Fresh approach to Tourism

By Cheranka Mendis in Trincomalee daily mirror-logo

War in the east is finally very nearly over. Brand new opportunities await those who wish to grab it. Acres and acres of land stretch out on both sides of the road, desolate yet marshy. Land for the future, for development, for growth. Sun shines bright, sandy shores beckon the visitors and the sea waves crash down gailya?? Our East, the virgin land of opportunity.

The Tourism Ministry along with local provincial councils have laid high hopes on this land for Sri Lankaa??s future development. Plans are many, hopes are high: but it is all a matter of time and careful planned management (and community management). a??Eastern Province is having its take-off following years of war and destruction. Tourism is on top to ignite this system into life. Lives will change, many will get jobs and Sri Lanka can once more look at a financially bright future,a?? says Chief Minister of the newly constituted Sri Lankaa??s Eastern Provincial Council Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pillayan. a??For the past three decades there has been no development in the East; we are adamant to change it,a?? he says. Thus the partnership with the Sri Lanka Tourist Board.

a??Tourism is the first to benefit from a situation such as this. Before we look at the foreign market, it is important for us to look at the domestic market.a?? said Deputy Minister of Tourism Faizer Mustapha adding that tourism as a mechanism can be used to empower the livelihood of the people of the area as well. a??Perhaps people may think that the East is not safe but East is as safe as any other part of the country excluding the North. There is diversification here, much potential and hidden treasure.a??

Together funds are being allocated to revive the east. Rs.115 million from the North East Coastal Community Development Project (NECCDEP) has been assigned under foreign funded projects for tourism, said Secretary of Chief Minister, S. Mamangarajah, out of which Rs. 30 million has been allocated for the development of Kinniya hot wells and Rs.2 million for wild life conservation. Kallady beach, an important feature in Batticaloa has been allocated a sum of Rs. 15 million as well, he said. The Batticaloa Dutch fort, Kalkudah Railway, Batticaloa Bay beautification and environment training centre phase one at Polomenanadu are all part of the upliftment and development programme. A hotel school in Trinco is also to be expected in the near future.

No ad hoc erratic development!

a??Even though we need development in this area and should take multiple tourism initiatives to promote this area of Lanka further, we will not give way to ad hoc development like in Hikkaduwa,a?? said Mr. Mustapha, identifying a critical point in unplanned sprawling development that characterises several coastal areas elsewhere. a??We will go by constructive planned development in the east.a?? a??We will have to maintain a balance between the stomach and the bigger picture, we do not want the East to turn into a mass of concrete buildings,a?? he said. The Deputy Minister alleged that they are hoping to zonalise the coastal lands under the Tourism Act and thereby go towards planned development. a??If we take development in Passikuda, an inclusive process will be followed where the local people also reap the benefit,a?? he said. a??Also we will keep the development in an eco friendly manner.a?? These are good sentiments; what remains is the political will and transparency to follow them.

While often the priority, understandably, is attracting international tourist dollars and setting foreign standards (despite the global downturn), a topic that was much stressed is the improvement of the domestic tourism segment. Currently domestic tourism is very limited in Sri Lanka. With careful planning and integration Sri Lankans themselves will be able to enjoy quality holidays within the country for affordable prices. Infrastructure and accommodation facilities should be developed soon to this end. The National Strategy for Sri Lanka Tourism published by the Tourism Board targets by the June 2009 a Domestic Tourism Directory to be launched with refurbished SLTDA accommodation by the end of 2010, among many others. If we do keep up to the targets and their deadlines, tourism can definitely look at brighter prospects in the near future. This is especially so since a joint collaborative effort can be seen at this early stage by both the Provincial Council and the Central Government.

Priority: infrastrcture

With all due respect to the government officials for their efforts in capturing most of the land in the areas claimed by the terrorists and the following hardships faced amidst the threatening global recession, many in the area still believe that tourism would not increase as fast as they would wish. For one, the infrastructure facilities are yet quite poor in the East with bad road conditions in some parts and poor accommodation qualities throughout. If we are to increase the growth of international tourists, these aspects should be looked into in depth. For example it was said that only 6 guest houses are available in Batticaloa and most of the time they are occupied by those in various NGOs. No doubt private initiatives, carefully supervised, can easily sprout good attractions for the traveller and tourist.

However, it must be pointed out positively that major road upgrading is already well under way towards Pottuvil Cheap levlen generic and Arugam Bay, albeit under tight military protection. Furthermore, telephone mobile coverage is quite impressive, even as though the red and white transmission pylons rather spoil the lovely green landscapes that one sees as one travels through (green and white might be better!). Airport facilities too will help ease tourist flows (cutting Colombo suburban traffic jams) provided extreme care is taken on location.

