IS TOURISM REALLY BOOMING IN SRI LANKA – Case Study Middle East-
Posted on June 18th, 2012

SARATH WIJESINGHE  

 Sri Lanka is one of the most sort for tourist destinations in the world. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean strategically located between West Asia and South East Asia has been an important stop on the silk route or the Silk Road. It has all requirements to be one of the best tourist destinations with absolute peace, political stability, climatic changes within few hours of driving across beautiful waterfalls, sceneries, rivers tea estates UNESCO approved world heritage sites, and over 250,000 archaeological sites with many other attractions and requirements. It is near impossible to have all these components in a compact island in addition to warmth and friendly nature of the people who are still not infected with commercialization and rigidity. Anybody who has visited this wonderful destination will not hesitate to visit again despite unfair and venomous propaganda of alleged human right violations, when Sri Lanka is one of the States with effective human right mechanism consist of people living in   Buddhist and Hindu cultures based on humanity and loving kindness. Those who brave to venture this beautiful island are amazed with the beauty, warmth, and friendly nature of the people; despite false propaganda discourage them from visiting Sri Lanka.  This island once named as the granary of the Asia and “Serandib” by the Arab sailors who voyaged through the silk route for trade due to beauty and wealth in culture and education. Today Arabs are re-visiting Sri Lanka to engage in trade and business and, as tourists with their new found oil wealth which they have invested wisely and strategically. Middle East is full of wealth on oil and other resources, which have been throughout friendly with Sri Lanka politically and economically. Today investments and tourists are pouring into this little paradise, thanks to the new found freedom and peace which is has catalysed the economic and growth on tourism, especially from the Middle East sector.

Tourism

 Sri Lanka is aiming at 2.3 million tourist arrivals per year by 2016. Are we going to meet this ambitious target with the deadline is a moot issue. Judging from what it is today there is no reason to consider why we will not meet the target expected as things are moving fast in the right directions. Sri Lanka has become one of the top tourist destinations which attract most of the airlines with daily flights, full of passengers who will venture all kinds of tourism. There is no need for vigorous campaign as word of mouth is sufficient for success in trade in the current fast developing world where the news flies in seconds with a click of a mouse with images countless files and documents.  Sri Lanka has got everything to be a tourist paradise when compared to Dubai which is also a booming economy based on tourism which is a non oil income in the oil rich UAE. Today Dubai is a top tourist destination with the vision of the visionary HE the Prime Minister of UAE and the people who jointly took part at the transformation of the desert to a top tourist hot spot.

Dubai has only 4% compared to enormous oil supply of Abudhabi – the capital of the federation of UAE, which is blessed with 3.5 barrels of crude oil per day. It is exploited the strategic situation be a service centre and a top  tourist destination which it is using dessert for dessert safari, malls to attracts tourists and other facilities with all modern and sophisticated requirements available for tourists. Sri Lanka has beauty, environment, climate, natural resources archaeological sites, thousand of places to see and 250,000 archaeological sites to visit in our favour. Whether we make the maxim us of our resources the nature has bestowed to us is a moot issue. Our hotels are clean people are friendly employees are professionals in any given slandered. Therefore, meeting the target of 2.3million and also to be the “Wonder of Asia’ within few years using tourism too as a vehicle is definitely a reality.

Newly introduced visa system

This online procedure has encouraged and enhanced visits and visitors. Payment of $20 is negligible for perspective visitor who were previously discouraged by the requirements to spend time and energy in government departments or complicated visa procedure.  They need peace, peace of mind pleasure and exploration and ready to pay the price for the pleasure. We do not want tourists or back packers who will economise and become parasite to our economy and the society. Some western tourists take refuge in Temples, Churches and Kovils for food and shelter and spend the holiday with no expenditure. There is credible information that some of them are responsible for spoiling our youngsters and the society by dealing in drug trafficking and engage in various nefarious activities. Those who are reluctant to spend $20 for visa or few dollars to enter archaeological sites are not genuine tourists that should be discouraged. On the other hand the income we generate on the visa fees is substantial and we need extra income to compensate the subsidies offered to tourists and the industry. Our target is for “High End”   tourists who will cause less trouble to us who will not disturb and destroy our culture and the traditional way of life.

