Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Ministry Additional Secretary (Development) Shirani Weerakoon (centre), Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Paddy Withana (centre right) and Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Director General Malraj Kiriella (right) with other officials donating wheelchairs for tourism sites Pic by Damith Wickramasinghe
Emphasizing on the accessibility issues for differently-abled tourists, the Sri Lankan government yesterday said that the country should increase commitments towards sustainable tourism, at the celebrations of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) World Tourism Day. “This year, the theme of ‘tourism for all: promoting universal accessibility” is of great relevance to us here in Sri Lanka as we are now on the cusp of rapid growth of tourism infrastructure development and the hotel inventory,”
Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said.
He said that Sri Lanka should plan to provide accessible tourism by creating the basic facilities needed to ensure the safety and comfort of physically challenged tourists and by using technology to remove barriers for those with special needs such as visual and hearing impairments.
“It is therefore opportune that the UNWTO has declared universal accessibility for all as a theme for this year’s world tourism day. I call upon our industry stakeholders to take note of this year’s theme to make the global goal a reality,” he said.
He said that accessibility must not be confined to hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, but extended to transportation, support services and information dissemination as well.
“Although much has been done in recent years to provide access to all, and notwithstanding the fact that it is a statutory requirement in this country, we must come to terms with the fact that a lot remains to be accomplished,” he said.
Tourist Hotels Classification Committee Member Wijitha Perera told MirrorBusiness that even though the new government standards enforced since this April requires a graded hotel to have 1 room and 1 public toilet for special needs tourists on the ground floor, it is difficult to regulate all the old hotels.“It is difficult to find and force all the old hotels. But we are fully aware that the new hotels will have 1 room for the disabled for every 25 rooms, and any hotels coming for reclassification will also have to comply. We give them 3-6 months to do the renovations, which some are already doing,” he said. Perera noted that the hotels had told the Committee that they had ever needed only 2 rooms for the disabled at a given time, even though no studies have been conducted into seeing how many differently abled tourists visit Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Paddy Withana said that every tourist, regardless of disabilities, age, etc. should have the same right to enjoy tourism, and that there is a need to improve facilities in view of the ageing world population. Meanwhile, Amaratunga said that Sri Lanka’s tourism industry should be sustainable for the country’s environment and its people.
“We must resort to ecotourism practices wherever possible, and protection of the environment should be the top of the tourism agenda,” he said.
Noting the growth of the tourism indicators, he said that the benefits must trickle down to the grassroot levels, and not remain with 5-star hotels.
However, the luxury hotel lobbyists seem to be making some headway with the government in its attempt to limit the benefits and avenues of growth of the small scale tourism entrepreneurs. (CW)