Confusion reigned at Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit 2017, which kicked off Tuesday, as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reintroduced the arrival targets to the country’s tourism policy.
“Minister (John Amaratunga) and I had a discussion with the members of the Tourism Task Force yesterday.
We said we are going to aim for five million tourists and we will put in a timeframe and we will have a report available, hopefully in the next four to six weeks, which will then be made available to all stakeholders,” Wickremesinghe said. He said Sri Lanka has to aim for the tourists of 2025, instead of catering to tourists of 2010.
Following his speech, however, the conversations in between the sessions at the summit were rife with doubts over the practicality and wisdom of setting such a target.
“It’s not the numbers. It’s not the five million or the 10 million (tourists). At the end of the day, we want the quality of tourism,” Minor Hotels CEO Dillip Rajakarier noted and went on to say that some attractions in the island are bursting apart from their seams due to over visitation.
Cinnamon Hotels Brands Vice President Dileep Muddadeniya pointed out that the country has to carry out a proper carrying capacity study to see how many tourists can be sustainably accommodated in the island. Wickremesinghe’s latest policy direction comes just one month after the unveiling of the Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Ministry’s Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020 (TSP), which moved away from setting an arrivals target. When queried in an earlier instance, Jetwing Group Chairman Hiran Cooray told Mirror Business that he was for moving away from an arrivals target-based approach. Another expert, veteran hotelier Srilal Miththapala too endorsed the government distancing itself from arrivals targets under the TSP. “It (the TSP) focuses on the quality and experience with sustainable development and therefore does not dwell too much on sheer numbers, which I think is a good thing,” he told Mirror Business. Experts such as Australia Tourism Deputy Chairman Andrew Fairley, who were consulted on the TSP, had advised against settling up a tourism arrivals target. The government has continuously set ambitious tourism arrivals targets—which have not been achieved since 2014—despite a clear indication that the tourism boom earlier spurred by the peace dividend is coming to an end.
Euromonitor International Research analyst Jocelyn Cheung places Sri Lanka’s compounded annual tourist arrivals growth at 6.7 percent, between 2017 and 2022. Based on these projections, reaching a five million arrivals target from the 2.05 million arrivals last year may take a significant period of time. However, the Pacific Asia Travel Association had projected a more favourable arrivals growth rate of around 12 percent for Sri Lanka during this period. Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe went on to say that with the country’s macroeconomy in relative stability, the government will push for infrastructure development—which is key to increasing arrivals to Sri Lanka.
He said that the southern stretch of the island between Colombo and Hambantota will be the main focus to take advantage of the country’s two international airports. This is despite Amaratunga last week saying that the government may limit further hotel development in Colombo and opinions held by academics that the southern coast has already exceeded its carrying capacity. Wickremesinghe also said that another corridor for tourism will be fostered between Katunayake and either Kalpitiya or Kandy. He added that thousands of acres of land are available on the east coast for tourism development and the islands in the Jaffna peninsula will be developed for cruise tourism. (CW)