Take a broader view

Wednesday, 28 December 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

AT times, the inevitable comes as a surprise. The death of a British tourist over the weekend and the severe allegations levelled at a local politician at first glance sounds like the plot for a bad movie, but the gravity of it for the tourism industry of Sri Lanka cannot be denied.

Safety for tourists is a point that has been emphasised many times and the reasoning that the end of the war would automatically result in safety for tourists is naïve at best. Another point is the complete culture of impunity that has been bred around wrongdoing politicians, who are time and again excused from facing punishment on the most ludicrous of excuses. The two together make for a potent and dangerous reality that the Government and the industry must take steps to tackle immediately.

An alleged argument leading to a fracas saw the alleged murder of a British holidaymaker and a brutal attack on his partner, a Russian lady, at a Ceylon Tourist Board registered guesthouse Natures Resort in Tangalle on Saturday.

The main suspect in the deadly incident, Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Vidanapathirana, had surrendered on Monday night after absconding. The inability of the Police to run him to ground immediately after the killing leads to questions of how equipped the Police are to handle an emergency of this nature and whether they inspire trust.

Earlier three other suspects had surrendered whilst Police and CID found the van in which the suspects fled the area following the incident. The deceased Kuram Shaikah Zaman, a British national of Israeli origin, is an ICRC volunteer working in the Gaza strip. He was 27 years old and his partner Victoria Alexandrovna is 24 years old. They had arrived in Sri Lanka on 17 December. The Russian female partner is receiving urgent treatment for head injuries at Karapitiya Hospital.

Not only must the Government work to take tough measures to punish the wrongdoers, but it must also – together with the tourism industry – formulate a competent police force that has the ability to interact with tourists in a professional and trust inspiring manner.

When even locals think twice about stepping into a local police station, the chances that tourists will be inspired to seek help from them is unlikely. Here again one has to emphasise the importance of increasing the professionalism of the police by making them more independent and increasing their knowledge about conducting investigations swiftly and be empowered to engage with all people in a responsible and transparent manner.

Their concerns should not just be limited to how tourists might be injured by locals, but also the other way around. The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has time and again charged that child abuse cases are increasing because of higher tourist arrivals and police must assist to monitor and prevent foreigners with previous convictions entering the country. This is just one example of how police can work to protect both tourists and locals if they increase their standards.

At every press conference the Government is quick to point out the numbers of increasing tourists and its ambitious revenue plans. Little thought is given to safety or the adverse impact tourism can have on Sri Lanka. Surely the time has come for a broader and more inclusive process before the tourism dream dies?