Posted on August 13th, 2021

Sarath Wijesinghe President’s Counsel, former Ambassador to UAE and Israel, President Ambassador’s Forum and Jeff Goonawardena-Former Counsel General, Managing Director Thilanka Group of Hotels (International) and Joint Secretary Ambassador’s Forum

Foreign and Domestic Policies

These are some topics interconnected and interwoven for a country to prosper in tourism and economy. The world today is interlinked to communicate with the rest of the world in few seconds with a click of a button from the modern technology and digitalization which is fast spreading worldwide. Today tourism has become a major income in many parts of the world, with the natural resources and modern developments linked to innovations. Foreign Policy is a set of pre-established strategies designed and implemented systemically to manage countries relationship with other nations. They are structured guidelines that regulates international and political dealings. Foreign Policy is prepared by governments to deal with international affairs adequately for the benefit and prosperity of the country, which will guarantee the domestic affairs and proper safeguards from outside and foreign goals. It protects countries core values and interests, national security and economic prosperity. Foreign policy is supposed to be an extension of domestic policy and it is the duty of the governance to formulate the domestic policy in compatible with the foreign policy concepts worldwide. Obviously progress success developments, industries and tourism has direct effect on a proper and effective foreign policy and relations which deals with the rest of the world. Domestic policies of a country are administrative decisions that one directly related to all issues and activities within the states boarders. It differs from the foreign policy, which refers to the way a government advances its interests in external political spectrum. Way government advances external policies, business, education, foreign policy, tourism, business, agriculture, developments, law and order and other factors are maters in the preview of the Executive and Legislature to function and perform. Sri Lanka is in need of a correct and foreign policy able network of Ambassadors and Embassies to meet the modern trends and challenges.

Foreign Policy Diplomacy tourism Interlinked

Foreign Policy, foreign Relations and Diplomacy are interlinked to tourism as the success of tourism depends on the goodwill and friendship with the rest of the world. The most important economic features of activities related to tourism sector is that they contribute heavily on the GDP of a country, hence high priority goals are given in developing countries. It generates high income and foreign exchange to the earnings to the nation. Best natural resources are in our possession to be a best destination if not the best, with sea right round the country with beautiful shallow parts with beautiful corals, network of rivers springs and beautiful water falls, deferent climatic condition with few miles away, finest wildlife, natural beauty, historical religious and archeologically monuments and ruins of great historical significance are a few attractions, in addition to the friendly people always with full of smile. Educated experienced and a professional touch is required to uplift the tourism in Sri Lanka to the world standard.

House must be in order

Due to economic and political pressure exerted globally, regionally and locally, it is time we place our household in order at any cost in the resolution of the ongoing disputes. Tourists expect the destination to be peaceful and safe to stay with moderate expenditure of living with reasonably expenditure for consumer items of quality including hotels and other facilities. Is Sri Lanka truly independent on the political and economic fronts to take independent decisions on economic issues in relation to dealings with the member nations, international organizations, and monetary institutions on domestic or international issues, is a question difficult to answer in the debt ridden economy and pressure from world powers demanding our land and resources. We are strategically and geographically placed in the main sea/air routes, next to a major regional power, competing with China. Powerful neighbour is a  powerful economic capable of exerting  direct ripple effect on Sri Lankan foreign and economic policymaking, which is to be seriously considered by the Sri Lankan policy framers and the governance. Tourist industry should be manned and managed by professionals without political interference and politicians.

Foreign Policy

Foreign policy is the set of rules or practices followed by a nation as a member of the global forum linked by the UN today as guidelines to the international organisations and the member states. This is the simplest definition in addition to detailed academic definitions. A set of rules could be written, direct, and indirect or in the form of speeches or declarations of the head of the state, generally the policy’s formulator implemented by the Foreign Minister or the group of ministers. In any event, any state enters into agreements, conventions and treatises which are part and parcel of foreign policy which is intact in the system on foreign policy. Some countries give special attention and emphasise foreign policy, and some are not. USA, UK, Russian Federation, and China prioritise foreign policy and sensitive to other countries’ foreign policies due to their interests in different countries and their policies. One of the first duties of the new USA President perform was to revamp, reform and reactivate the foreign policy of the USA, in line with his policies of other countries, especially in dealing with the rest of the world and other nations by taking a complete U-turn from that of the policies of the predecessor on human rights and war. He put the foreign policy in order as has been done by his predecessors, which has a bearing on Sri Lanka and the Geneva process. Member nations today are giving top priority on economy connecting directly to the foreign policy giving full power and responsibility to the network of Ambassadors who are guided and trained on promoting economic and financial needs of respective countries, giving targets and strict guidelines. Unfortunately, this trend has no ripple effect on our network of Ambassadors around the globe enjoying the perks at the cost of the tax payer, and the cradle of the network of the representatives of the country expected to showcase the country to the world, which is so easy as Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with human resources, water in abundance and excellent climatic conditions unappalled as an ideal tourist destination. Foreign policy is the strategy, and the future line of action of a nation on other nations and the world at large is a broader definition in terms of economic, defence, and all other areas which are so important and sensitive to the world over. This brief explanation shows how important it is for a country like Sri Lanka desperately in need of good friends and backers considering the weak economic structure deteriorating gradually in need of FDIs, and other economic backings including the goodwill of friends in need when the economy is in bad shape, debt-riddled and in need of foreign reserves when acing the covid 19 crisis, just next to India one of the most affected. No nation can live in isolation in the new world interconnected digitally with physical barriers not taken seriously when interrelations and interconnections are essential for existence. Showing foreign policy is a necessity for a nation connected through the network of the United Nations. The statement of Henry Kissinger that powerful nations have only national interest may apply to many countries as the interest of any government is their own country giving top priority is a reality all the other states must remember. This is a classic example and a lesson for those countries that are aligned to groups or clicks based on various considerations. There are theories and pronouncements and suggestions on look Asia, India first, Asia first, and Sri Lanka first etc., from multiple sources without the direct attention of the head of the state, the formulator and creator of the policy. Any country’s leaders and governance consist of human beings with human weaknesses when the human qualities are suppressed with power due to greed, power and pride. The quotation indicates how selfish they are as any other human being vested with power! The interests of the respective country are what matters other than other considerations for a member of the nations in the world family Sri Lanka as mostpopular tourist destination. Interests of major powers groups and international organizations play a main rile in the formulation and exercise of foreign policies and relations in smaller nations seeking assistance form rich and powerful. Economic power and independence matters a lot for the small nations to be independent and take independent decisions on foreign policy and relations.

