka too will be able to share such recognition. Tourists from India, China, Middle East, Australia and Russia are seemingly getting attracted to Sri Lanka and it will be up to Sri Lanka tourism strategists to put the right thinking cap and improve on all weak areas to bolster the tourist industry to expected levels and be competitive with popular destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia or Maldives.

Sri Lanka has beautiful sandy beaches, added diversity of cultural and geographical attractions complemented with the typical Sri Lankan hospitality of our people to invite tourists to our wonderful ‘paradise, ‘ if we get the act right.

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One Response to “Action needed not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg”

  1. sena Says:

    I do not know whether you can call tourism a golden egg or for that matter an “industry” since health of this business purely depend on the whims and wishes of the travelers and does not produce any wealth or knowledge base for the economy. Imagine for any reason, economic or other (like the heinous mutilation of a women in the south which mastermind still hold public office) they stop coming, it become a real headache with all the investment and infrastructure idling. On the other hand if the beneficiaries of our eighty year old investment in higher education had kick started knowledge based industries within their field of expertise we would have a real golden egg now in the form of an industrial base which create wealth and knowledge. It is specially sad we do not have even minor activity in healthcare industry despite having many medical faculties and measurable light or heavy industry capabilities originating from many engineering faculties. Having a respectable knowledge based economic sector is a must for any well performing country and service businesses like tourism can be considered as very beneficial but unreliable sectors

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