Business Times

Neglecting a key travel centre of Bandarawela

By Quintus Perera

ELLA – Eight km off Bandarawela towards Badulla lies this scenic and natural travel spot well known to the western world. Foreign travellers patronize this area round the year irrespective of various disturbances that occur elsewhere in the country.

Pictures show the meeting of the Ella Tourism and Trade Development Association discussing the strategies to get rid of the garbage dump in Ella Town and other improvements of the Ella Town.

Though the inflow of tourists to Ella is spontaneous and regular, it appears the authorities are not taking much interest to upgrade the area, with more than 200 small hotels (or guest houses) and a few big ones, as a major travel resort area.

These small hotels range from 3-5 up to 10 rooms. There are some historic sites like the Rawana Ella, Rawana Cave, Little ‘Adam’s Peak’, Demodara Bridge, Demodara Railway Station site that appears like a turban and there are also other popular sports like hiking, kayaking, mountaineering, etc. Travellers come in numbers and stay in Ella for four to five days. People of this area believe that the Rama-Rawana affair had taken place in Ella area and the Dandumonara Yantharaya flew from one of the mountains in this area. The Ella town is congested with government buildings and a concentration of small hotels. Though hoteliers were content with the earlier trends/infrastructure, now they are urging that the area be upgraded to attract more travellers and 50 such hoteliers have teamed up as a group titled the Ella Tourism and Trade Development Association.

As the government says it is ready to assist the SMEs the group’s intention is to elicit such assistance and make Ella a major tourism resort area. However the events taking place in Ella now is not conducive to such promotion but more detrimental to tourism as there is a huge garbage dump maintained by the Ella Pradeshiya Sabha (EPS) rooted in the middle of the town emanating an unbearable and foul odour and posing a grave health hazard to city dwellers as it releases a huge swamp of flies that envelopes the whole city.

There are also a large number of stray dogs, cattle, crows and other disease carriers at the ‘Dump’ wallowing in the muck, spreading the dirt all over. The continuation of the ‘Dump’ would be a serious constraint to the tourism industry of the area. In fact already there are messages appearing on the Internet that Ella could be identified as the kingdom of flies. The Business Times (BT) was in Ella last week and witnessed as to how the Ella PS is violating the citizens’ rights in broad daylight. The ‘Dump’ was removed using backhoes and tractors and the garbage transferred to a huge pit dug in the Ella public playground just below the Railway Station which is the main tourist entry point, and which is surrounded by public buildings, hotels and residences.

Removal of the huge garbage dump using backhoes.

In fact while the garbage was buried there were some boys playing cricket on the ground. In this manner the Ella PS has violated the norm of vehicles not crossing the public playground and the other norm that garbage could only be buried in carefully selected sanitary landfills. This happened in the centre of Ella town and the helpless people of Ella town were aghast at this action by the Ella PS that took place in broad daylight.

The removal of the ‘Dump’ was personally supervised by the Ella PS Technical Officers, Ajith Premasinghe and Public Health Inspector S Sudharshan. They told the BT that once the present garbage is buried, they will recommence the ‘garbage recycling’ in the same spot and thus the Ella town would soon come back to ‘square one’, again. Some hoteliers and residents identified this act of Ella PS as senseless and idiotic and which would definitely kill the tourism industry. In the meantime, the BT met three young tourists from the Netherlands – Ellen Kathleen, Ellen Maria and Anneke Jeannette - who were staying in a 10-room hotel in the town for four days, which was almost full.

They said that Ella is remarkable with natural beauty and their train ride from Kandy to Ella was the most fascinating and glamorous ride they ever had in their lifetime, even though they have travelled to number of other countries earlier.

P G Sunil Premasiri, President, ETTDA told the BT that the Uva Chief Minister by letter dated 2/12/2010 has indicated to the Ella PS that the continuation of the ‘Dump’ in Ella city would become a grave threat to the tourism industry and would become a major health hazard. In fact by letter dated 10/12/2010, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has identified Ella area as a vital tourism resort area and has requested the Uva Tourism Ministry to provide necessary assistance to set up a tourism information unit on a land already assigned for this purpose. Mr Premasiri said that their organization has been communicating with different government authorities, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa to solve not only the scar – the ‘Dump’ that would destroy Ella tourism - but also the other perennial problems like water supply, muck oozing from the dilapidated drainage system and the road network in the area that are full of potholes.

The debacles that the Ella tourism area faces is a fine example of the double standards followed and the utter negligence of the SME sector of the tourism industry by the authorities. Some SME travel sector businessmen told the BT that the government though talking a lot on helping the SME tourism sector, is almost entirely concentrating on helping the kingpins of the Sri Lankan travel industry.

The ETTDA pointed out that though the authorities have identified this area as a vital tourism region, nothing comparative to other such areas like Negombo and Hikkaduwa has been done. It is a fact that many tourist groups are coming to Sri Lanka on full-board basis and the deal is transacted in the country of origin and this arrangement precludes these travellers from taking food from outside. Even the inland travel arrangements are also pre-decided and pre-paid. But the survival of the small hotels – the cream of SMEs - is on the food that the tourists buy outside the holiday package and this is the share that the state authorities have to ensure for the tourism trade SMEs while enhancing their other promotional activities.

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