Popular destination for centuries

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 in England, varied climatic condition within hours in the developed network of roads reminding of the roads in Wales and Ireland are only few attractions in addition to smiles of the ever friendly villager with a broad smile always. Despite the geographical and many other advantages Sri Lanka is slow in leapfrog uplifting the tourist industry which remains static for long stagnating awaiting rejuvenations of the trend to reach upwards.

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. King Asoka’s friendship with King ‘’Devanampiystissa’’ (247BC -207BC) and sending son ‘’Arath Mahinda’’ and daughter ‘’Sangamitta’’ in is a remarkable historical event in annuls of the history of Sri Lanka on foreign policy and relations continued since then.

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. 

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. Next best example is Thailand which has a booming tourist industry maintain religious and cultural values.

Must draw up a plan

We must draw up a 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 competing 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. Philippine young is trained during young ages to foreign employment with language abilities that has captured the employment potential in many areas such as hospitality sector. 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. The new trend of the digitalization with 110% mobile penetration, 60% access to internet via mobile and computers must be utilized for developments and tourism, as a way forward on economic and developments in other areas, as a part of the master plan.

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.

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. Port city as the International Financial Centre will be useful as a major and main FDI, which takes time to reap the harvest. But the fact that it is in the process will give confidence and strength to the tourist industry always connected to the development and economy of the host country.

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 was a massive notice at the entrance of the immigration entry, exhibiting fine for an offences on drugs when it could have been done in a ore gentile 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. It looks that the leaders of the industry are not innovative and earn form the mistakes and other countries, in many simple and practical innovations.

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 Pendulum 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. Consumer items do not mean the goods alone. Services including hospitals and other organizations and services are included in the category under the consumer law that should be rigorously implemented to the benefit of the tourist and tourism.

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? Tourists love environment which is our wealth we must preserve protect and enhance without allowing the mischief makers to destroy. Environmental destructions taking place in a large scale and it is the duty of the governance to put an end to it if tourism is to be developed.

Live with Covid 19

Covid situation is aggravating daily with the large number of deaths increasing number of new cases all over the country, which is disturbing. It seems that 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 day by day declining in all sectors in the state. The situation in the world including the world powers and our immediate neighbour  India and many countries counties are day by day attacked by the virus,  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 role 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. More than change of law we must change the lethargic attitude and lack of new ideas and innovations, learning form mistakes and success of others.

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 sector 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. There should be prize matches and uplift of standards. Our Zoological Gardens in one of the best in the world not maintained with world standards. It will be an ideal distinctions for the tourist linked to wild life parks spread countrywide, at a price to the tourists with good standards.

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. Ambassadors and Embassies have a pivot role in promoting tourism trade and commerce for the country they serve giving top priority to trade commerce business and image building for which as a new trend with almost all the countries are giving priority today.

Way forward

Where have we gone wrong, and what should be our way out of this mess to emerge victorious on tourism and the general crisis, with which we can go forward to the highest echelons on tourism and productivity as a part of the world economy. Let us be frank and realistic in our dealings and future strategy. We have gone wrong badly in strategy, management, and absence of proper way forward full of corruption.  Inefficiency is the other evil surrounding us to be eradicated as a matter of urgency. Leadership on tourism should realise that they have failed and in return the country has failed due to corruption and inaction. If the  tourist leadership feels they have failed it is the duty of the head or heads to vacate forthwith to avoid leaving a group of dedicated educated and committed group to manage with new vigour and strength. In the competing industry with many competitors in the world reminding us of the adage that we are not the only beautiful girl on the beach when other competitors are working round the clock. 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 land using desert for sand safari. Vietnam Israel and Japan 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 of novelties. The words may not be palatable but may be productive and useful in the long run for the betterment of the nation. The will determination and the vision of the leadership in governance is a major factor that is lacking and it is time to make adequate changes and adjustments in the direct direction. In the circumstances foreign policy, foreign reactions, diplomacy and tourism should work together with a same and similar aim towards tourism. It is encouraging that the governance is giving priority to tourism today. 

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