The Development Infrastructure for Tourism
Posted on September 19th, 2012

Garvin Karunaratne Former Governmenbt Agent. Marata District

To enable development it is essential that there has to be in place an infrastructure that will support tourism. Otherwise though the resources may be available, there will not be the necessary wherewithal to enable development. Tourism is one of our main foreign exchange earners and deserves great concern.

 As an administrator of development programmes in agriculture and industry for the eighteen years I was serving the Government, I was working on various programmes that formed the infrastructure for development.

 Since leaving Sri Lanka in 1973 I have happened to live and work in the UK, the USA, the Bahamas and Bangladesh and have also traveled frequently to many countries as a tourist. I also visit my homeland  Sri Lanka frequently and am able to compare the infrastructure that is available in other countries with what is in place in Sri lanka for tourism. Though I am not a specialist in Tourism, my comments may perhaps be worthwhile to consider.

 In accommodation, I find that Sri Lanka provides for the ultra rich in terms of Four and Five Star Hotels. Most foreign tourists are not of the ultra rich class that could afford stay at luxury hotels. In countries like Thailand, which is comparable to Sri lanka most tourists do not stay in luxury hotels. They stay in budget and mid grade hotels. One should also not forget that there are local people who travel and their incomes may not be of a level to enjoy Four and Five Star treatment.  In many countries like Thailand, Greece, Morocco, Mexico, Turkey which I have visited there are many  middle grade hotels everywhere which is not found in Sri Lanka.

 One must not forget that the local people are also tourists. Many of our former Rest Houses that cater to the super rich, mainly to foreigners today ,have a staff that like to serve only foreigners. The staff shun locals. Once a few years ago at the Tissamaharama Resthouse,  we had to go behind the waiters to get attended to. When we ordered for tea, it never came and we left in disgust.

 Sea bathing. Many tourists enjoy bathing in the sea and it is essential that we have to provide the infrastructure for this purpose. Recently I had a dip in the sea in Colombo. There were another three foreigners in the water. A few days later when I narrated details of my swim to a friend I was told that three days earlier to my swim, when they wanted to have a sea bath they were told that that the sea was dangerous and warned not to bathe.  I was approached by waiters for drinks but never warned of the danger in swimming opposite to the hotel kiosks that catered to tourists that enjoyed the shore. .

 Take the sea at  Polhena, in Matara, where I have been bathing on many a Sunday for the three years I worked there.  I am quite familiar with the sea at Polhena. . There is a very deep and a dangerous section of the sea to the east while next to it is a calm and shallow section, where many swim. These two are divided by a small promontory. Many who are not aware of this dangerous section get drowned. That includes my friend Peter Gunawardena of the police. In fact I had the occasion to save a man from drowning. He was brought to the shore lifeless, rushed to the Matara Hospital in my car, in my bathing shorts. That was the one occasion where I drove without adhering to any road rules. He was  resuscitated at the Matara Hospital, a miracle  where our doctors have to be given great credit.

 In recent times I have seen reports of foreigners drowning at Bentota and Negombo. It is true that our seas can be rough but there are safe sections and it will augur well for tourism for the dangerous sections to be marked with danger boards. I have seen such boards in many countries. At the same time there should be boards marking safe areas  In my swimming days at Mount Lavinia  long ago there was a life saving squad on duty ready with a reel of rope. The idea is that once a person is spotted in trouble a swimmer from the life saver squad will swim to get at that person and once the life saver grabs that person in difficulty he is hauled to the shore.  It may be worthwhile for a life saver squad to be on duty in beaches where many swim.  This will create employment opportunities for our youth and also increase foreign tourists who may  otherwise be frightened to use our beaches.  It may be a good idea to concentrate on life saver squads as the other method of a single person trying to save a man from drowning is fraught with many dangers. Firstly the drowning man clings on to anyone and has to be approached from behind and if necessary overpowered  before being carried whilst swimming till one reaches the shore. In my days Otters provided expertise in life saving. This to me is an area that deserves immediate action.

 Another aspect is that of Renting Cars. I have found it extremely convenient to get into a Rental car at the Airport itself. On many occasions I have made the booking beforehand and walk into the car which is ready for me. On other occasions there are many Rental companies that run small  kiosks where one can get a car easily. Renting a car in Colombo is not easy. The  few companies quote high prices and insist on fanciful deposits. I have struggled through many rental cars which I myself have had to repair- change spark plugs, change batteries, get radiator leaks welded etc, till I came across Kings Rent a Car at Battaramulla, where I have found reliable cars at a reasonable price.  The owner Titus and his  staff have been extremely courteous and very helpful. They also have a replacement service in case of any breakdown. The cars are reliable and have not yet given me any trouble.

 It would augur well for our Government to have a special unit at out Airport where the Rental cars will be available. It may be good for the Government even to offer space for the Rental car companies without a charge in the first instance.  Readily available Rental cars will be a boon to tourists.

 It is also essential that the cars offered by Car Rental Agencies have to be inspected for roadworthiness by the Tourist Department.

 Foreign Tourists always like to buy a momento from the country they visit. Sri Lanka can do well in this regard but many of the tourist items that are available for sale are of very poor quality. In my days at the Department of Small Industries, the Laksala set a standard. Then the Small Industries in the island were guided by the Inspectors in the Department. At that time before 1977,  the Department guided Power Looms and Handlooms and small craft industries. The UNP  dropped off the Powerlooms and the Handlooms and their place was taken by imports. The Section of that department that dealt with these aspects and Velona the Centre that guided textile manufacture was closed down because according to the Friedman economics of the IMF the Public Sector should get to the barracks. So be it but the Assistant Directors of Small Industries are yet in each District twiddling their thumbs because rid of the Powerlooms and Handloom activity they have very little to do. Someone has to get them going on organizing small industries and craft industries to make elegant items for sale to tourists.

 It is hoped that my ideas will get to the eyes of someone who is interested in the future of tourism..

 Garvin Karunaratne

Former Governmenbt Agent. Marata District

2 Responses to “The Development Infrastructure for Tourism”

  1. nandimitra Says:

    Devolepment of infra structure is not the issue. It is how it effects societal changes. Hikkaduwa and areas like unawatuna the societal break down with pedophiles, prostitutes masquerading as tourists have a long lasting detrimental effect on sri lanka. no different from sending our women to slavery in the middle east.To pursue policies with out adequate assessments at the dictate of the IMF,World Bank and USAID is a sure method to destroy every thing that we as a nation stand for.(Regaining Sri Lanka) On the long term these short term profits for a few will make long term losses for the country. It is now a pertinent question to ask whether we Sri Lankans can think for themselves if not they will not blindly follow the advice of the IMF.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    As in most commercial ventures, there is an upside and a downside to Tourism. Dr Karunaratne’s article is useful to determine what changes should be made to make the pluses better whilst removing the downside.

    It is sad indeed that Sri Lankans get poor treatment in some Rest Houses. Perhaps it is the larger ‘tip’ from foreigners that makes waiters serve them and not the local people ? Or it is the class structure here ? If this bad habit is not corrected at our Rest Houses, then we are again headed toward neo-colonial absurdities. Who is responsible – the Tourist Board ?

    The authorities concerned must put up posts indicating safe areas for bathing, sea or other bodies of water.

    Re prostitution etc., it is up to the Police, local elders, temples, churches & mosques to put a stop to such activities.

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