Posted on July 18th, 2021

Sarath Wijesinghe President’s Counsel and former Ambassador to UAE and Israel President Ambassador’s Forum

Jeff Goonawardena – former Counsel General  -Managing director Tilanka Group of Hotels (International)-Joint Secretary Ambassador’s Forum.

Sri Lanka a most popular tourist destination

For centuries, Sri Lanka has been a popular place of attraction for foreign travellers, for various reasons. It is a world renowned destination for historical and archaeological significance, Buddhism linked with culture and historical sites of significance, natural beauty with forests plants and wild life of most rare species of world heritage sites and monuments, beautiful waterfalls and the network of rivers and historical water tanks spring from the beautiful hill country namely little England akin to climate and beautiful sceneries  in England, varied climatic condition within hours in the developed network of roads reminding of the roads in Wales an Ireland  are only a  few attractions in addition to smiles of the ever friendly villager with a broad smile always. It has the all qualification to be the best and the last destination on tourism for a tourist searching for many requirements such as greenery, beauty, best sandy glittering clean beaches with shallow sea/ river ( ‘Polhena’,  ‘Galle’, ‘Arugam bay’ and many more) Dry zone with hot windy weather with beaches and wild life with number of wildlife sanctuaries, Up country named small England and reminds of Wales and Scotland where the network of rivers spring with the number of beautiful nonstop water falls around the hill country. Places archaeological significance are in abundance with proof of reminders in various eras and dynasties of Kings from King Asoka onwards coming down to the last king who was forced to surrender in 1796. Sea is rough round the island with shallow and at times bit rough for surfing and ferocious streams for raft playing. Tea Estates which are commercial plants are beautiful with nice sceneries ideal tourist destination to see and enjoy as holiday homes which are not exploited by the tourism sector. Hot water wells and North and East are attractive to the tourist and tourism also not properly exploited. Sri Lanka could and should make tourism the main income earner as she has every ingredients to be the best destination using the natural resources beauty and all other conditions favourable to be a paradise for tourists.

Many visited and spoke of Sri Lanka for generations

Chinese traveller ‘Fa-Hian’ – Buddhist monk visited Sri Lanka as early as 410s AD and in the 12th contrary with a group of other minks and stayed in Sri Lanka on a study mission where he made many noted on Sri Lanka and Buddhism. Italian explorer Marko Polo claimed Sri Lanka to be the best destination for tourists and tourism. In 2015 Sri Lankan capital Colombo was the world’s fasted growing tourist city in the world. Many have written on Sri Lanka which is known to the world as a best destination and continue to be and it is our duty to maintain and enhance learning from mistakes and the world tends of tourism.

Well documented

Sri Lanka and tourism is well known and well documented, lonely planet selecting as the best destination on the globe for tourism, despite adverse comments and clarifications required to eradicate misinformation Sri Lanka on steps taken to wipe off  the most fearful and dangerous terrorist outfit for ever, thereafter introducing law and order, peace, creating a haven for tourists and tourism with comparatively reasonable consumer items and excellent network of hotels and restaurants and guest houses to cater all strata of tourists. Success of tourism depends on the attitude of the people and the nation as a whole on the rest of the world now linked so close on modern technology. It is our duty to make use of the modern trends for the documentation process of tourism promotions.

We are still lagging behind

When compared to our other competing destinations with less glamour beauty and resources, we are still lagging behind due to various reasons we are able to take corrective measures and improve on. For example the UAE with less natural beauty resources and ingredients for tourism, she is a leading world tourist destination and a Hub in the Middle East attracting a large influx of tourists. Fortunately they have oil explored in 1960 which they vey wisely invested using the geographical situation creating a Naval, Air and Business Hub linked to tourism providing facilities but with meagre natural beauty and resources as ours. Same is mentioned in many other destinations flourishing in successful tourism. It is time for us to learn from mistakes, others, and our own experiences to aim to be the best global destination with a new vision, plan and vigour fighting the challenges of corona and world downward trends on draw backs on economy and other issues against forward trends. We have to learn a lot on small Singapore doing so well in trade and tourism using all resources in the tiny land using all modern ethnics and technics. Any visitor is furnished with all necessary information including the way of life consumer items places of interest and protective measures, which carries a long way to make them in of the best tourist attractions linked to trace and business.

