SAARC scare drives locals to beach ball

The Tourist Board has pumped in over Rs. 25 million into a musical extravaganza on the southern beaches of Hikkaduwa to attract foreign guests but instead the five-day event has drawn in thousands of locals eager to get out of Colombo in view of the tight security for the SAARC summit.

A foreign performers at last year’s Hikkaduwa beach carnival

The event has also attracted some Indians who have come to support their cricket team. The Tourist Board has carried out a massive worldwide propaganda campaign aimed at boosting the limping tourism industry, but hoteliers in the South said that the bulk of the bookings for this special event had come from locals, Indian cricket fans and invitees.

Apart from other expenses, the Board has also made elaborate arrangements to bring down foreign artistes all the way from the USA, Britain, Denmark, France, Singapore, India and Scotland and dozens of foreign journalists to cover the event.

Tourism Board official Dulip Muddadeniya said a large number of private institutions from Radio and TV stations to soft drink companies and even the national carrier SriLankan Airlines had chipped in as sponsors. He stopped short of giving the exact amount of money the authorities were throwing into it.
However, he said the entire exercise would cost something like Rs. 25 million.

Officials claimed that the main objective of the beach extravaganza was to put Sri Lanka once again on the international tourist calendar and if it was a success they hoped to repeat it on an annual basis.
Hikkadwua Hotels Association facilitator Siri Gunawardene said they had given certain concessions to help the board in its efforts but had promised nothing free.

“The Board will have to foot the bills for any special guests and other invitees,” he said. Earlier this month a prominent travel firm offered special packages to foreign destinations for those intending to get out during the up coming SAARC summit.

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