By Chandeepa Wettasinghe in Passikudah Passikudah, located in Sri Lanka’s east coast, could become a prime contender for casinos and gaming in Sri Lanka, industry stakeholders said yesterday on the sidelines of the United Nations World Tourism Organization Conference on ‘Tourism: A Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation’.
Passikudah is one of Sri Lanka’s top tourist d e s t i n a t i o n s , w h i c h currently has about 1, 200 rooms. Hoteliers, who wished to remain anonymous, gave thumbs up for the controversial subject, along with the government’s interest expressed last week. “It would be great. There has to be some entertainment here. There will be greater income for the area,” one hotelier said. When asked if there would be any social implications, they noted that if the activities are confined to the resort area, there would be no problem
Tourism Hotels Association of Sri Lanka President Hiran Cooray had in the past championed such a theory, asking for gambling to be allowed but confined to the former tourism flagship resort project area of Kalpitiya, in the North West of the country. The Kalpitiya project had gone to shambles under the previous regime, and the new government is attempting to revive the project with studies into investment plans currently underway.
The incumbent government, while in the Opposition, had rallied religious leaders and civil society to quash the hopes of the previous regime to set up casinos by international casino moguls such as James Packer, as well as to expand the limited local casino chains. The opposition had noted that prostitution, drugs and a vibrant black market would materialize if gambling was allowed in the Western Province. However, Sri Lanka is well known for such activities in the sphere of tourism, especially along the south western coast.
“A lot of people oppose it here, but I don’t know about it in the North and East,” Tourism, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga had responded to Mirror Business on a question on the government’s current standing on casinos in Colombo during a media briefing last week. Meanwhile, experts noted that Passikudah is a long holiday destination,
compared to the short-term stays of gamblers. However, with the opening of the Batticaloa Airport for commercial use, the travel time between Colombo and Passikudah could become as little as 2 hours, compared to around 6-8 hours in the past. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and China have managed to set up successful and well regulated gambling operations in the recent past.
Batticaloa to devise its own tourism plan
“Try to promote regions. That is how tourism can develop,” she said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too had conveyed such a message recently. Charles said that Batticaloa will focus on several types of tourism, including, but not limited to sun, sea and sand, agro-tourism, educational tourism, adventure tourism and religious and cultural tourism. She noted that Batticaloa’s tourism has expanded despite several roadblocks. Charles added that there are also shortcomings in creating demand, and intrinsic challenges in demography, economy, geography and political conditions.