Must draw up a new plan of action

We must draw up a new plan and a strategy considering, the challenges, drawbacks and the future needs exploiting our resources and competence as a group to promote tourism to lift it to the 21st century as it is going to be our future and future hopes to promote tourism we have been gifted with our own free resources when other destinations are compelled to create artificial environments and needs for tourists and tourism. It is not only the hotels and other facilities that are needed to attract tourists to a country. We as hosts will have to look into and after all the needs of the visitors to their liking from the time the visitor plans to find a destination. It is essential on our part to publicise our destination to the best based on the modern digital age. Our publicity is on some standard and the internet and the media is fairly well equipped requiring final touches and fine tuning to face the digital age. Let us draw up a modern publicity platform with innovative novelties giving all the details in modern and attractive novel way. We must develop a tourism regime like the employment programme in Philippine where 30% population is overseas in employment where the country has planned the population for future employment worldwide. In the same way we have to train and develop our talents on tourism and transform the system to adopt to new trends of tourism without disturbing our culture, way of life and outlook which is a tourist attraction. Singapore is taking attempts to create artificial waterfalls and greenery due to the geographical situation when Sri Lanka is so fortunate to possess the best natural and gifted environments. Our young is well mannered friendly and educated lacking knowledge of English the Philippine young has bypassed us leading the employment and tourism sector worldwide. It is time for us to learn from other and our mistakes and weaknesses.

Situation in the country is not so satisfactory

Situation of the country should be to the liking and satisfaction of the visitor who has chosen the destination for some reason of is choice. It could be media, publicity, culture, religion, scenery and beauty of the country and many more one or more reasons. We must have proper and trained tour assistances who will identify the needs and cater the needs to the satisfaction till the end of the tour and thereafter to narrate the good news to the word over. Tour guide is to be trained, pleasant, knowledgeable honest and registered guided and supervised by the tourist authorities and the tourist police which is set up for safetyman confidence. Tourist schools to be streamlined monitored and have full supervision from the government and the tourist ministry based on the criteria adopted by other competing nations. The state must give special emphasis and attention on the law and order situation in the country to give protection and confidence to the visiting friends we are bound protect and look after. Media must be careful on reporting the matters regarding tourists and tourism always considering the good name and good will of the country and the reputation of Sri Lanka and world over. Law and order must be streamlined and given priority to give a sense of protection to everybody including the visitors, depending the security forces and the citizens for their protection.

Resources of countries

Many countries have own resources of income for them based on natural resources, ability of the citizen, or sources of income with always tourism is given prominence as a main or a subsidiary income of the nation. For example our friendly nation Israel is an agricultural country as a leader on agriculture and an innovative nation with leaders on modern technology, fighting with neighbours right round yet promoting and giving tourism top priority as an income generating process. Tourist arrive as it is a historical country with historical background, the country has exploited careful to promote the nation as a tourist destination. This is only an example many other countries worldwide promoting their countries tourism as a main or a subsidiary income. Israel is concerned and careful of their safety and safety of the visitors in addition to providing the services as hosts of the tourists. We are in a learning process rom others whilst improving ourselves.

Needs of/for tourists

Let us consider the needs and requirements of a tourist visited to our country, having spent a substantial sum. It could be to see the beauty such as water falls as described in broachers, to visit the sites of historical significance having heard from books or libraries, enjoy the beautiful beaches seen in books and images connected to swimming, surfing, fishing, or whale watching, learn on Buddhism and seeing the historical temples such as the temple of tooth, or any other one or more reasons known to himself and the group. Majority of tourists plan out the visit either by himself or a tour agent finding the most wanted and loved attractions of their choice and liking. Finding a reliable tour agent, places of stay, travel advice on sites, security, and the budgeting are main feathers of planning making arrangements on the explorations. There are so many areas and aspects to be looked into such as medical conditions of the hosts and their needs, making preliminary arrangements of sightseeing on meeting people making prior appointments, are list of issues to be looked into. We need genuine tourists who are not parasites such as some who visit to exploit the goodwill of the people and sometime engaged in illegal trades. The state must be careful in monitoring tourist influx and it is a good idea to maintain proper and detailed records.

