On seeing a news alert on my mobile phone that said, “Visa-on-arrival facility cancelled for foreigners” (which was subsequently withdrawn) I could not help but wonder why we go out of our way to make things difficult for visitors who bring revenue to our poor country.
I called a friend in England to ask how Sri Lanka was perceived in the UK as a holiday destination. He said the British consider Sri Lanka as among the best of travel destinations, especially during the winter season.
But he did say a few things that made me wonder about the future of tourism in this country.
All our hotels are classified as “star class”, and prices go up by 200 to 300 per cent in the peak season.
Some hotels in the South charge more than US$550 a night for an air-conditioned room. But are our rooms really worth US$500 dollars? Is it fair to charge so much?
It is one thing to cover losses incurred during a time when tourist arrivals were at an all-time low, but it is quite another to overcharge and put off potential visitors who could be bringing us much-needed revenue.
Tourists who are overcharged will not come back as repeat guests. One visit alone is not enough to see Sri Lanka. Tourists should be encouraged to come back.
Sri Lanka’s tourist attractions are largely day-time affairs – swimming in the sea, tanning on the beach, going on safaris, visiting ancient cities. When the sun goes down, the day ends for the overseas guest. We have no night life as such to offer them.
If tourists want to see ruins, they can go to Egypt or Greece. If they want to see wildlife, they can head to South Africa, Zimbabwe or Kenya. If they come here, then we should give them a total holiday experience.
Outside Colombo, there are no shopping malls. Even in Colombo, we can boast of only two decent malls. We provide no tourist-quality entertainment.
There is a great need for some form of nightlife at our major tourist towns and centres. There should be at least a shopping mall and a cinema complex, a couple of bars and a disco. Even an evening laser show would be a help.