mirage :Elusive dreams and targets of tourism
There is much talk about the potential for the development of tourism.
Various tourist related bodies are visiting the country. They speak
about the country's scenic beauty, its bio-diversity, the beaches,
the cultural heritage, hospitality of the people and all sorts of
advantages the country has. Ministers and tourist officials are
travelling hither and thither to promote tourism. Just like the
mirage of rapid economic growth that we discussed last week, the
targets and dreams for tourism keep eluding us. Tourist arrivals
have been fluctuating over the last two decades and with it the
fortunes of the industry and related services.
2000 the number of tourist arrivals reached a little over 400,000.
Then it dipped in the succeeding year to about 337,000 and increased
somewhat to around 393,000 in 2002. The up-trend continued into
the next two years. In 2003 it rose to 500,542. The highest ever
tourist arrivals were reached in 2004, when it increased by a further
13 per cent to reach over 566,202. The increases in tourist arrivals
were no doubt due to the improved security situation after the Cease
year's tourist performance was somewhat anomalous as the numbers
were around the same as in 2003, but the earnings from tourism declined
by about 20 per cent. The number of tourists was deceptive as a
fair proportion of them were not typical tourists. Therefore although
the official number of tourist arrivals dipped very little, tourist
earnings last year is likely to be around US$ 300 million compared
to US$ 413 million in 2003. In fact even these may be an exaggeration
as many receipts classified as tourist earnings may well be those
related to Tsunami related work. Last year the country recorded
over five hundred thousand tourists, but in fact many of them were
those who came in connection with Tsunami work. That is the reason
why tourist earning dipped despite the larger number of arrivals.
Tourist hotels had large numbers of rooms unoccupied as a result.
On the one hand, some hotels in the coastal areas suffered damage
and on the other hand, hotels in other areas had fewer guests. Last
year was therefore a very bad year for tourism.
tsunami was the main reason for the dip in last year's tourist earnings
from those of the previous year. There are expectations that now
that the aftermath of the Tsunami is over there would be a spurt
in tourism. This is not likely, as the security situation has in
the meantime deteriorated. In fact the security situation has been
the biggest enemy of tourist development in the country. It all
began with the July 1983 ethnic riots that sent the rising tourist
industry into a shelf. There have been recoveries and setbacks since
then, most of which have been related to the fluctuations in security
conditions. The best years have seen around a half million tourists.
This is hardly a figure to brag about.
reasons for the inability of tourism to gain momentum lie not within
the industry itself. The primary cause for the last two decades
has been the security situation. No one wants to come to a tourist
destination where lives are in danger. Other countries have suffered
the same fate, notably Egypt and Indonesia. Some government and
tourist measures may alleviate the situation and improve the tourist
arrivals. Yet as long as there is an overhang of terrorism and danger
to life, the capacity to develop tourism is limited. As Renton de
Alwis a former Chairman of the Tourist Board has said in his book,
Random Thoughts, Tourism has been recognised as a key sector that
every political grouping wants to develop in the future for there
is strong potential for earning the much-needed foreign exchange
and generating productive employment opportunities. But what they
all forget, is that the key ingredient for all of that to be achieved
is stability in the operating environment.
to view the potential for tourism purely from the perspective of
the security situation is inadequate. The reasons why the tourist
industry has not taken off to the promised potential lie elsewhere
as well. While we have seminars here and abroad, travel to other
countries, host receptions and offer incentives to travel agents
we have not got the small things that matter right. The roads leading
to many hotel destinations resemble jungle paths; the garbage all
over the roads is disgusting even to Sri Lankans. What would be
the reaction of those who come from countries where the streets
are neat and tidy? Driving on the roads appears hazardous. The debris
from the Tsunami remained for months.
are dangers of fevers and other communicable diseases. Toilets in
some tourist destinations are disgusting. All these deficiencies
add up to making tourism not so attractive as people tend to make
it out to be. When will we correct these for the good of those who
live in the Island as well as those who visit? Then we can expect
the full potential of our natural and historic attractions. Let's
improve the natural environment we are blessed with than degrade
it if we are serious about increasing the much-needed foreign exchange