From Left: Police Spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara, Tourism Development Ministry Secretary Esala Weerakoon, Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga and The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka President Sanath Ukwatte
Pic by Kithsiri de Mel
- But urges tourists must also hold some responsibility for their actions
- THASL President concerned by thugs in coastal areas backed by local politicos
Sri Lanka yesterday pledged to protect tourists visiting the island nation as much as possible following a spate of attacks on foreigners, but stressed that the responsibility of protecting tourists falls on the tourists themselves, as well as every Sri Lankan citizen.
“We will try to protect tourists as much as possible,” Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga told a press briefing yesterday. He shared this measured view after earlier guaranteeing the Sri Lankan government’s ability to provide ‘absolute safety’ to tourists, for which he was questioned on how the government could protect tourists seeking authentic experiences off the beaten path and whether the government was over promising.
Amaratunga in the past had claimed that Sri Lanka was the safest country in the world for tourists to visit, but recent incidents have proved otherwise. Two incidents of assault and sexual harassment on tourists were reported from Mirissa over the past two weeks, and the policing standards surrounding the sexual harassment case were cast under a spotlight yesterday, further questioning the ability of the police after it failed to control racial violence in the Kandy district last month which in turn drew international attention and may have adversely contributed to the country’s tourism potential going forward.
Amaratunga, earlier this year, was condemned on social media for victim blaming, after he had said that a tourist who was raped had herself to blame, since she had gone hiking late in the evening alone.
While defending his position with regard to this past statement yesterday, Amaratunga said that tourists must also hold some responsibility for their actions which may lead to troubling situations.
“Tourists should not associate themselves with unscrupulous people, take unknown tuks or unregistered vans, or stay in unregistered accommodations. It is the responsibility of the tourists to ensure their safety too,” he said.
While admitting that the ultimate responsibility of ensuring the safety of a tourist lies with the Sri Lankan government, he said that the government cannot protect tourists at every location they visit, but that 11 popular tourism spots are being monitored by Tourist Police, while a further 22 locations will be monitored in the near future.
Not just foreigners, but local women too are harassed on a daily basis in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte said that it is the responsibility of all Sri Lankans to be moral and create a conducive environment for tourists to feel safe in.
“But tourists should also be aware of the culture in Sri Lanka. We don’t let our daughters go out alone at night,” he said.
Ukwatte went on to say that tourists have been experiencing harassment and assault from locals for years.
“This is not a new thing. There’s a big mafia in the south coast. Our managers get harassed if they try to take action. Even the police are helpless because the offenders are backed by local politicians. The law must be enforced, irrespective of who it is,” he said.
Police Spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara ruled out political involvement in the two recent attacks in Mirissa.
Amaratunga said that he is hoping that these incidents do not point towards a pattern of discrimination against foreigners.
“I hope they are isolated incidents, but I don’t know whether there is a design to bring disrepute to Sri Lanka,” he said.
Amaratunga expressed fears that if these types of incidents continue, tourists would not return for visits to Sri Lanka. He said that the government has set a target of US$ 4.5 billion in tourism revenue for 2018, and is working towards making tourism the leading foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka. (CW)