Travelling safe has become a concern in Sri Lanka in the wake of a few attacks on tourists that have hurt holidaymakers trying to take home a memorable stay on the isle. Accusations have been levelled against mafia groups operating in the southern area of Mirissa who are said to have been carrying out orchestrated [...]

Business Times

Safe holidays in Sri Lanka get mafia bashing


Travelling safe has become a concern in Sri Lanka in the wake of a few attacks on tourists that have hurt holidaymakers trying to take home a memorable stay on the isle.

Accusations have been levelled against mafia groups operating in the southern area of Mirissa who are said to have been carrying out orchestrated attacks on tourists while other government officials believe that such groups were linked politically as well.

Tourists on the Weligama beach

The latest worry to the authorities comes after an April 8 physical assault on two male tourists and a sexual assault on a female tourist who had been visiting the popular surfing destination of Mirissa. After a police complaint was lodged, nine suspects were arrested and produced before the Matara Magistrate, the Police stated.

It was also noted that the suspects were to have been produced for identification before the Magistrate on Thursday (April 19).

In another incident there had been an attack carried out on five Israelis holidaying in the country at Midigama in Weligama and following a complaint lodged with the police, four arrests were made in this connection.

The mafia group is reportedly operating in the area carrying out attacks on tourists and sometimes even on locals who even speak with foreign tourists that has become an issue. Added to this is the fact that these groups of beach boys are employed by some of the beach side surf bars operated mostly illegally by various parties allegedly connected to politicians in the area.

Politicians back beach boys

Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga told the Business Times on Monday that the government believes “there is a political hand and an unseen hand involved in the escalation of violence” which authorities were currently investigating.

As a second incident also occurred in Midigama after the Mirissa attack during the last couple of days, the minister attributed it to “some organised violence.”
One of the measures adopted to contain the situation; Minister Amaratunga pointed out would be to “throw out the beach boys” as these persons would carry out such attacks if paid to do so.

The Minister apologised to tourists for having to endure this trauma and assured them of their safety in Sri Lanka in future.

He noted that an adequate police force needed to be deployed at the beaches to ensure the safety of holidaymakers and that the police needs to be decentralised to access tourist areas.

Following investigations by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) on the Water Creatures Guest Restaurant and Surf Bar where the incident had taken place, the authorities had issued orders to close the establishment on Tuesday evening.

During the investigations it was found that the establishment was operating as an eating place with a business license from the Pradehiya Sabha authorities with no permission from tourism authorities to entertain overseas visitors.

SLTDA Director General P.U. Ratnayaka said that they had issued orders to close the surf bar and noted that the authority officers were present at the time the establishment was shut down.

The authorities conducted investigations into the establishment and had even requested the owner Baduge Harsha Prasanna to come to the SLTDA office in Colombo for an inquiry.

Mr. Ratnayaka noted that the informal sector needed to be gazetted and registered and pointed out that the publicity Sri Lanka was receiving following this incident was “damaging to the industry.”

Harassing hotels

Hoteliers Association President Sanath Ukwatte highlighted that there was a mafia group operating in the Weligama area and noted that some of the general managers of member hotels in the area also have faced harassment at the hands of these unscrupulous people.

He pointed out that this was the first time the government had taken action seriously to address the problems faced in these areas.

He pointed out that the harassment of tourists was an ongoing phenomenon on the beach, in public transport and even at standalone restaurants.

The mafia group operating in the south has harassed managers in hotels in the area and in this respect, Mr. Ukwatte called for a halt to such operations noting that people visit Sri Lanka on the premise that the people of this land area a nice lot.

Tourist Police OIC Prabhath Vidanagama speaking with the Business Times on the sidelines of the media briefing held on Tuesday said that the recent incidence of violent attacks against tourists that seemed to be on the rise were attributed to the large number of travellers visiting this destination.

However, tourism industry veterans noted that though numbers were getting larger there needs to be an increase in ensuring tighter security and believed it to be the “height of stupidity” to assume that more tourists would mean more attacks.

In fact, they pointed out that this should not be allowed to happen in the country and added that the reason could be attributed to the increase in the “visibility of the attacks” than before.

Although most complain of similar incidents in the past, official records have no indication as to any complaints being made in the past against these groups.
The SLTDA said that they would be requesting the Tourist Police to establish a temporary unit with a minimum of 15 officers to work in the area following the recent incidents in Weligama.

This temporary measure would be taken up until a permanent Tourist Police force is established in the area.

Getting attention

Most of the industry was concerned about the news getting the spotlight on social media and if so it’s possible impact on the sector that was just picking up on the numbers.

However, although it was noted that following the assault there had been some posts on social media like “Mirissa Don’t Go” the concerns were also mainly focused on the fact that tourists visiting Sri Lanka were not culturally sensitive.

This is not the first instance when an incident of this nature had made it to the headlines of the news of the day infact a couple of months agoanother female tourist was sexually assaulted as a result of which the issue of how and when travellers should move around came up for discussion.

In fact even this time, the subject Minister pointed out that the tourists must understand that they should travel outside during reasonable hours and not venture into jungle areas.

But even tour operators and travel agents highlighted that tourists visiting Sri Lanka were either unaware or not simply following the guidelines on how to dress appropriately in this cultural outpost.

Law and order taking effect could act as a deterrent for these kinds of acts and the industry believes that the fact that the police had been inactive in the past was since the local government authorities were behind these groups.

In this respect, the industry urged the government to ensure that there could be central defense and tourism apparatus that would lay out clear policies and indicate clear instructions to police in a bid to initiate action in these types of cases.

A police force patrolling the beaches is a requirement that would ensure the beaches would remain safe for anyone to visit. In fact, the minister’s request for the Special Task Force (STF) to be deployed patrolling the beaches is yet to be taken up.

A safe environment for travellers to come home to and feel welcome is imperative to attracting the right travellers and ensuring proper guidelines are given them to assure them of a safe holiday on the paradise island of Sri Lanka.

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