Development of tourism, responsibility of all | Sunday Observer

Development of tourism, responsibility of all

P. U. Ratnayake
P. U. Ratnayake

The Tourism Industry is a major player in rebuilding Sri Lanka’s economy says newly appointed Director General of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, P. U. Ratnayake.

He made this observation amidst the Sri Lankan rupee falling 3.3% thus far this year as the U.S. dollar continues to appreciate, and financial services company Moody’s Investors Service claiming that the island is among the most vulnerable economies. Addressing the 129th Annual General Meeting of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the rupee depreciation was a result of the increase in the United States’ policy interest rates.

“Sri Lanka is in a severe economic crisis. The answer to this situation is to earn more foreign exchange, and our tourism industry has a high potential of achieving this target,” says Ratnayake who officially assumed his post on April 17 this year.

Last year saw an increase of international tourist arrivals by seven per cent, to reach 1,322 million, UNWTO World Tourism Barometer states. The institution stated that the numbers will continue to increase this year. The same year Sri Lanka managed to attract 2.1 million tourists.

According to SLTDA, last month witnessed a rise in tourist arrivals in the country by 19.0% (a total of 146, 828 tourists) compared to the same period the year before. This shows that the country is heading in a positive direction, but the tourism industry here is yet to evolve further to attract more tourists.

Ratnayake says, if Sri Lanka manages to attract 0.01% or 13 million of the international tourists the nation’s economic crisis could be easily overcome.

“Development of tourism in a positive direction is the responsibility of all,” says Ratnayake, adding that every citizen is a stakeholder of tourism and therefore, everyone has to unite in building the industry.

The key priority of the SLTDA, which plans, regulates, and develops policies in the industry, is to implement initiatives proposed by the Sri Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan (SLTSP) 2017-2020. The SLTSP dictates initiatives that need to be taken by all stakeholders of the tourism industry in order to develop it in a sustainable and responsible manner.

“The Chairman of SLTDA and I are both committed to implementing these strategies. This document was developed following a comprehensive study into the tourism industry and its recommendations are vital for its development,” the new Director General added.

Keeping the SLTSP as the basis, the authority plans to take a number of actions to steer the industry towards development in a sustainable manner. One of the key measures the SLTDA hopes to take is to absorb the informal sector of tourism into the formal sector.

According to the Director General, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector makes up to 65% of the formal sector and 35% of the informal sector, while in some areas the informal sector could increase up to 70%. However, this is a tough row to hoe.

Ratnayake says, they hope to approach the issue by adapting two different strategies. One is what he calls the soft approach where the SLTDA will make the informal sector aware of the importance of getting registered and thereby becoming formal, providing mobile services so that officials will go to the targetted parties rather the other way round, negotiate and be more flexible by taking grievances into consideration and registering them.

The hard approach is where the authority will enforce the law, carry out inspections to identify offenders and take legal action against the offenders.

“We are also hoping to gazette hospitality and tourism services that are not gazetted. They include yacht and caravan services,” Ratnayake says.

Meanwhile, the SLTDA will take more substantial steps this year to develop infrastructure facilities in tourism destinations and potential destinations. He admitted that there is a shortage of basic facilities such as, toilets in most areas, and that this issue will be addressed. In addition, tourism signage will be erected across the island to indicate if the site is a national park, heritage site, waterfall, wildlife park, etc to aid tourists to have a better understanding of the areas they visit, especially, those who find it hard to converse with the locals.

“We are also looking at promoting lesser known tourist destinations in Sri Lanka,” Ratnayake says. The authority has already identified 6,000 such areas, 400 of which they treat as priority, to be developed and promoted.

Ratnayake started working in 1991 as a trainee of the Development Banking Division, Sampath Bank during university vacations. He joined the Sri Lanka Tourism Board as a management trainee in 1995, and worked as an assistant director in the Research and International Affairs Division. Before taking up the post as Director General at SLTDA, Ratnayake worked as Director, Tourism Planning and Development from 2013. He also serves as the industry coordinator to Tourism Programmes at the University of Colombo.

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Individuals posing as guides: SLTDA vows to take stern action against repeat offenders

Newly appointed Director General of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority P. U. Ratnayake assured that necessary steps will be taken to stop individuals posing and working as tourist guides in the country.

Despite it being an offence to work as a tourist guide without a valid licence, there are local and foreign individuals involved in the service without legal documentation.

This has created tension among licensed guides who claim that encroachment of such persons are hurting their opportunities and at the same time delivering unauthentic information regarding Sri Lanka to tourists.

Currently, the SLTDA is collecting information regarding offenders.

“We will first write to these guides and warn them. If they repeat the same offence we will take action against them based on the evidence we have,” Ratnayake says.

The SLTDA will also take stern action against travel agencies that facilitate unlicensed tourist guides. 

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