We are living in an era where time-tested centuries’ old cultural values and traditions need to be interwoven with the marvels of modern technology and the concepts of a global village. It is in this light that Sri Lanka joins the global community tomorrow in marking World Tourism Day with the theme this year being, “One billion tourists, one billion opportunities.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a message to mark the occasion called on the world to work together to maximize the immense potential of tourism to drive inclusive economic growth, protect the environment and promote sustainable development and a life of dignity for all.
Every time we travel, for whatever reason, we are part of a global movement; a movement that has the power to drive inclusive development, create jobs and build the sustainable societies we want for our future; a movement that builds mutual understanding and can help us safeguard our shared natural and cultural heritage, the UN tourism office has added in a statement that lifts tourism to a higher vision and dimension with noble goals. “This year on World Tourism Day, we want you to talk Tourism. Help us raise awareness of the important impact tourism has on countries and communities around the world and its potential as a force for good, creating a better world for all,” the UN office says.
According to Sri Lanka’s Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), up to August 31 this year 1,172,465 tourists came to Sri Lanka compared to 1,001,643 in the same period last year. In July this year, we had 175,804 tourists and in August 166,610, significantly more than the 133,971 in July last year and the 140,319 in August. Up to the end of August this year, the highest number of 377,340 tourists were from Western Europe followed by South Asia 280,499 and East Asia 242,857.
According to the SLTDA, Sri Lanka hopes to have 2.5 million tourists by the end of next year. It says the strategic development plan of Sri Lanka tourism has the core objectives of serving the needs of stakeholders and ensuring that economic benefits are distributed to a larger cross section of the society, in line with the national effort of making Sri Lanka the emerging Wonder of Asia.
In recent times and especially during the past five years, there was an unfortunate tendency to focus tourism on dubious objectives such as casinos and related vices, with some politicians and planners even talking about turning Sri Lanka into something like Asia’s biggest gambling den of Macau. There was also a trend to confine tourism largely to society’s elite sections like five-star hotels, but the new National Government is working out a strategy to focus more on cultural tourism and draw more Western tourists to Sri Lanka’s hallowed sights which date back to more than 2,500 years with their religious, cultural and archeological value being priceless.
Until the war and despite the war, Sri Lanka has been widely respected worldwide for its hospitality and graciousness, especially towards foreigners. We need to maintain and further develop this virtue because often strangers are just friends whom we do not know. Another important aspect is to strengthen security for tourists. Last year, after a delay of more than three years, the Colombo High Court found Pradeshiya Sabha Chariman Sampath Vidanapathirana guilty of killing 32-year-old Khuram Shaikh, an International Red Cross aid worker, who had tried to stop a brawl at a southern beach resort on December 24, 2011. The UPFA politician and three others were sentenced to 20 years in jail for murdering the British holidaymaker and raping his Russian partner. In Weligama last Sunday, a British tourist who was reportedly consuming liquor at a restaurant was alleged to have been stabbed by a Sri Lankan after they got into a brawl.
For Sri Lanka, it needs to be 2.5 million tourists and 2.5 million opportunities to promote sustainable economic growth and a life of dignity for all.