The resurgence of tourism in Sri Lanka’s post-conflict phase bodes well for the country’s economy and for the tourism sector which was worst hit during the war, but with the boom comes a multitude of problems that Sri Lanka must deal with lest it spirals out of control in a very short time. As previously discussed, tourism and tourism development must go hand in hand with sustainable practices and a deep consciousness about the burden on a country’s natural resources through exponential increases in visitor numbers.
With additional numbers expected to be promoted most popular tourism sites visited by both local and foreign tourists are going to get overcrowded. If such sites are not improved on a proper plan and good management with priority being given to sufficient parking and traffic arrangements, good quality restaurants and clean toilet facilities, visitor safety etc. the value to the visitors will not remain for long. This is most relevant to nature reserves and wildlife parks that are extremely vulnerable to pollution and overcrowding. Visiting Yala national park on a long weekend is similar to going to a popular motor-cross event. The number of vehicles entering the park is an absolute harassment to the animals and a speedy way to endanger them to extinction.
Noisy vehicles and obviously high levels of carbon emission can do much damage to the wildlife in a short span of time. Many wild life enthusiasts have highlighted this matter through the media but to no avail. The opening of the Wilpattu National Park will certainly reduce the pressure on the Yala reserve in this respect but stringent controls must be worked out to allow only tolerable numbers to enter national parks, ideally with an advance booking system for peak periods. With all relevant government agencies being wisely brought within one ministry, the processes to deal with such matters is easier than ever before. It is the fundamental right not only of our future generations to see and enjoy nature in its true form, but also of the wildlife itself for its very sustainability.
Prostitution, Paedophilia and Drug menace
These remain as byproducts of tourism especially of mass tourism in certain destinations around the world. These vices have reached dangerous levels in some Asian destinations and are now seen as irreversible, by being entwined in the social lives of locl communities. In reality Sri Lanka even at the moment has an issue at hand in this regard. The irresistible love for Dollars, Sterling Pounds and Euros cannot ignore societal damage that can permanently harm civic life and the cultural values of this country. It is critical therefore that there is a broad understanding of these problems and their impacts on Sri Lankan society. This understanding and initiative to prevent it should not only come from NGOs and resource tight government agencies. Since it is virtually a direct impact of the country’s leisure industry, it is imperative that the tourism sector take responsibility and preventative action on these fronts. Damage control should not come only as a CSR activity of a few but as proactive approach from all responsible.
A destination must not only be peaceful but also safe for a visitor. From early times of tourism in the island certain resorts had tourist police units. To some extent they were effective though not necessarily to the level that they should have been. Three years ago, a Tourist Police section was introduced that set up office at No 78 Steuart Place, Colombo 3, where Sri Lanka Tourism has its offices. This was to look into the safety of tourists. With the expected increase in visitor arrivals, most resorts and tourist sites will require an effective force under this administration to ensure visitor safety.
There have been numerous threats in the past on tourists by local thugs who even have manhandled tourists. Most such thugs are closely linked to local politicians. Hence the police have found that their hands are tied in most cases. A few cases of rape of female tourists also had taken place in the past in certain beach resorts. Theft on the beach and snatch thieving at other places are not uncommon and tourists leave our shores with bitter memories, never to return. Despite all security measures recommended by the hotel managements, guests lose things at hotels. Sometimes guests are at fault for their carelessness.
A few make complaints for false claims trying to recover money from insurance back home. Tourist safety remains an area of serious concern for the administration, requiring strict vigilance and practice of the rule of law and should not be left for another day or until the situation is exacerbated.
(The writer, a hotel industry veteran based in Vietnam, could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).