World Tourism Day falls on September 27. Tourism is a big business that benefits many globally. It does not only help hoteliers, but it aids those who are associated with the tourism industry culturally and religiously, with many natural attractions on offer.
Tourism provided the oxygen required for the country to survive the present economic crisis. An increase in the inflow of tourists depends on the quality of the product Sri Lanka offers tourists. The latest statistics before the advent of the Easter Sunday terror attacks and COVID-19 show Sri Lanka receiving a record number of tourists in 2018.
There has been a significant increase in tourist arrivals recently after Tourism Minister Harin Fernando appointed Priantha Fernando as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA). The Sunday newspapers highlighted that the former Coordinating Secretary to the State Transport Ministry, Dr Aroha Fernando, was appointed the new Coordinating Officer to the Tourism Ministry by State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage.
After April 9, the tourism industry was greatly affected. The tourism industry is the second largest dollar earner for the country. The Aeroflot plane dispute, free from Sri Lankan Government intervention, drastically curtailed the inflow of Russian tourists to Sri Lanka. However, it is encouraging to note that Aeroflot has decided to resume flights from Moscow to Colombo on October 9, 2022. However, if the country suffers social and political instability, the tourist industry will again be dealt a heavy blow. The JVP leader maintains the youth are ‘only fighting against corruption and debauched the economic policies of the country.’
The SLTDA needs to identify the segments of the market. The new Management team always understands the supply and demand of the product. Tourists have different visions in their minds – some prefer to lie on the beach until they are bronzed, although some white people hate the ‘coloured skin’, and the rest may visit culturally significant sites.
Professor Raj Soma Deva said on TV that Sigiriya had been identified in 1981 as a World Heritage Site. “We still have 2000 years ago the perception.’ Nevertheless, the management generally needs to move with the times.” Irrespectively, Professor Raj Soma Deva says there are two versions of Sigiriya: some claim it is a Fort, and others say it is a Town. If Sri Lanka needs to promote Sigiriya to attract more tourists, we must select the best option. Professor says many people visit Sigiriya daily, but on average, 63 per cent (of foreign visitors are charged) US$ 30 per person. According to the professor, 40 percent of the income would be sufficient to make all payments to Sigiriya staff. It was long ago when H.C.P Belle recorded Sigiriya as a Fort, and people thus believed it was a fortress. But later, Professor Raj Soma Deva thought it was a leisure garden or a town.
He further disclosed that “the Eastern side of Sigiriya is infested with wild animals, including elephants and serpents. That area needs to be developed”. Professor Raj Soma Deva added that. “If we are keen to develop tourism, this will generate more dollars by making it safe for tourists and utilising the Eastern part of Sigiriya. Generally, foreigners have not seen wild animals and reptiles, and all they want to do is photograph them as souvenirs.
Additionally, medicinal gardens, which account for Ayurveda and traditional medicine (coming down through ancestry), will not only boost Sri Lanka’s economy. Professor Raj Soma Deva has spent more time in his career in wildlife. He states that each tourist spends 1.2 minutes to three hours in Sigiriya. Other areas and cultural events that could be developed for tourism are the Dalada Perahera (famous procession) and the Pidurangala temple, which is not far from Sigiriya.
Tourists from Western countries such as Germany, Switzerland and England like to take photographs as souvenirs of their trip. We must encourage them to do so, rather than our officials saying: “Photographs are not allowed in Sigiriya”. There are reasons to stop taking photographs of statues and pictures because flashlights may damage paintings. Still, we need to move ahead with the times, says Professor Raj Soma Deva. “The technology is so advanced today that there are the latest cameras to photograph without the flash. The authorities should, in such instances, issue a separate ticket specifically for photographers using modern cameras by granting special permission, which will help boost the country’s income. It should be the way to improve tourism and revenue simultaneously.
The Professor also delved into the nightlife in Colombo and other cities. He says, “Sigiriya closes at 5 p.m. Why this is so, he cannot fathom.” To boost tourism, we must cater to the needs of tourists where they can enjoy the nightlife. Various hotels have specific day festivals to entertain tourists. Countries such as England and Switzerland have appointed Night Mayors to deal with nighttime activities to boost tourism. There is no point in covering our heads with cultural wrappings while harming the tourist industry.
Usually, in Sri Lanka, darkness or the night is associated with many unpleasant occurrences. It could be burglary, prostitution and all negative aspects of life. Professor Raj Soma Deva wants to know whether ‘Thovil’ or Daha Atta Sanniya (a form of exorcism) is done during the day or night. He mentioned a seminar in London about Night Life was that was held in 2017, and Night Mayors were introduced. Later the same technique was used in Zurich and many other cities covering authentic tourism. Going far back as the Mahavamsa, he noted that night administrators were in charge of nightlife even then. Instead of being left as dead cities, his view of the above would benefit the tourists and locals to enliven the cities with some form of entertainment rather than being confined to their hotel rooms at night.
picture credit: Daily News