Caution prevails

The overall security situation, at first hand observation, still is not as robust as one might expect, though clearly huge advances have been made. Even though it could be argued that strong security measures are a necessity in the East right now and for the immediate future, it also creates restrictions of access; checkpoints and high visibility of weapons, all which are disconcerting would hold back tourists from freely moving in the region. Why take a chance, the foreigner might say? Especially in the evening charm of Batticaloa, a sight that greets the eyes of a visitor is that shops are closed around 8.00 pm and after dark people do not wander about like in Colombo; signs of uneasiness still prevail there.

A police constable who wishes to remain anonymous stated that Batticaloa is not as safe as the authorities make it sound. a??There are civilians who belong to certain terrorist groups still about and they carry weapons. They would take it out once in a way just to create chaos and friction within, ita??s still not safe,a?? he said. Commenting on tourism the official, who has been in service in the area since the MOU in 2002, stated that development in the area will be quite slow and a??It will be a long time before the situation is completely under control.a?? Another noticeable occurrence was the lack of English or Sinhala newspapers in the area. Not one could be found and only Tamil papers were to be seen, and many locals do not understand Sinhala and English; therefore if tourism is to reap the full benefit all of this, it should be looked into in depth.

Additionally, the government, together with provincial council authorities who know the terrain more intimately, must conduct a major security sweep of the Yala East jungles and such like forest tracts in the East to rid these of scavenging terrorists who are now increasingly isolated, desperate and acting sporadically; this will also be a major shot in the arm for hopeful tourists. In particular the Kumana region remains uncertain.

Trincomalee is still a paradise for sure. The beaches and the sea are clean and inviting unlike the coast of Arugam Bay (a??sea as warm as warm teaa?? as a colonial is said to have observed). Since Arugam Bay is now famous for surfing and other sea sports, it is important to keep it in better and more appealing conditions. The beach is dirty and some adjoining bays see an accumulation of flotsam and jetsam, and debris from fishing communities mar any thought of hygienic sea baths.

According to Managing Director of Tourism Promotion Bureau, Dileep Mudadeniya, a major surfing competition is to be held at Arugam Bay in June 2009 and it will continue to early July. This would serve as a Mecca to surf lovers world over to visit Order mircette generic birth Arugam Bay. If this is to set its mark as a definite tourism destination, then there is still a lot for the authorities to do in advance. The Ministry and Bureau expressed their willingness to have an event similar to what is held in Hikkaduwa annually, bringing in a large number of tourists and income to the area but such events will need careful prevent management.

Human conditions need emphasis

Despite the fact that infrastructure and such touristic aspects should be developed, the people in the area should not be forgotten. Many are unemployed; others are those without permanent employment, basic necessities for survival are scarce at certain points. Those living at Vakarai are the best example among many others: no water, no sanitation and no health care. Few of them sharing their thoughts with the Daily Mirror FT said that they feel neglected and isolated. a??So much of concern for tourism and foreigners now. We have to develop our country, we understand. But they should concentrate about us too,a?? they said. There are 8000 TMVP cadres out of which 25% are unemployed. An approximate and staggering 45,000 war widows are in the Eastern province and around 25,000 are under the age of 25. Clearly tackling all these issues is a major task for the government and clear thinking will be a most valuable asset.

However, developing the tourism industry will develop the livelihoods of the people as well, says Deputy Minister Mustapha. Micro, small and medium scale enterprises would get substantial support with the increasing tourists in the country. Right now only about 45% of MSME service providers are mainstream and known to the Tourism authorities. The rest are unknown and are lacking support. The advantages of this are many. They have the ability to fuel regional development, reduce unemployment and build clusters of value creation. Thus development of tourism would invariably benefit many parties.

Travel trade views of the East

According to the Manager, Walkers Tours Limited Mr. Dilshad Sadiq, tourism development will take time to properly establish itself. Pointing out that airfares are now pricey for Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka is no longer considered a cheap destination. a??Sri Lanka is not very comparable yet; the cost is higher in coming to Sri Lanka than going to a country like Thailand,a?? he said. a??Given that the war will end by the end of this year, it will take at least two years to create a background of security, build up quality and good accommodation for tourism. But for proper understanding of hotel management and tourism, at least 5 years will pass.a??

War is not yet completely over. And when it does, first the concern will be on humanitarian efforts and then development and then accordingly, tourism. Patience is a virtue that should be exercised with great care for the next few years. Pieces of puzzles which are the ideas now should be pieced together, and then, only then, can we achieve a noticeable increase in the tourism sector. Long term strategies should be implemented with its motives prioritized and then the East will be on its way to development.


Our soldiers have paved the way; it is the politicians that now have to come to the front line. The real battle for 2010 and beyond is now the socio-economic one:A? to see development realised in the region in a planned and timely manner and for accruing profits to be shared across a lot of stakeholders a?? not just hoteliers or politicians. Until the social and humanitarian dimensions of the East are addressed properly and quickly, tourism by itself may flounder.


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