Promoting responsible and sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka is a concept wholly supported by the Ministry of Tourism and current policies on eco-tourism, according to Secretary to the Ministry George Michael, is a tremendous opportunity to formulate regulations that ensure Sri Lanka adheres to sustainability.
However, British High Commissioner Dr. Peter Hayes cautioned that the theory of sustainable tourism is sound and sensible but practically, changes will have to be made during implementation. Speaking at a Responsible Tourism Partnership event this past week, Dr. Hayes said the global tourism market is expecting 1.6 billion travellers by 2010 which will put huge pressure on the economy and the environment but is also a big opportunity for the industry.
Dr. Hayes said the possibility of environmental damage and the ensuing costs could be massive and there will be a need to manage threats as well as the impact on resources such as water. In addition, the industry will have to contend with other environmental problems such as carbon emissions. Dr. Hayes further stated that local communities should not be dispossessed and isolated and that the industry should work with them to protect the environment.
Dr. Hayes said times are tough in Sri Lanka which is facing economic challenges as well as dealing with the ethnic conflict but that the response should be to go upscale and up market and up the value chain. Measures have been taken to reduce the environmental impact but Dr. Hayes said a lot more work lies ahead. He said he was recently in Hambantota and saw first hand that communities there are having deep economic problems.
In the long run, Dr. Hayes said Sri Lanka has to improve its infrastructure. Despite the challenge, the tourism industry is vibrant and now with the opportunity of developing the East, Dr. Hayes said hopefully the North will also open up one day. He said travel advisories are under constant review and noted that the biggest impact for economic development in the East is changing the advisory but that the situation on the ground does not allow for it.