Safe and friendly environment

Hosts expects a safe and friendly environment from the arrival and the officers including immigration, airlines, and support staff should be with a smiling face and ever prepared to assist in all the areas of need. Broachers should be in English and preferable in many other languages in detail educating the hosts on the visiting country, culture, way of life, and places of interest in detail. In Singapore the brother consists of basic laws including consumer law and procedure, all details on health and precautionary measures, I n detail in simple language and the guidance and procedure is so simple with friendly nature of the staff in the visiting country. In Sri Lanka the visiting friends are troubled by taxi drivers, touts and many others pleading and pressurising them with requests, demands in the guise of assistance discouraging the visiting tourists at the entry with fear physics and sense of danger and uncomfortable feeling which has to be avoided in the name of tourism and goodwill of the country. There are horrifying stores of taxi drivers harassing foreign and Sri Lankan passengers on return, with no proper remedy despite many unpleasant and dangerous incidents published on the media often gives drastic effects to the industry and the image of the country  appear to  be simple but complicate in terms of reputation and goodwill of the country. These are not unknown to the administration which has been given a blind eye for reasons one cannot understand other than sheer ignorance inefficiency and bad management. The environment has to be please clean attractive and orderly. Is it so in the Airport? In the eye of a frequent traveller entering the airport with lot of hopes and pleasant feelings. Advertisements and notices must be meaningful understanding and attractive. Some time ago there a massive notice giving the exhibiting fine for an offence shown to the visitors among whose there may or may not be a rare traveller when the message could have been transmitted in a more gentle way.

Duty of the host country

It is the duty of the host country to look into all aspects of the visitor in detail whoever is the invitee and the guardian or the guide as the host country is expected to supervise the professional work expected to be performed by the private or the state sector, as the blame always on the host country for mismanagement. There should be a separate tourist police and officers for the safety of the visitors, who are in the hands and custody of the local staff never mind who they are with. In many other tourist countries the tourist police seems to be active and do not seem function in Sri Lanka at all. These are not matters something new to the industry, but the blame is on leaders of industry who are responsible, and if they cannot perform they must honourable leave leaving a more efficient person to manage.

Consumer Items

Standards of Consumer items food and restaurants and hotels the visitors used must be of the highest quality or if this cannot be maintained we must give up tourist trade as failures. Tourist heads must agree with the Consumer Authority, Standards Bureau, Local Authorities, Public health Inspectors, and all chains of hotels and restaurants  countrywide to give  healthy food at a price may be difference of prices to visitors with a more strong buying power prepared to pay more. Implementation of these regulations will help even the local citizens awaiting the law and order to be implemented. Campaign against junk food, cola and unhygienic drinks, and generally junk food available mostly in leading sophisticated food chains must be monitored protecting visitors and locals equally in terms of long term prevention and protection health of all is a paramount necessity especially when we are in the most dangerous era on Covid-19 Pandemic leading the nation and the world nowhere with o hopes or an end in the near future and living on hopes, but the fact remains that we have to live with it for an unknown unlimited period and we must get ready to love with it with necessary adaptations and adjustments.

Environment disasters

It is sad we are destructive and destroy our environment on sand mining, deforestation, in many other ways in small an large scale sometimes with patronage from the errant government servants in the parole of the perpetrators’ on destroying our environment. For us to be on top in tourism we must give priority to environment but informational it is not given priority like in other countries which is sad to note. How could we prosper when our forest is destroyed and sand mining is taking place at a terrible rate destroying our river banks and damaging the forests on high lands which is the source of water?

