- Special audit report on tourism sector shows serious issues with high and opaque charges
- Report sent to Parliament by AG says foreigners visiting popular sites get neither adequate facilities nor security, and often fall victim to fraudulent groups
- Foreigners overcharged at National Parks like Yala, Minneriya and rushed through tours
- Popular sites like Sigiriya lack facilities, security and proper directions for tourists
- Suggests SLTDA takes steps to implement accepted methodology and mechanisms to educate tourists relating to charges levied and other safeguards
A waiter getting ready to serve a foreign couple at Galle Face Green - Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
By Chandani Kirinde
A special audit report on charges and facilities provided for tourists visiting Sri Lanka has found that even though high prices are charged from foreigners who visit National Parks, botanical gardens, museums and sites that come under the Central Cultural Fund (CCF), they are provided with neither adequate facilities nor security, and often fall victim to fraudulent groups.
The report released by the Auditor General’s Department recently said one of the main problems that came to light was the lack of a formal method of charging fees from foreigners visiting various places in Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) had failed to implement an accepted methodology and mechanism to educate the tourists relating to the charges levied while adequate measures had not been taken to protect standards or promote tourism in Sri Lanka. “The SLTDA should register and issue permits for tourist vessel operators, safari vehicle tour operators, and elephant back safari tour operators to be declared as tourism services and establish rules relating to the regulation of such services. These should be published in a Gazette notification by the Minister in charge of the subject,” the report suggested.
The audit report found that foreign tourists visiting National Parks, such as Yala, were overcharged due to intervention by brokers who charge an unauthorised free.
The Yala safari costs Rs. 36,000 for a group of six tourists in a jeep that can accommodate that many persons. The usual charge for a jeep is around Rs. 4,500 for a tour of the area, and the Wildlife Conservation Department charges Rs. 17,950 for six persons, which adds up to Rs. 22,450; but tourists have had to pay Rs. 36,000 due to the intervention of brokers, which is an additional Rs. 13,550, the report said.
It added that the ticket fee is levied for a tour of the park from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but safari drivers finish the tour of the park in two hours as the tourists are ignorant of the time taken to do a proper tour of the park, and they don’t get the chance to see the aesthetics of Yala while the safari drivers do several trips in a single day.
The AG also raised questions about the roadworthiness of some of the vehicles that are used for safaris and said Wildlife officials should be assigned to act as guides of the park.
It said that National Parks, which are among the most visited by foreigners, come under the Wildlife Conservation Department, which must take action to issue a printed ticket with the price for admission printed on it; the fees should be displayed at the entrance of the gardens, the entry fee should be exhibited on the website as well as on safari jeeps, airports, railways stations and hotels, and the ticket should be handed over to the tourists themselves. Every jeep should display the charges fixed for safari jeeps by the Safari Jeep Owners Association, it said.
The AG found similar shortcomings at the Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks with foreigners often overcharged and not given a proper tour of the parks.
At CCF sites, such as Sigiriya, the AG’s inspection found that parcels – including those containing food brought by the tourists – are checked by security guards without gloves or face masks, thus exposing the food.
The report added that both local and foreign tourists were greatly inconvenienced as those visiting the western gate of the Sigiriya premises had to return to the ticket counter to obtain tickets due to insufficient billboards being exhibited.
It was also found that employment requirements submitted to audit by the CCF Project Manager stated the required number of security guards was 53 but there were only 38 in service.
Three cabanas constructed for the use of tourists visiting Sigiriya at a cost of Rs. 56,747,695 were completed by the respective contractor in December 2017 and handed over to the Sigiriya Project, but they have not been used for nearly two years, the report said.
The AG said that the CCF needed to regularise the electronic ticket issuance system and establish an internal control procedure so that the process can be constantly monitored. It added that tourists should be issued a day ticket when visiting sites under the CCF without different tickets being issued at each site.
The AG also said the authorities should take measures to deploy adequate security personnel to ensure maximum security for tourists while legal action should be taken against shops which overcharge foreigners under the Consumer Protection Act.