High Hotel Rates

High hotel rates will not affect the industry as we should always aim at High End visitors. But the industry should be given the freedom to be flexible to fix rates based on certain guidelines as in the case of Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and many tourist Hot Spots.  Industry should have some freedom to be self monitored and regulated. It will be opportune at this moment to appoint an “Ombudsman” to regulate and monitor the private sector and the government outlets, which needs regulation by an independent and powerful regulator. Tourist industry to be a viable and productive has to be well remunerated as most services are subsidised. For example fuel electricity telephone and other services are heavily subsidise benefits of which are heavily enjoyed and made use of by tourists and the industry. Tourists spend effortless in Sri Lanka, because our currency is not strong. Why not make use of this reality to our benefit. On the other hand hotels must be forced to refurbish and improve their hotels with the enhanced returns in need of 35,000 additional rooms compared to only 15000 rooms currently in service. It is good trend that new hotels are being built rapidly and small and mega projects are being initiated by government and private sector. It is time that the industry adopts new strategies such as converting tea estates and other attractive places for tourism by improving Echo, Wildlife, Medical, Cricket, and various types and kinds of tourism sectors for which Sri Lanka is mostly suitable and adaptable. It is very happy to note that top class hotels chains such as Shangri-La as well as middle and medium hotels are ready to be in the team, with the encouragement and blessings of the Ministry headed by the visionary and hardworking of Hon. Minister of Investment Promotion Minister who has masterminded the long and short time strategy for the industry.

New destinations

It is time that we look for new destinations more attractions and friendly tourists who will have warmth and friendly nature towards us. USA is awaiting and looking for Chinese tourists who are high end and rich along with USSR and other countries such as Brazil. Amount of Chinese tourists to USA are a substantial part of the income of tourism of the USA. It is time that we change our strategy and vision to attract more tourists from China, India, Latin America other than the West and the EU who are pressed with political and economical downtown. European Union is in shatters and struggling for existence whereas the West is not doing very well economically and politically. The high end Middle East tourists will like Sri Lanka being a close destination and compatible with their habitants and culture. The trend is improving fast towards Sri Lanka with new and more airlines entering the field. Everyday there are flights to Sri Lanka from all over the world – especially from Middle East. UAE – the “Jewel of Middle East” has become closer to Sri Lanka with their Middle East counterparts by interacting economically and politically. Sri Lankan Embassy in the UAE assisted and initiated Gulf air fly Sri Lanka. Etihad the national Carrier of UAE, has spent lavishly $ 300 million for newly refurbished VIP lounge which is an indication of the confidence and the trust on the stability and the economy of Sri Lanka coupled with tourism which is booming. Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Air are increasing their flights and aircrafts day by day with an upward trend adding new products and supporting the tourist industry with their friendly air hostesses and pilots who are alert and professionals. Sri Lankan Airport Authority, Immigration and the government outlets are active and vibrant with less or no complaints. Internal flights to North, East. Hambantota and Kandy are frequent. Steps are being taken for new airports in Hambantota and Kandy soon. Galle highway takes a passenger to Galle in 40 minutes which is full of archaeological sites. In few months we can reach Katynayaka   in 15 minutes on the proposed High Way which will be connected to the proposed circular road which connects other high and main ways leading to South as well as north which is day be improving the road network with broadening the road network in the North and East.

Flights originate from UAE to Sri Lanka is encouraging. Qatar flies triple flights a day. Sri Lankan, Mihin, Gulf Air, Etihad, Emirates, Oman airlines, Air Arabia, Saudi Arabia are some airlines fly daily weekly and  often with loads of tourists. This heavy air traffic to Sri Lanka is an indication of the tourist flow, still not properly tapped due to various unforeseen and unfortunate resolvable issues. The good news is that the Hon Minister has understood the drawbacks and obviously time is needed to restructure as there are human limitations in implementation of any strategy.

Immigration control and beauty of the capital

Unlike previously, today the Immigration officers are alert and professional and have changed for good transforming them to be real partners of the development of the industry. They are friendly and quick. Airport Authority Chairman and Immigration Department head appear to have full control over the ground situation. Complaints to us are less in these two important areas which facilitates tourist and tourism. Colombo has become one of the beautiful cities overpowering Singapore and Dubai making use of the natural beauty and resources with the strategy of the Defence Secretary who directs machinery in par with any international standard to make the capital and reads beautiful has been successful in making Sri Lanka on the top of the agenda on tourism in South Asia.

These words of complements are genuine and extracted from the views of fair cross section of the visitors from Middle East. We urge them to maintain and improve on the good work as tourism cannot boom in isolation. It is a strategy and hard work and joint efforts of all stake holders.

There is a good word for the ordinary citizen still friendly and not infested with crude ways of urbanisation and so called modernization. Tourist ado the wormath and friendly nature of our people, which is as attractive factor as much as the inherent beauty and the natural resources. This should be encouraged and developed as much as saving and preserving our environment and the culture which is under threat from the treasure hunters.

Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA)

In the UAE the tourism is based on shopping and purchasing on malls in addition to other attractions. Dubai has replaced Singapore and Bangkok previously famous for shopping sprees. Quality consumer items are available at Malls on given price in the UAE which is popular among tourists and locals. There are complaints from Arab travellers to Sri Lanka prepared to shop around lavishly for not having a single Mall of high standard in Sri Lanka. It is time for an Sri Lnakan entrepreneur takes up this challenge to help the country and help himself. In Sri Lanka it is time CAA intervenes and extends their “GOOD OFFICE to maintain and offer protection to the consumers as well as the tourist we are bound to protect for our own benefit. The tourist should know what to buy, how to buy and where to buy without been cheated by the brokers or the business community. They need quality more than the price. Those who exploit the tourists should be severely dealt with and the tourists should be looked after and protected by us all the time. It is only them that the propaganda by way of word of mount becomes a reality. The death of the Emariate tourist in a substandard hotel in Sri Lanka brought some kind of blow and a drawback. We should be careful in future on such adversaries. CAA should maintain standards of consumer items, professions, and businesses not food alone as it is empowered to maintain standards of Professions Trade and Business.

Taxi service

A proper taxi service is one of the main ingredients to be a successful tourist destination. Singapore, UAE, USA, Hong Kong, Britain and many other destinations taxi industry is streamlined and controlled. Lot of thefts, smuggling and harassments are by unlicensed taxi drivers. It is encouraging to note that steps are being taken in the near future to regularize and control a proper and authentic taxi service from Katunayaka onwards. On the other hand the hotel should not charge exorbitant sums when they can offer the service for a reasonable price.

 Tourist Police

Tourist Police is a common occurrence and a common seen in any tourist destination. The mere presence will encourage the tourist and discourage the culprits. It is encouraging to note in some areas of the presence of the tourist police. This   is an area to be improved and streamlined and the amount spent on the improvement of this service will be benefitted directly and indirectly to the industry in the long run. Good news is that robbers and thieves generally spare tourists due to some reason which is admirable. It is the duty of the government to look after them in our own interest and that of the industry.

Promotion, Marketing and Advertisements

We believe that no extra efforts are required for tourism promotion for Sri Lanka as we are already in the top gear. We are so famous in the Middle East, UAE and amongst all communities including the diplomatic community as a country with beautiful and most sort for. We have so far not received   complaints or grievances from nay tourists to Sri Lanka in the recent past which is to our credit. They speak high of the beauty, scenery the warmth and friendly nature of people, the service of hotels beach fronts, natural resources and general friendly way of life. Therefore, it seems us that it is the best for tourists and tourism from UAE to Sri Lanka which has to be promoted and enhanced. We have previously spent large sums unnecessarily for PR companies. We need the Ministry to consider appointing a promotion officer with language and professional ability in the UAE as a catalyst for the efforts by the Embassy and the community in promoting tourism.

Sri Lanka Embassy

Embassy has a major role to play in achieving the target on government policies including tourism. What is lacking for the embassies is qualified personnel with language abilities and IT in the team.  The Embassy is proactive and acts on the vision of HE the President, who stated at a budget speech that the Embassies should be proactive and be the hubs for promotion of government strategy and policy as follows.

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa the President of Sri Lanka in the Budget Speech on 2011 reiterated as follows:

“Hon. Speaker, foreign offices maintained by the Foreign Employment Bureau, the Tea Board, Department of Commerce and other agencies will be brought directly under the supervision of the Sri Lankan Embassies abroad so as to provide a one stop service. Once officials are posted, they will be required to work under the direction and supervision of the respective Ambassador. All scope of the responsibilities of Ambassadors will expand beyond the traditional diplomatic functions to include responsibilities relating to investment, trade and economic affairs”.

This gives a message of transformation of the policy to be proactive and breaking the shell of traditionalism to a foreign policy and a strategy to make Ambassadors and Embassies to change the attitude and vigorous activism in line with the government policy implementation accordingly Sri Lankan embassy in UAE has forwarded to be strategy and a theme to implement this with priorities on *Tourism promotion, * Investment promotion, * Labour promotion and * Image building.

Embassies in Middle East have similar and same issues and the Ambassadors and the staff in the Middle East work hand in hand to meet the challenges. Recently Middle East Ambassadors met in Jordan under the leadership of Hon. Dilan Perera to think of future strategies on labour. The workshop sponsored by the ILO has been one of the proactive projects organised in the recent past.

