Tourism should not remain primarily in the hands of elitist business entities. It should involve people. The benefits of tourism must filter down to peripherals and the masses, stated Deputy Minister of Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena.
He said so at the opening ceremony of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) 23rd Annual Conference themed ‘Mainstreaming Tourism in the Media,’ participated by delegates from South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific.
‘This is why we have focused our attention on areas such as developing home-stays, bringing Small and Medium supply chains to the mainstream, and promoting lesser known attractions’, he said.
This conference is indeed timely, because it coincides with an economic watershed, towards prosperity for our people. For instance, last year’s tourist arrivals of 654,000 was the highest recorded, nearly a 50% growth from the previous year, he pointed out.
Arrivals continue to grow with over 40% increase in January and 14% in February this year, compared to the same months in 2010.
This is one indication of the rapid economic recovery, the Deputy Minister noted adding, there is a massive infrastructure development taking place in the country with a new International Airport, Sea Port and Highways.
Sri Lanka is a case study for those who are studying, deliberating and sharing ideas on the role of media in tourism, he added.
Deputy Minister Abeywardena recalled that Sri Lanka protected its tourists even during the conflict in spite of all adverse media reports and tourists were the strongest and credible communicators to the outside world.
He added that Sri Lanka’s many attractions and hospitality are the country’s strength.
With regard to the democratic values he said the provincial elections held recently in Sri Lanka paved way for political parties, especially Tamil parties, to be elected and that itself is evidence of democracy if one considers their past alliances.
International tourism earnings has recorded a recovery last year, with an increase of arrivals by 6.7% to USD 935 million. The growth is expected to continue for the tourism sector in 2011, even at a slower pace. ‘But, these figures do not mean very much to us unless they serve the true purpose of sustainable tourism’, he stressed.
‘UNWTO plays a significant role in responsible and sustainable tourism. In fact our previous master plans were developed by experts of the WTO and these plans helped us to remain in business even in difficult times as we always believed in planned tourism development.’
The Deputy Minister said creating awareness of attractions and providing access, particularly for free and independent travelers will enable the industry to reap benefits.
Development zones that have opened up in Sri Lanka, mainly the islands off Kalpitiya, and the Eastern Stretch in Kuchchiveli, will offer unique experiences for the visitors, the Minister said adding, ‘the investors’ confidence is evident with the investments of Sharigri La and Catec and other international chains who are also talking to us now’.
Tourism in Sri Lanka is clearly on the rise and will continue to do so with the new developments in the country and the improved economic situation in the world, said Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of UNWTO.
He said that the centres of growth in tourist markets are now moving towards Asia and the emerging economies especially Chin, India, Russia and Brazil.
'This is a significant factor to be taken note of'.
Regional cooperation and intra-regional activity was necessary for the growth of tourism taking note of the principle that what is good for my neighbour is good for me, he said.
Dr. Rifai also said that the human activity sector was very important for the growth of tourism as seen by the current impact of the Cricket World Cup, the recent Commonwealth Games in India, the World Exhibition in Shanghai and the Football World Cup in South Africa.
He added that the media should be made a partner for the progress of tourism and should not be considered an adversary for every adverse report published tourism must be able to generate a hundred percent good report, he said.