In this analysis Srilal Miththapala, past President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) attempts to derive a financial value of the Yala National Park for Tourism.
Yala is the most popular National Wild Life Park in Sri Lanka. There is no doubt about that. It earns more than Rs. 600 m each year from ticket sales, with some 658,000 visitors (both local and foreign) passing through its gates.
However, anyone who has visited Yala of late, will have seen for themselves the absolute mayhem that prevails within the park.
The main problems are:
• Over visitation
• No attempts to assess carrying capacity and thus control visitor influx accordingly
• No adherence to park rules & regulations
• Overly focusing on one particular species of animal ( leopard)
Negative comments on social media are building up gradually, and already Sri Lanka Tourism, which relies considerably on wild life attractions, is beginning to feel the effects. (According to the SLTDA statistics, currently, of the 2m arrivals to Sri Lanka, about 783,000 tourists visit the National Parks which is about 38% of all arrivals)
The solutions are simple and straightforward, but unfortunately execution is fraught with many pit falls, and enforcing the park rules is not an easy task for the authorities, due to complex administrative issues and other ‘ramifications’.
Numerous discussions and debates for alleviating the problem have been held, reports submitted,and plans formulated by multiple committees, to no avail.
This analysis does not propose to re-open these debates.
Instead, the purpose is to try and establish the true earning potential of the Yala National Park for Tourism and Sri Lanka in general, which may then open the eyes of all stakeholders to take note of the seriousness of this situation.
So how valuable is Yala National Park financially to Sri Lanka?
To embark on this study one has to first identify the direct financial beneficiaries from tourists visiting the Yala National Park.
They are 3 main direct beneficiaries:
• Hotels in the area (due to occupancy generated by tourists staying over)
• The Department of Wild Life Conservation ( DWC) (from ticket sales)
• The Safari Jeep drivers of the area (who provide a service for the visitors)
(There is possibly a fourth beneficiary who are the Travel Agents, but assessing that component of earnings would be a difficult task)
The methodology used to assess each of these revenue components is based on some intelligently computed, but conservative assumptions, together with published data for 2016.
• Estimating revenue earned by Hotels due to Yala National Park
• Number of conventional ( registered) hotel rooms in the Yala area approx. 1,500 (derived from SLTDA figures- Rooms beyond Galle 2698- Hence estimate of rooms in Tissamahrama, Yala and Katragamais taken as 1,500) )
• Occupancy of the region for 2016 was 75% (ref SLTDA)
• Average Room rate USD 120 (based on feedback from hoteliers of area)
• Exchange rate Rs. 150=1USD
• Number of days of park visitation 330 ( allowing for closure month of park)
• Number of in-house hotel guests who go on safari - 80% (based on feedback from hoteliers of area)
• Extra Food & Beverage ( F & B) revenue from in-house guests 15% of room revenue(based on feedback from hoteliers of area)
Using these assumptions the overall earnings of hotels in the Yala region (1,500 rooms earning USD 120 per day at 75% occupancy for 330 days ) can easily be computed as Rs5.7 B from room sales, and another Rs0.8 B from extra F & B sales.
On this basis the approximate annual earnings in 2016 by hotels in the area, directly attributable to the Yala National Park is about Rs6,500 M
• Estimating revenue earned by DWC due to Yala National Park
In this case no assumptions are needed, as the detailed statisticsfor 2016 are available with both the DWC and SLTDA
On this basis the annual earnings by DWC for 2016, directly attributable to the Yala National Park is Rs612 M
• Estimating revenue earned by jeep operators at Yala National Park
• Average number of persons per jeep 5(based on feedback from safari operators)
• Total visitors to Yala National park in 2016 was 658,277 ( ref SLTDA)
• Percentage of visitors to the park hiring jeeps 80% ( personal assessment)
• Average charge per safari drive Rs 5,000( Ref Jeep operators)
Using these assumptions it is estimated that annually there are about 105,324 jeep hires in 2016, charging an average of Rs. 5,000per hire
On this basis the annual earnings in 2016 by Jeep operators in the area, directly attributable to the Yala National Park is Rs527 m
Total Annual Financial benefits (2016) accruing to the 3 main stakeholders
This shows, that on a very conservative basis, the Yala National Park is ‘worth’ close to Rs 8 Billion annually to all stakeholders. (The error margins in this study, if any is negative, and thus the eventual figure can only be greater, with higher confidence levels)
This perhaps will bring home the reality of the magnitude of what we stand to lose if we do not stem the rot immediately
Sri Lanka Tourism, the Jeep Driversof the area, and the DWC has a significant lot to lose!
It will be the proverbial ‘Killing the Goose that lays the Golden Eggs’
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