On 5th of July HE President Rajapaksa will be addressing the Sri Lankan Ambassadors worldwide in Diyatalawa exploring a new vision for foreign policy and strategy for a five year plan. This is a ground breaking ambitious programme which is very timely in the era where a proactive and vibrant foreign policy is necessary to meet the current challenges.

Crisis in the Middle East

We are very sorry about the current situation in the Middle East where the tourist destinations are destabilizing creating a vacuum. Today traditional tourists used to Middle East look for new destination in place of Syria, Egypt, Libya and many other tourist countries. It is thought that Sri Lanka will be in a position to fill the gap as a top destination despite the suites Middle East tourists of high ranking. It is time that we grab the opportunity by encouraging the tourists and pave the way for them to visit us in the next few months and Sri Lanka is in need of tourists. It is for this purpose and to fill the gap that the Sri Lankan Embassy has brought about a proposition to organise a road show in UAE to interact with tour operators and stakeholders in Sri Lanka and UAE, in UAE on 30th of August most probable in Hotel Hilton. Preliminary discussion regarding the project will be discussed in Colombo at a named venue addressed by the Sri Lanka Ambassador of UAE.

Those who are interested are advised to communicate with Sri Lankan Embassy in UAE or browse the website for detailed information.

Conclusion

Tourism is really booming in Sri Lanka reaping the harvest of peace and stability aiming to be the wonder of Asia soon. Sri Lanka is on top gear on tourism and has reached the zenith in the field of tourism. Embassies are in the forefront in the vigorous campaign and the country can look forward to achieving the target of reaching the target even before the target

(Writer is the Sri Lankan Ambassador in the UAE “”…” Solicitor and Attorney- At Law could be reached on [email protected]. Visit srilankanembassy.uae)

 

3 Responses to “IS TOURISM REALLY BOOMING IN SRI LANKA – Case Study Middle East-”

  1. AnuD Says:

    This article discusses only one side. Some people get rich because of the tourism. The benefit for the lay people is only the employment. But, there are other negative things that go hand in hand with tourism. Is govt studying those things and does the govt have statistics on those things; for example, different kinds of prostitution, sex – related diseases, gambling, pedophilia etc., etc ? Has the govt taken steps to minimize the negative steps of those things OR just allow some people to collect the cash and forget every thing else.

    The Air port can charge some air-port tax and can use that money to develop the airport. Some Tax charged from businesses engaged in tourism can be used to develop those areas which affect negatively.

  2. Nyjil Says:

    I think the era of Sri Lanka has arrived. It can now fast forward to a very enviable growth in the near future if the cards are played right. The gates have been opened up wide. I can see the all the right moves being made like diplomatic visits to all the neighbours. Time has come for FDI into the country in a big way. If Jaffna too is developed fast with adequate infrastructure like roads , hospitals and hotels it will contribute in a big way to Sri Lankan economy. Jaffna was like a paralyzed limp. We need to make it functional fast and this will lead to a rejuvenated growth of the Sri Lankan economy.

    As the tourism develops ensure that sustainable development is taken care of from the beginning. This connects business with environment and also takes care of social causes. A holistic approach. More employment will be generated. I think Jaffna tourist spots should be modified and uplifted. People of Jaffna deserves a new lease of life . I hope tourism will help in achieving it. My family has started contributing to Jaffna economy by starting a Hotel. It will be inaugurated in July 2012.

    Appeciate the govt’s efforts in the right direction. God Bless and God Speed.

  3. Nyjil Says:

    I feel in India Sri Lanka needs to be promoted as a Tourist hot spot. The efforts taken by the Govt is commendable as i read a recent article about Sri Lankan diplomat meeting Kerala (closest Indian state after Tamil Nadu) chief minister Oommen Chandy. Infact The kerala chief minister has given a thumps up to the approach on increasing bi-lateral trade. There are talks regarding opening a consulate in Kerala and also starting a ferry between Kochi and Colombo. People in India needs to know that Sri Lanka is a very good tourism destination that is pristine and affordable. Especially the 4 south indian states like Kerala , Andra Pradesh , Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with its IT hubs have a lot of disposible incomes and people need new Tourist locations. Hope to see Sri Lankan stall in the emergingkerala2012.org that is happening and likewise hope to see Kerala taking part in Sri Lanka Hotel,Hospitality & Food exibition 2012 happening in October this year. Its like opening 2 gateways in two countries for Tourism to open up. Hope for the best of both worlds.

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