Live with Covid 19

We have to live with covid 19 for an unknown period and it is time to get used to and learn with it giving priority to tourism as well as our income is say by day declining. The situation in the world including the world powers and our immediate neighbour  India and the counties are day by day declining with increase of deaths and number of patients to the highest  levels uncontrolled by all measure as sadly shown on the TV images in India with the warning to Sri Lanka to be careful reaching us across boarders and via other media such as cargo, import export and the movement of human with no order and restrictions as seen on the images and warnings by the security forces ever struggling with the unruly bombs disobeying the basic instructions so easy to follow.

Religion, Culture, crafts and such traditional trades and arts

Sri Lanka is full of cultural, religious places and full of traditional learnings will be an attractive and a productive areas in promotion of tourism and promotion of traditional skills especially in rural areas. ‘’Tovil’’ (devil dancing) and traditional plays are well known to the world and there is a demand and need to learn the process by cultural groups worldwide linked to tourism. Religious tourism will have a main roll on sightseeing of religious places of worship and learning the religion Buddhism being the most fast spreading religion in Europe and many parts of the world.

The Law and Procedure on Tourism

Tourist board act no 10 of 1966, and tourist development act no 14 of 1968 are followed by the act no 38 of 2005 in force is to be amended in due course with current proposals. Do we need change of law and whether change of law will improve tourism are matters to be considered by the Minister in charge and the governance considering tourism is going to be the main source of income and the image building we are desperately in need of. Following entities are set up under the current legislature for the management of the tourist industry. SLTDA Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority SLITHM Sri Lanka Institute of tourism and hotel management, SLTPB SLCB Sri Lanka tourism Promotion Bureau SLCB Sri Lanka Convention Bureau

Each Bodies would have a- A chairman b-director general c-Manager Director/Chief Executive Board Members and Private Sector and government representatives.

Tourism Development Fund will consist of 1/3 of airport embark

Let levies collected from the industry with voluntary payments too and the income be dispersed among four institutions. Fourteen years of existence of the act has not shown improvements and there are opinions of duplication of matters among the institutions, and there are fears that the act is not properly implemented with the feeling that the private secrtor participation is minimal. There are improvements which are minimal such as increase of 24,451 rooms of 5.6 billion investments with 6% GDP of the country.

Embassies international community and tourism

Sri Lankan Embassies are the forerunners of the nation and it is the duty of the Ambassadors and staff to take charge of tourism along with the developments based on economic diplomacy which other countries have given priority to. Every embassy must have a tourist desk and all other sectors should come under the preview of the Ambassador as the representative of the President and the nation. Needless to say it is the duty of the Ambassador’s forum to help the process and the nation in all sectors.

Way forward

Where have we gone wrong/ and what should be our way out to emerge victorious on tourism with which we can go forward to the highest echelons in the world economy. Let us be frank and realistic in life. We have gone wrong badly in strategy, management, and absence of proper way forward full of corruption and inefficiency considering inefficiency is corruption in that of the tourist leadership feels they have failed it is the duty of the head or heads to vacate forthwith to avoid being called corrupt and incompetence. In the competing world with many competitors in the world reminding us of the adage that we are not the only beautiful girl on the beach. Thailand, Vietnam, UAE, Israel, are some who have bypassed us with less or no resources and beauty that we possess. These statements may not be palatable but the truth is to be said for the betterment of all and the nation. Israel has no resources except the human resources. We have resources not second to any other nation in the globe which we have not exploited. UAE is sandy baron land using desert for sand safari. Vietnam and Israel make use the tragedies’   they have undergone to attract tourists. Nepal uses Himalaya, Bhutan religion and simplicity, India vast places of interest, Maldives shallow sea, Israel places of historical and religious significance, UK the developments and historical aspects including the Royals, France ‘’Ifal Tower’’ and places of historical significance, and Sri Lanka – What haven’t we got to show the world of tourism?. It is sheer incompetence, lack of innovativeness, lack of strategies, planning and exploration. The words may not be palatable but may be productive and useful in the long run for the betterment of the nation. If wrong please correct and suggest a proper way out.

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