Tourism Development, Christian Religious Affairs and Lands Minister John Amaratunga (centre) in conversation with University of Colombo Vice Chancellor Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake at the ‘Tourism Leaders’ Summit and International Research Symposium – 2016’ held at the BMICH Colombo yesterday. Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Paddy Withana is also present - Pic by Lasantha Kumara
By Charumini de Silva
Having earned $ 2.2 billion in the first eight months of 2016, the Government yesterday advocated an ambitious target of four million tourists and $ 10 billion in earnings by 2020, which is about three times the current revenue, terming it “pragmatic” and calling for a strategic public private partnership for development.
In remarks at the ‘Tourism Leaders’ Summit and International Research Symposium – 2016’, organised by the Department of Economics of the University of Colombo, Tourism Development, Christian Religious Affairs and Lands Minister John Amaratunga said these were not impossible targets but planning and execution must be spot on.
“Strategic collaboration of public, private and people partnership in tourism development is not only important, it is a necessity,” he added.
In parallel with the World Tourism Day celebrations, the International Research Symposium was held under the theme of ‘Integration and Networking Sri Lanka Tourism Development for All’ at the BMICH in Colombo. The summit brought together top academics and practitioners in the field of tourism locally and internationally, offered a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be of immense benefit to the country’s rapidly growing tourism industry.
The Minister said an initiative of this nature was a long felt need in the country’s national tourism enterprise especially at a time when it is all-systems-go for the industry. “The timing I must say is perfect because it gives us as policymakers the opportunity to benefit from the wealth of knowledge that will be disseminated during the course of this summit. This summit can show us the way to create a win-win-win situation for the tourist, the stakeholder and the country.”
Furthermore, he added that the organisers’ vision of building a strong network among those who matter in this industry, with the goal of making Sri Lanka a much sought-after destination by 2020, was laudable. “In fact if this venture had been launched a few years before we would by now be in an even better position than we are today.”
Amaratunga acknowledged tourism was an industry that needed careful, long-term planning to ensure dividends for both the stakeholders and the country in a sustainable environment, noting that in the short term their top priority was to get the message out to the rest of the world that Sri Lanka was one of the safest places on earth for tourists to visit.
The Minister pointed out that local communities across the country were benefiting through the rise of the informal sector where youth were finding employment in the informal sector as well as mainstream hotels, in providing transport and taxi services, in supplying fresh produce to the hotels, in providing handicrafts, souvenirs and other items for sale to tourists.
Noting that where there is demand there will always be supply, adding that that is how the market economy works, Amaratunga however highlighted that it was important to be aware of the fact that the unregulated growth of any industry could have an adverse impact.
Therefore he pointed out that academic intervention was necessary to harmonise the economic benefits of tourism with socio-cultural and environmental requirements.
While admitting that sustainable practices must be placed at the core of a country’s national tourism enterprise, he said: “I am also keen to see the benefits of our growing tourism industry filtering down to the grassroots level. It is important that the economic benefits of tourism are enjoyed by the fisherman, the gram seller and the tuk-tuk driver as well. Only then can we claim to have reaped the full benefits of the tourism industry.”