A new strategy focusing on sustainable community-based ecotourism is the way forward for Arugam Bay, which is regarded as one of the topmost surf points in the world and Sri Lanka’s best surfing destination, said M. H. A. Raheem, Chairman of the Arugam Bay Tourism Association.
He made this observation following discussions with several governmental and non-governmental organisations in the light of ongoing development efforts in the area.
With the end of the conflict and the prevailing peaceful conditions, Arugam Bay has seen a surge in tourism over the past year. The hotels recorded 100% occupancy in 2009, while the safe and viable opportunities for investment created with the dawn of peace, has attracted new foreign investors to its shores.
Measures are now underway to further develop Arugam Bay to cater to the increasing demands, Raheem stated. With a mission to improve tourism through community-based initiatives and sustainable development, the Arugam Bay Tourism Association would act as a main catalyst in this development process.
“What the Association is focusing on is improving the standards of hoteliers and offering better services and facilities to the growing number of tourists,” said Raheem.
A conscious effort will be made to ensure that development will take place in a planned and structured manner, thus protecting the uniqueness and natural beauty of Arugam Bay, stressed Raheem.
For instance, he noted, new infrastructure projects and buildings need to be planned and developed in accordance with the nature and environment of Arugam Bay, using local material and resources, conserving plant and wildlife and ensuring that its clean and healthy atmosphere is maintained.
Several projects have already been implemented to offer enhanced services to visitors. The first visitor centre for the area was set up in Pottuvil funded by the New East Coastal Community Development Project. USAID Co-project has conducted a successful awareness programme among the local hoteliers, while guides were trained by Sri Lanka Tourism specialising in ecotourism and community-based tourism.
The Association is also working closely with local authorities and other government organisations, including, ASMET, ICEI Overseas and UNDP. The Arugam Bay Tourism Development Committee was established recently, subsequent to discussions with Dr. Sarath Weerasekara, Member of Parliament for Ampara District.
In ensuring greater community participation, the Association will continue to maintain close ties with the community of Arugam Bay, which consists of a multi-ethnic group and foreign investors as well as with other organisations such as the Coastal Conservation Department, three-wheel association, fisheries industry, farmers’ organisations, the women development society, pre-school societies and the cattle farm association.
Regular discussions are held with these various sectors to directly involve them in the planning, management and other aspects of the development process, while providing more sustainable forms of livelihoods, creating new income generating activities for the locals and ensuring that the community reaps the socio and economic benefits of development and conservation. This will also further boost the respect and understanding between the community and local authorities.
The unspoilt and rich natural environment of Arugam Bay, wildlife sanctuaries and cultural attractions in its vicinity offer numerous ecotourism-based activities to the discerning traveller. The people of Arugam Bay are known for their warmth and hospitality. “In addition, this area is quiet, clean, safe and relatively crime free. In fact, this is something that tourists look for and enjoy about Arugam Bay,” said Raheem.
“Our vision is to make Arugam Bay Sri Lanka’s number one tourist destination in terms of surfing, eco safaris and cultural awareness,” added Raheem. With planned development that preserves the environment and culture of Arugam Bay and benefits the local community, the Association is well geared to work towards its goal, he noted.