December   
2009

Vol 9 - No. 6


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SOUTH ASIA: SRI LANKA


 


                       
       (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
         map are not members of SAARC)

Don’t Play ‘pandu’ with Tourist Business

What was the Maldives before 1973? A nation more or less dependent on the export of Maldive fish. But, after 1973, the Maldivian policymakers realised the potential of their archipelago and started what could be termed as the most successful tourism operation in South Asia. Currently, tourism and related services constitute more than 30% of the Maldives’s Gross Domestic Products.

Long before the Maldives was even being considered as a tourist destination, Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean was well-known for its mesmerising beaches, pleasant weather all-through-out the year, the hill country, dynamic culture and the hospitality of its people.

However, the wretched separatist war that dragged on for nearly three decades, significantly smudged Sri Lanka’s image as one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world. As a result, tourist advisories from many countries transformed the earlier tourist haven to a tourist hellhole. This directly impacted the economic health of the country and the livelihoods of those who made a living out of tourism.


Now the war is over and an era of peace has dawned in the country. Undoubtedly, this is the time for the tourist industry to settle its old scores. This is the time for the Sri Lankan tourist industry to unfold its wings and lure the world to visit the country and make them spend their disposable incomes – a luxury that we Third World citizens cannot afford to enjoy.


Attracting more and more tourists is indeed the need of the hour – it is really pathetic to see how a musical chair competition has begun among policymakers. For the second time this year, the tourism minister has been changed without a proper explanation.


The latest competitor to join in this musical chair competition is National Freedom Front (NFF) MP, Achala Jagoda. He has succeeded another NFF Parliamentarian Nandana Gunatilake, who had not held the post for more than three months. Before Gunatilake, it was Milinda Moragoda, who was suddenly appointed as the Justice Minister.


So, the most basic question we have to ask is ‘what the hell is happening at the Tourism Ministry?’ In the post-war Sri Lanka, it is not at all incorrect to regard the Tourism Ministry as one of the most important ministries, because, simply put, this is where we can earn a buck.


When MP Nandana Gunatilake was appointed the Tourism Minister, from the promotional tagline to the way of preparing official documents were changed. He started inviting public contribution in determining a new promotional tagline to replace ‘Small Miracle’ and the ‘good morning’ official documents changed to ‘Ayubowan’!


In addition, new appointments were made and some of the officers who have been serving former Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda were made to go home.


Of course these are the privileges a minister enjoys. If he feels that the things should be changed in his ministry, then they should be changed. If he feels that the approach of the former minister to address issues pertaining to his ministry was not sufficient, he should adopt a new approach, employ new officers, new promotional taglines etc.


However, where the problem lies is how frequent should these changes take place? Will it be in every three months, six months or on a yearly basis? And the biggest question we all have is can the country afford to act haphazardly at this moment?


Newly appointed Minister Achala Jagoda, quite similar to his predecessor, may start an endless journey to find a tagline and preparing a master plan for Sri Lankan tourism. When he is on the verge of presenting it to the country, he will be replaced by another. If this cycle goes on, what will happen to the country’s tourist industry?


“We don’t know what the hell is happening? Every time we go to the Tourism Ministry building there is a new banner hanging on the gate, wishing a new Tourism Minister.” This was what an hotelier had to say when we asked him what his sentiments are about the musical chair competition.
Everybody is of the view tourism is a ‘peace industry’ and peace is the catalyst for the growth of the business. Ok, now we have peace, but what are we doing? Tourism evidently is the success story of Maldives. Maldivian policy makers had a clear vision for the industry and realised how much it can contribute to their economy.


It is also noteworthy that along with the clear-cut policies and a vision, Maldives had only its shiny beaches. These were the only assets they had to offer to the tourists who visit there. But, what a whole lot Sri Lanka can offer to a foreigner who visits her? With the dawning of peace, the diversity Sri Lanka can offer has broaden to new heights as the tourism potential of the newly liberated Northern and Eastern Provinces are immense. Already there are several blue chips who have invested in building luxury resorts in these areas.


So, to conclude, let’s not make this another missed opportunity, because Sri Lanka has had enough of them. May the policymakers realise the magnitude of the loss the country may incur, if they continue to play ‘pandu’ with the tourist industry, which indeed has the potential to transform the country’s economy for the better.

[Editorial in The Bottom Line]

 

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