The tourism industry and its evolution originally started in European countries. Nationally and internationally, tourism originated by travelling one destination to another. People travelled around their own and neighbouring countries at the beginning.
There were lots of reasons for travelling to world destinations – for leisure, finding business opportunities, education, visiting friends or sometimes it was a religious purpose. After 1950s, different nations wanted to travel around the world more. This motivation was mainly due to the development of the air transportation mode. This caused to widen world travel and tourism activities. This situation opened the doors for many tourism-related business simultaneously all around the world. Today, this is the world’s largest and fastest growing service industry.
Sri Lanka is one of the South Asian countries reviewed by the World Tourism Council. It has specified the relative values of gross domestic product, employment generation growth pattern and tourism investments with the ranking of Sri Lankan tourism in the world, with its absolute size and importance.
Tourism in Sri Lanka has come into its own as brand- Sri Lanka tourism. The creation of niche tourism products like eco-tourism, Ayurvedic tourism, adventure tourism, cultural tourism, wildlife tourism and nature tourism widen the net of this service sector.
Inbound tourism is booming and the country is going all out to lure more tourists from around the world. Contrary to the perceptions across the world that tourism in Sri Lanka is still confined to traditions, the country is opening up with trendy tour packages and affordable air travel deals to inbound visitors from every segment.
The tourism industry is one of the largest services in Sri Lanka and this sector provides heritage, cultural, medical and business tourism. It is expected that the tourism sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product will grow highly in the coming years.
The Sri Lankan tourism sector has been flourishing in the recent years due to the improved connectivity to and from the country. Better accommodation facilitates at the tourist destinations have contributed to increase foreign tourist arrivals.
The policies and rules and regulations implemented by the Government of Sri Lanka have also been instrumental in providing the necessary boost to the Sri Lankan tourism industry and attracting many tourists every year.
Sri Lanka offers various tourism options due to its rich biodiversity, attracting tourists from all over the world. The country boasts of natural treasures like sandy beaches, mountains, rivers, rainforests, etc.
In this background, to grow the tourism industry and make a significant contribution to the national economy, Sri Lanka has to focus on increasing the average spend by a tourist per day, in addition to boosting the arrivals.
In Sri Lanka, tourism earns the third largest share in after remittances and textiles and garments. Therefore, we have the huge opportunity to attract more tourists to Sri Lanka. But to achieve this target, we have to identify our strategic potentials and the uniqueness to compete our main competitors, especially considering about the South Asian countries.
Although the tourism industry is expected to continue to grow, the poor planning and management of this growth and limited diversity of tourism markets and products are contributing to the lack of value-adding opportunities and limiting the per capita visitor expenditure.
As a tourist destination, Sri Lanka can compete with other destinations successfully partly because of its unique natural and cultural resources. Therefore, to grow the tourism industry and make a significant contribution to the national economy, Sri Lanka has to focus on promoting new sustainable tourism markets.
A fresh approach has been to promote the sustainable tourism market segments such as eco-tourism, community-based tourism, green tourism, which could minimize the negative impacts and concern about the host community highly.
The basement of the tourism industry, ‘mass tourism’, has become a massive threat to the industry itself. A solution to recover the damage for most of the host country’s environment and unique culture has become sustainable tourism. Even in Sri Lanka, at present, most of the tourism projects are conducted under the sustainable tourism concept.
Sri Lanka’s sustainable tourism strategies may bring significant socio-economic benefits to the host communities such as job opportunities, cultural identity, preservation of cultural sites, expansion of education, development of infrastructure facilities, etc.
Therefore, sustainable tourism is the best concept, which has a wide range of resources to implement new tourism market products. While fulfilling the country’s foreign exchange need, it helps to conserve the host culture and environment and offer maximum economic benefits to Sri Lanka.
It also encourages travelling and getting the unique experiences without harming the destination. Sri Lankan lifestyle, local food and beverages, the proud culture, uniqueness of the climate zones and the hospitality of our people with smiling faces are some of the unique symbols of our tourism industry.
It is necessary to set up the legislations and codes of ethics for the tourism industry, including for the government, tour operators, developers, travel agents, workers as well as the host communities and tourists.
Some progress points on the sustainable tourism industry the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority has achieved are:
Several key principles the Sri Lanka government has followed are:
As stressed at the beginning of this topic, tourism is expected to resume its rapid growth compared with the past few years in the near future. This growth can be harnessed not only for the employment of tourists themselves but more importantly for maximizing economic benefits and thus increasing the living standards of the host communities and counties.
At the same time, unless corrective measures are taken, it is bound to have negative environmental and socio-cultural impacts on those communities. Sustainable tourism strategies have gone a long way towards minimizing this negative impact and ensuring that the economic benefits of tourism can contribute to the environmental protection and sustainable use of natural resources.
Finally, to achieve this mission as a country, amongst other things, genuine community participation, greater technical and financial assistance, human resource development and industrial capacity building are key requirements.
Given the potential importance of tourism activities on national and international efforts to reduce poverty, there is a strong case for promoting sustainable tourism activities in Sri Lanka.
(Kalani Chamodya Kottahachchi is a visiting lecturer in tourism (Kelaniya University/Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE) and an attorney-at-law)
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