The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference, which saw international experts commending Sri Lanka for its efforts towards peace and reconciliation, may help increase potential future inflows of international trade and investments, foreign attendees at the event said. European Union (EU) Parliamentarian Istvan Ujhelyi, who was in attendance at the conference themed ‘Tourism: A Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation’ in Passikudha, said that he would act as an ambassador for Sri Lanka in the EU parliament.
“We need actions from politicians not all these speeches, concrete actions. That’s why I would like to give a concrete sentence. I would like to give you Sri Lankans this; I promise to help you in the EU and promote this great nation and wonderful island,” he said. He added that he would also help promote Sri Lanka tourism among the various EU member states. The conference saw Sri Lanka Tourism and Eastern Province officials highlighting investment needs into the country’s east coast, especially in the areas of tourism and hospitality.
With Sri Lanka’s Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP Plus) application set for debate in the EU parliament in around five to six months, support from Ujhelyi and any other EU lawmakers would be crucial. Earlier this year, Sweden had pledged its support for Sri Lanka in a wide array of future trade and investment projects, including the tariff-free trade programme GSP Plus. British UNWTO Expert and former International Federation of Tour Operators President Martin Brackenbury stressed that countries recovering from conflict such as Sri Lanka need to be clear about their post-war image and communication strategies to become successful.
He added that tourism has a symbiotic relationship with foreign relations, industry, trade, culture, media and research and development. Sri Lanka is also gearing up to negotiate a trade agreement with post-Brexit UK. Sri Lanka lost many trade and investment opportunities, including GSP Plus, after the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2010 brought on allegations of human rights violations against the Sri Lankan government during the latter stages of the war. But the message from the UNWTO this week was very positive.
“Sri Lanka is a peaceful, unified and welcoming nation. Peace is essential for tourism but tourism is more essential for peace, that is more important,” UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said. He added that during a period of deficiency in tolerance—possibly referring to xenophobic trends in the UK and the US, as well as a recent spike in global terrorism—Sri Lanka is one of the few bright spots. “This is a good country, there is a spirit of unity, pride and dignity spreading around the country,” Rifai said.