Minister of Tourism Development John Amaratunga discussing some of the current issues facing the industry with the newly-appointed Tourism Promotion Bureau MD Ruvini Dias Bandaranayake and Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Paddy Withana recently
The Ministry of Tourism Development is concerned by recent media reports on the exploitation and harassment of foreign tourists. This is in a backdrop where the Ministry has also been receiving an increasing number of direct complaints from tourists. Considering the emerging trend the Ministry has called on the Police Department to immediately revamp the Tourist Police to suit the current needs.
The Ministry of Tourism Development as far back as November last year wrote to the Ministry of Law and Order calling for a meeting to discuss issues relating to the security of tourists. However due to various constraints this meeting has not taken place as yet.
According to the Minister of Tourism Development John Amaratunga, there is an increasing trend of complaints of harassment and exploitation of tourists especially in the western and southern coastal belts and in the Cultural Triangle sites. The complaints range from monetary exploitation such as overcharging, short-changing and theft to harassment by touts, salesmen, taxi drivers and even tour guides.
Amaratunga noted: “The emerging trend is causing concern. With tourist arrivals hitting record figures the number of complaints is also increasing. We are very much aware of the ground situation and plan to take stern measures so that the good name of the industry and the country is not spoilt by a few miscreants.”
Amaratunga said that given the current circumstances re-establishing the Tourist Police was a top priority.
“During the war, Tourist Police personnel were drafted in for combat and security related purposes and the vacuum created by theirwithdrawal was never really filled even after the war. Now is the time to address this issue before it gets out of hand,” said Amaratunga.
According to the Minister, failure to address this issue will have serious repercussions for the industry. “After years of being in the doldrums, the tourism industry is finally raising its head. But a few groups are tarnishing the good name Sri Lanka has established. Today the global media is full of praise for destination Sri Lanka and my Ministry will not allow this hard earned reputation to be tarnished,” said Amaratunga.
According to statistics, the repeat tourist percentage in Sri Lanka is around 25%. This is around 10% lower than similar destinations in the region.
“It is very important that in addition to attracting new tourists, we must retain the tourists who have already visited us. However beautiful the country is no tourist will want to come back if he or she has had an unpleasant experience at the hands of unscrupulous individuals. This is why we are focusing on quality service delivery and the elimination of harassment and exploitation of tourists,” noted Minister Amaratunga.
“Sri Lanka is targeting the high spending tourists. These tourists do not wish to be hassled and disturbed by variouspeople. We are counting on the cooperation of the police to implement measures to prevent tourists from being taken for a ride. I’m confident that we can sit down with the IGP and other officials and come up with a suitable plan,” said Amaratunga. The Minister also stated that a national level programme should be initiated through the involvement of the relevant line ministries to change the mindset of the people to treat tourists in a respectful manner, where they have the freedom to make their own choices. “After all every tourist is a guest of Sri Lanka. We should treat them accordingly,” said Amaratunga. The Tourism Ministry is also concerned about reports to the effect that some establishments are refusing to serve Sri Lankans. “We are looking in to these allegations. If it is happening it is wrong and we will not hesitate to take action against such establishments,” explained Amaratunga.