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Tourism’s ticking clock

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 19 May 2017 00:00

Yesterday saw the inauguration of the annual conference of the Pacific Area Tourism Association (PATA). The conference, set to take place in Negombo from 18-21 of this month, will see hundreds of tourism experts make their way into the country and offer their insight into how Sri Lanka can reach their tourism potential.

The word potential is key here, in that it asks the question of exactly how far Sri Lanka should be able to soar. According to stated Government objectives, the goal is to reach 2.5 million tourist arrivals and with it earn a potential $ 4 billion by the end of the year. While it is true that this would be a considerable boon to the country’s foreign exchange reserves and a substantial achievement in and of itself, especially when considering the state the tourism industry was in prior to the end of the war, are we still setting the bar too low?

Sri Lanka’s neighbours and competitors when it comes to attracting tourists - Thailand (32 million), Malaysia (26 million), Singapore (16 million) and Vietnam (10 million) - have far superior numbers in terms of tourist arrivals. That Singapore is on the list with little to no natural attractions to speak of should offer Sri Lankans an idea of what is possible if cohesive plans are put in place at all levels of Government.

When compared to its neighbours Sri Lanka boasts a most enviable variety in sights and attraction. Wildlife safaris, exotic marine life, beautiful sandy beaches, cosy cold climate escapes, deep sea diving, ancient ruins and cities; you name it and Sri Lanka will invariably be able to offer it. Yet Sri Lanka’s self-promotion abroad is borderline criminal when compared to the work that countries with far less to offer put in.

It needs to be made clear that Sri Lanka’s present coming out phase to the rest of the world is only in small part down to the work of the Tourism Ministry and more a case of the world finally taking notice of an eminently marketable product. For Sri Lanka to capitalise on its abundance of natural resources there needs to be a holistic rethink of how the country is marketed. Yes, there have been various promotional exhibitions that have taken place in foreign capitals in the past but they are not based on a master plan to promote the market destination. There is much more work that needs to be done in this area.

Furthermore, the protection of its natural resources has been woefully inadequate. While the Government must be commended on the Cabinet decision earlier this year to declare several forest areas in the island as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, that is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Conservation work done on off-shore attractions such as shipwreck diving and the protection of Sri Lanka’s abundance of marine life – both of which are potential cash cows that are being tragically under-utilised – has sadly taken a backseat. Meanwhile a lack of awareness and education among area residents means pollution is a continuing concern.

Nevertheless, in spite of all these handicaps and ad-hoc policymaking Sri Lanka is still on course for reaching their stated target of 2.5 million arrivals. What is sad about that though is that that is just a mere fraction of what we’re truly capable of.

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