Tourism earnings for the first half of the year has predictably declined, but still managed to post $ 1.8 billion in earnings when compared with $ 2.1 billion earned in the same period the previous year. The arrival numbers are also improving slowly, with the Government optimistic it can reach the two million arrival target or even exceed it slightly.
It is important to keep this recovery moving. Value is a critical driver of tourism, and the power of social media has made this even more so. However, the pricing of attractions, especially historical sites, the facilities provided, the use of the funds, and customer service have been repeatedly highlighted. Many of these responses are less than flattering. A recent blog post by a Chinese tourist, Sri Lanka’s largest market, that has been widely shared, speaks about the hassle, inconvenience, and downright disrespect shown to tourists attempting to get a glimpse of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy.
She writes about the long lines, the pushing, worshipping devotees told to “move along”, and the frenzy created because Temple authorities only allow the sacred relic to be on show for a few minutes. Understandably, it is not possible to display what is widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s most valued religious artefact round the clock, but surely there is a better way to treat the people who come to show their devotion.
Later on, the writer details her experience at the Dambulla Temple, where she misses the ticket booth, and appeals to the person checking the tickets to let her in, as she cannot climb all the way down in the heat to get a new ticket, promising to pay on the way out. She is met with no compassion and writes about how ironic it is that a temple wealthy enough to have a massive golden Buddha statue, nonetheless does not have any compassion for its visitors. These are telling complaints and the comments left on the blog post even more so.
The issue of better services and equitable charges levied from foreign tourists has been a matter repeatedly highlighted to authorities with very little response. There is no transparency in how entrance fees are decided, and even less information on the conservation work it is supposed to be funding. There is also concern about collecting millions of rupees in cash, as the entire process is open to corruption. Much of this revolves around the fact that the money heads to the central Government, from where it is funnelled to departments outside the tourism sector. Some of the funds are recycled back as Budget allocations, but they don’t always trickle down to where it is needed.
Travellers have repeatedly argued that when compared to sites in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, local attractions have disproportionate fees with next to no facilities to reduce the sting of the prices. There are also safety concerns, especially for women travellers. Obviously infrastructure development is necessary, not just because of tourists, but because thousands of Sri Lankans come to these same sites and use the same trains, waiting rooms, rest rooms, canteens and other facilities. The services provided and infrastructure should improve so Sri Lankans, as well as tourists, can partake in them as well and boost tourism. The practice of using tourists to make a quick buck is both myopic and unfair, as Sri Lanka is a genuinely worthwhile place to visit.