Road Map For A Tourist Paradise

A Sri Lankan traditional dancer from Budawatta Dance Troupe looks up as a delegate lights the lamp during the launch of 'Meet in Sri Lanka' campaign, in New Delhi, India, Friday, July 31, 2009. The campaign is launched by Sri Lankan Tourism Ministry and Sri Lankan airlines to attract tour operators and Indian tourists. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
by Sarath Wijesinghe

(December 25, UAE, Sri Lanka Guardian) Tourism is an act of travel for the purpose of recreation, education, sight-seeing, exploration and various other purposes and reasons. It is human animal and animal extinct to explore to change territories for food and various other purposes. Today, the world has developed so much due to technology especially information technology that the world has become small and news travel instantaneously with the click of a button. But, for the human being it is nothing like seeing by himself. Even though, the football match could be watched very clearly on the television screen, the fan will spend any amount to watch the match with his own eyes at the arena.

Tourism has become one of the main sought for industries to many countries. Some countries heavily depend on tourism as a source of income, some countries are fortunate to be blessed with beauty and environment. Some even without beauty explore the available resources and has reached the top in the arena of tourism. One country of this type is the UAE which has used the desert to introduce desert safaris because they have only deserts and malls to show the tourists. But, tourists are flocking round Dubai for enjoyment, pleasure, shopping and sight-seeing even though oil is the main income in UAE, tourism too has reached one of the main income.

Tourism promotes country’s economy and the image in the family of nation. Both rich and poor countries depend on and promote tourism. It is important to make sure the local population does not depend on tourism alone. It should be a bonus and additional income at some stage because there can be a sudden upward trend such as in the Bali incident or there can be many unexpected scenarios, but generally many countries in the world today prosper due to proper management of tourism.

Tourism has disadvantages as well. Pollution, waste, cultural situation and drugs are some of those. For example, though Philippines and Brazil are doing well in tourism, there are underlying dangers linked to it. Sri Lanka is not the most beautiful, one of the most beautiful countries in the globe with the facility to reach the different climatic region in few hours. Sri Lanka is blessed with beauty, fine environment, excellent climatic conditions, wild life, jungles, 250,000 historical and archaeological sites accepted by the UNESCO and moreover an educated and smiling nation supposed to be one of the happiest nations next to Bhutan. The rivers start from the hill and end in different parts of the country embracing the sea after having travelled golden sands with surrounded by thick jungles and wild life. The wealth bestowed on Sri Lanka by way of beauty and environment is more valuable than oil gifted to the Middle East. The irony is that Sri Lanka has not still explored and made use of this natural gift, wealth for the benefit of the nation. The sorry state is that there is self destruction of the forests, the wild life, sand, rivers by cruel and man-made destruction.

Currently, the nation’s main income is the sweat of the labour sweat world wide as migrant workers whose conditions of employment are of below standard. The plight of the domestic housekeepers is extremely disturbing. We hear of pathetic and sorry stories very often and it is time that we take back these millions of our ladies who were protected and respected back in the country to be with their family which are now in disarray. But, this cannot be done overnight and there should be an alternative remedy. One of the main remedies is to improve our tourist trade which we can be made use of as a vehicle for our prosperity because all what we need is a catalyst vision and a program to explore our available resources on this direction.

It is heartening to note that His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse, the President to Sri Lanka has taken the serious note of this factual reality and has directed Mr Basil Rajapakse, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism to take this burden to his shoulders and to launch the program of targeting to make Sri Lanka the best tourist destination.

It is also happy to note that steps are being taken to create an image on the world of our availability, security, stability and the high standard for genuine tourists to explore Sri Lanka.

Tourists explore other countries for various purposes one of the main is to sight-seeing, explorations and many other reasons for which Sri Lanka is ideally situated and qualified. Educational tourism is to a short and long term in the host country. Sri Lanka is famous for education and is geared to invest on education. There are a lot of changes taking place for a private university, we learn from our mistakes and success of others. Knowledge Village in Dubai has outlets for almost all the universities in the world and the students world-wide make use of this facility which is situated in one of the 38 free trade zones which are doing very well. Sri Lanka could be a center of education for SAARC countries which are currently disturbed Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and other countries will send their students to Sri Lanka if quality education is offered for which we are qualified. It is sad that we are remitting billions of foreign exchange for the education of our children not only in the west but in other developed Balkan, African and Asian countries. We are ideally suited for health tourism. Our doctors and the health system are of high standard. Even the facilities the patients from Middle East and even the West will seek help from the private health sector in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has 250,000 archaeological sites and historical, religious places of worship for all religions. Sri Lanka is ideal for exploration. Art and culture, water sports, beaches, climbing, swimming, golf, cricket, agriculture and various other attractions which we have yet to explore.

In this competitive world, they have to maintain standard and try to be par with others or to be above others. Our outlook and attitudes have to be changed. We should not rip off the tourists. We must give them a quality service for an appropriate remuneration. We must make the stay pleasant, safe and enjoyable. The airport should be clean for the first impression. Notices that give fear to the tourists on the punishment of the possession of drugs need to be exhibited to the public and to the tourists to frighten them. Immigration officers should be friendly and appropriately dressed. They should be conversant in English and other languages. The taxi drivers should not harass the tourists. There should be a proper taxi service. Guaranteeing safety and standard taxi service should be monitored by the Tourist Board. The tourist counter should be vibrant and active. The tourists must be given first hand information on consumerisms on shopping, on hotels, on culture by the officers at the airport itself. Hotels must be clean and must be in high standard and the websites must be properly maintained. Visa, basic requirements which we can learn from the other countries we must also take precautions on side effects of tourism on our culture, our younger generations, as there are tourists who visit countries for various ulterior purposes such as sex, drugs and many other nefarious activities.

It is time for us for a complete transformation for us to achieve the target to be the best tourist destination in the world. We don’t need any further promotions, Sri Lanka is already promoted. Therefore, it is time that we do away with all the PR companies appointed to promote Sri Lanka with the cost of millions of tax payers money. The Sri Lankan embassies world-wide must take the responsibility but the promotion of tourism, investment, employment promotion and also to enhance the image of the country and to fight against terrorism His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapakse has reiterated that our embassies hereafter should not act as traditional inert outlets it must be geared and act to promote the country and implement the policy decision by enhancing tourism, economic promotion, investment, employment promotion and other sectors.

There is a responsibility and a task on the community the mission and the government institution to get together and flock together on this mission to create an atmosphere for the tourists to visit Sri Lanka whilst maintaining our identity, culture, environment and the beauty. It is a happy state that we have got a minister who has understood the subtle issues on the tourism trade. Though tourism is too booming are we really ready for it ? Do we have sufficient number of hotel rooms ? We are told that we need 50,000 hotel rooms but we have only 15,000. This shows that the path is not very easy. There is the need for hard work and find new strategy. They can think of tea estates and bungalows to be used as tourist destinations. Owners of large houses can be encouraged to convert mini resorts. Investors should be encouraged by easing the procedures by cutting down the red tape. One stop shop in Dubai free trade zone, is a concept we should learn from where the investor can obtain clearances from one office. In Sri Lanka, this is a draw-back to be looked into carefully.

On the whole, we are in the right direction. World talks about us, world respects us. We have proved that our country has the most powerful government in the world. We have proved stability and security to the world. The government is investor friendly and for freedom for business and investment of course preserving the identity and safety of the country. UAE has a restriction for investors for a mandatory requirement for a local partner to do business other than free zone area. With all that business in UAE and the investments are pouring in. These are lessons that we should learn from the success stories, and our success story of achieving the wonder of Asia is not too far.

( the writer is the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to UAE )

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