Protecting tourism

Monday, 20 August 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

IN a challenging economic environment, tourism is Sri Lanka’s lifeline to development. However, increasing political tensions, crime rates and stand-offish Government policy is threatening to choke this much-needed revenue.  

Sri Lanka has decided to challenge a British Government travel advisory warning Britons over an upsurge of nationalism, sexual offences and anti-Western rhetoric in Sri Lanka. It was reported that External Affairs Ministry Secretary Karunatillake Amunugama had said they were treating the matter with utmost seriousness owing to the tone and timing of the advisory.

The Ministry is studying the statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that warns of an upsurge in nationalism and anti-Western rhetoric and cautioned citizens visiting, working or residing in the country to be extra vigilant at all times. The note also advised Britons to stay clear of local demonstrations, while females moving in single or in small groups were told to be armed with self-alarm devices as there was a steep increase in rape and sexual molestation cases.

The British Foreign Office had stressed that “violent crimes against foreigners are relatively infrequent but at the same time advised Britons to make arrangements with reputable travel firms when moving around in the country”.

Amunugama had insisted that the Ministry intends to seek changes to this advisory and the matter will be taken up with the British High Commission. He had also stated that Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Chris Nonis had also been instructed to discuss the issue with British authorities.

While this is commendable action, it nonetheless smacks of damage control. During the last few months, endless strikes and a dramatic increase in child abuse cases and the arrest of more than 40 politicians have hit headlines repeatedly. Other than blaming the messenger, the Government has struggled to deal with these issues and is yet to take strict action regarding the politician who allegedly killed a British tourist down south on Boxing Day. Local media reported that even though the ruling party cancelled the politician’s party membership, it was later reinstated, leaving the public doubting respect for law and order exhibited by its members.  

Sri Lanka’s robust post-war tourism sector continued to grow, posting a 7.8 per cent rise in July from a year earlier. During the first seven months of the year Sri Lanka’s tourism grew 16.7 per cent in comparison to 2011. Last year total arrivals from January to July were 465,324 while it increased to 543, 205 in 2012, leaving Sri Lanka much to lose.

Meanwhile, revenue from tourism has increased 24.3 per cent to US$ 459.9 million this year, according to the Central Bank. The country hopes to attract US$ 1 billion in foreign direct investment in 2012.

Visitors from Western Europe have continued to expand with the UK generating most tourists at 13,643 up 13.7 per cent from a year earlier. British tourists while being high in number are also the top spenders and a reduction could have a stern impact on revenue numbers.

It is needless to point out that the UK’s adaption of a damaging travel advisory could also influence other countries to follow. Therefore there is yet another reason why the Government has to genuinely promote law and order as well as prioritise security and general welfare.