Tourism: Mandatory for service providers to register | Sunday Observer

Tourism: Mandatory for service providers to register

Tourists at a beach.    File pic: Lake House Media Library
Tourists at a beach. File pic: Lake House Media Library

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) will make it mandatory for all tourism related service providers to register with Sri Lanka Tourism to conduct businesses henceforth, a senior official of SLTDA said last week at a media briefing on the recent attacks on foreign tourists by locals.

“We will make it mandatory that all tourism related service providers such as hotels, guest houses and surf training centres to register with the Ministry of Tourism to ensure proper standards are met and the safety of visitors are assured,” he said.

Minister of Tourism John Amaratunga said the Ministry will get down the tourists who were attacked and bear their cost of travel and accommodation until investigations are over. We will do our utmost to ensure the safety of all tourists and punish those who harass and cause inconvenience to visitors.

However, what was apparent was that Sri Lanka Tourism officials were stuck for answers when journalists posed questions on the recent assault on Dutch tourists at Mirissa and what caused the delay to nab the culprits or at least conduct an investigation.

A Dutch male and two other female tourists were brutally assaulted early this month when they tried to prevent a sexual assault on a woman. The group of travellers had visited the Surf Bar at Mirissa and while they were having dinner the restaurant waiters had tried sexually harass a women.

Journalists questioned why steps were not taken to close down the restaurant which according to the SLTDA is a non registered establishment. The said hotel had served liquor without obtaining a license.

A tourism related establishment needs to obtain approval from the Excise Department and Sri Lanka Tourism to serve liquor.

It was also pointed out that inadequate tourist police units across the country and the incompetency of police officials to converse in English and other foreign languages at stations are a major impediment to ensure safety of travellers.

“We will take steps to set up more stations across the country and in particular along the coastal belt where tourist throng most,” the minister said.

Police Media Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said around Rs. 80 million has been allocated under the last budget to develop resources in the police department and added that 20 locations have been identified to set up police stations across the country.

“We have secured land for the station at Mirrisa already and work on the unit will commence soon,” he said.

Currently only 11 location across the country have tourist police stations.

The first tourist police station was set up at Queens Road in 1960.

President Hotels Association, Sanath Ukwatte said that he was glad that for the first time the government is about to take stern action against violators of the law and by bringing them to book.

“We must act fast and stop the practice that tarnishes the image of the country when the tourism industry is aiming at becoming the number one foreign exchange earner to the country providing both direct and indirect employment to a large number of people,” he said.

President Colombo City Hotels Association, M. Shanthikumar said city hotels have not been affected so far, but stringent measures should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents to preserve the image of the country.

“Proper law and order must be maintained at nay cost to ensure the safety of travelers local and foreign both. Incidents of this nature are more common in coastal areas such as the down South where tourists gather most,” he said. Currently there are around 30 city hotels with 5 to 6 being built. Sheraton Hotel is expected to be opened by the end of this year.

When asked about cancellation of bookings Shanthikumar said there were no cancellations during and after the Kandy or recent incident at Mirissa.

“We have maintained around 60 percent occupancy in March and during the season from November to March it was around 75 percent,” he said. The police represented at the media briefing assured that a proper and impartial investigation would be carried out to nab the culprits and ensure the safety of travelers to the country.

Following the arrest of four person suspected of the sexual and physical assault on the group of visitors in Mirissa steps have been taken by the police to conduct an identification parade by the victims of the attack.

The incident which caused outrage in the industry was made known only though the media as the victims nor any other party had not lodged a complaint with the police.

The minister said that action cannot be taken without a complaint been made. Tourists who are victimised must lodge a complaint and they also must knot travel or mingle with unknown persons.

However, when questioned how could the country be a safe location for travelers as stated through promotions when visitors come under sexual and physical attacks and been asked to take extra precaution.

Having faced a barrage of criticism for failing to rise to the occasion the minister sought whether the service of the STF could be obtained if necessary to ensure maximum protection of visitors.

On previous occasions too foreign visitors have come under assault by locals in guest houses and on the beaches. Beach boys have been accused of trying to take undue advantage of tourists but there is much more to what the eye could see.

It has come to light that certain locations where tourts have come under attack are run by politicians and those who carry out attacks are protected by politicians so much so that the law enforcement officials are unable to discharge their duties impartially.