Proper infrastructure vital to promote tourism | Daily News

Proper infrastructure vital to promote tourism


Reviving tourism in Sri Lanka does not take a herculean effort; it does not require a faith that moves mountains, nor does it require a crystal ball to gaze into the future. What is required is an attitude of love towards the Motherland and an attitude of boldness. The Daily News speaks to State Minister of Tourism, Diana Gamage on the future of tourism in Sri Lanka.


Q: What are your latest plans to bring in tourists to Sri Lanka and thereby bring much needed foreign exchange to the country?


A: 2023 is a crucial year for Sri Lanka when it comes to the economy. Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue in Sri Lanka. My plan is to make sure we bring in large numbers of tourists into the country. But to invite tourists to come to Sri Lanka we need a proper infrastructure. We need to have proper facilities. At the moment I see a lack of these facilities in the country. My main area is to make sure that we have these facilities which will bring these tourists to Sri Lanka. I also think that we need to look into avenues, ways and means that we have not promoted before in Sri Lanka. Those are my plans for this year.


Q: Can you comment on the role that the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) is playing to bring in tourists?

State Minister of Tourism Dayana Gamage
Pictures by Wimal Karunathilaka


A: The SLTDA in the past year has done quite a lot of work. Tourism has done well compared to the years before. I would say that they have done a good job. By December 2022, we had at least 800,000 tourists. We made 855 million US Dollars last year through tourism. I would like to take tourism back to the 2018 era.


Q: In 2019 the Easter bombings happened. In 2020 we had to deal with COVID-19. Now we are experiencing an economic crisis. Have tourist arrivals gone up during the last few months compared to these last few years?


A: Yes. Definitely it has gone up. I think in 2021 we had only 190,000, and by 2022 it came to 800,000. That has been quite an increase in tourism. Now throughout the world, COVID restrictions have been removed. I think Sri Lanka has also taken off the restrictions. From 2023 onwards my plan is to really work on tourism.


Q: What are your projections for the year 2023 when it comes to tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka?


A: I am looking at lots of international pageants. Especially international events in Sri Lanka. I want to make sure that Sri Lanka becomes a destination for international events that will attract tourists. That is something I am working on right now. I want to make sure that I start a few events this year that will continue for many generations. I want to develop it more and more.


Q: What is your vision and what are the long term goals of the Ministry of Tourism?


A: My vision for Sri Lanka is to bring it up to the standard of Singapore. I want Sri Lanka, one day, to be a country like Singapore. I want it to be an international hub, where we can invite tourists, not only for entertainment and tourism, but as a business hub as well. We need to bring the country to that level. I want Sri Lanka one day to be the number one destination in the world for tourism. So we need to create those facilities. That is my dream and vision.


Q: What do you consider the greatest threat to the future of Tourism in Sri Lanka?


A: I would say that there is no such thing as a threat to tourism in Sri Lanka or for any tourist in this country. There may be a few random and rare incidents, but Sri Lanka is a safe place. It is a safe place to come to and travel to. With our economic status as a bankrupt country we are having a problem with dollars. Then we have the electricity issues, which is a major issue actually, because we cannot supply electricity 24/7. So we need to work on that problem. Like I said before, this is just the facilities. We need to build these facilities.


Q: What are the budget proposals aimed at developing the tourism sector in the country?


A: This time in the budget there has been a lot of money allocated to tourism. Tourism is an industry. Mostly it is private. The hotels and restaurants are private. People are doing their own thing and even the shopping destinations and the food festivals are being done privately. We have to encourage these people and give them the proper facilities. We need to establish proper rules and regulations to go ahead with it. These are things that have to be done through the ministry, and this is what we should do. We need to encourage people more and more. We need to open up Sri Lanka with more facilities. We need to recognize certain aspects that we have not recognized before to promote tourism in Sri Lanka.


Q: How much funds has been allocated from the Budget to develop tourism in Sri Lanka?


A: I cannot give you an exact figure. But we have been allocated quite a sum towards tourism.


Q: How do you plan to make the best use of limited resources available?


A: My idea of promoting tourism is this – I am trying to spend less and get more. That is how I look at things. Less spending and more revenue. There are some things that we don’t need to spend money on. But there are things we have to spend money on as well. So we need to differentiate. We need to recognize which areas these are. My idea is to lessen whatever we can in spending and try to gain more revenue.


Q: It is no secret that Sri Lanka faces competition from other countries in the region when it comes to tourism. How do you intend on addressing this challenge?


A: Tourists go to India mostly for cultural purposes. Sri Lanka also has a rich culture as splendid as most other countries in the region. We have so much to offer as a country and as an island. We have culture, sports, sun, sand and the sea. We also have entertainment to offer. We are second to none in this region of the world. We should be actually number one. We have everything to offer. Unfortunately, we have not recognized so many of these things that we should recognize. And this is my plan.


Q: How many jobs do you want to create in the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka?


A: With the Easter bombings and COVID-19 and all the problems we have had with tourism, most of the hotels and restaurants had to be shut down. This is also because of the economic crisis. People have not been able to pay their loans and are in debt. We have to try and facilitate these people and give them some relief. We need to re-open these organisations. Once we start re-opening, we also have to provide proper training for the youth who want to join the hospitality industry. This is what we should be looking at. When we create these opportunities there will be more job opportunities opening up. This is exactly my plan.


Q: What are the opportunities available for Sri Lankans in the hospitality industry?


A: Mostly tourism is an industry and it is a private industry. So there are so many opportunities. For instance, take a puppet show. This is something historical – puppet shows in Sri Lanka. These people are private, so we need to give them the support they need. These are all opportunities for these people. When it comes to sports such as surfing, Jet skiing, Kite festivals, there are opportunities there. Then what about the cultural part of it? Such as Sigiriya and other such areas. Beautiful sites. There are so many possibilities there as well. When we go to other countries and visit places, say for instance the Eiffel Tower, there is a souvenir that we can take. I have not seen that in Sri Lanka. These are things that we need to promote. That is my plan. It gives an opportunity to the person, at least to produce it. These are things that have not been looked into.


Q: How much income can we earn from tourism this year?


A: We earned US$ 855 million last year. I want to triple that at least this year. That is my target. I am planning to work on it. Definitely.


Q: Did many tourists come down during the winter season?


A: Yes, there were quite a lot of tourists who came in from Russia. It was obviously very cold there. And also from European countries, we had tourists coming in. This is because of the cold season and the fuel issue. The Russian and Ukraine conflict has created a huge economic crisis throughout the world.

This itself has created fuel problems and gas problems in the winter season and people have been travelling around because of the cold weather. So we have had Europeans as well in Sri Lanka, but not as many as we expected.

I think we were expecting quite a high number. But the electricity problem in Sri Lanka is rather unfortunate. So I guess the word goes around. I think that might have been the main reason why we did not have that many tourists. Electricity is a basic need. It is something that is essential. There needs to be uninterrupted power 24/7.


Q: Is there anything you like to add?


A: I think as a people we need to work much harder than we have worked before for our country. That is why this year is so important. We need investors to come into our country. We need to be united as a people. I have many projects in mind for this year.

I will do my very best and see that these plans come to fruition. I will use my connections for this. My only wish is to serve this country. We need to develop sports and cultural tourism. We also need to promote tourism in the North and East. There is a lot of potential there. Divided we fall, but united we stand.


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