Reaping benefits of tourism | Sunday Observer

Reaping benefits of tourism

Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka has reached an all-time high of 2.1 million in 2017 according to the data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. It has earned a revenue of over 2.0 billion dollars. When compared with post-war 2011 figures of 856,000 arrivals and 839 million dollars revenue, one can assume there is a reasonably good growth in the past 6 years.

Year 2017 may not be suitable to be taken for comparative purposes, since it was a year of serious setbacks to the tourism industry. The first setback was the partial closure of the country’s main airport from January to April where many airlines scaled down operation.

And when the airport was reopened, the southern half of the country experienced devastating floods. This was followed by an unprecedented dengue epidemic cantered around the commercial capital Colombo, that lasted several months.

Economic stability

Tourism is a vital part of the global economy. Generating roughly $1.2 trillion in global receipts in 2011, international tourism ranked as the fourth-largest industry in the world, after fuels, chemicals, and automotive products.The breadth of international travel has greatly expanded in recent years to encompass the developing world.

Seventy five ago, just fifteen destinations - primarily European - accounted for 98 per cent of all international arrivals. By 2010, that figure had fallen to 57 per cent.

In 2017, it had come down to 46 per cent. Once essentially excluded from the tourism industry, Asian cities have now become its major growth area. They are dominating the Top 100 City Destinations.

Although often underestimated, the tourism industry in Sri Lanka can help promote economic stability in the country by providing jobs, generating income, diversifying the economy, protecting the environment, and promoting cross-cultural awareness.

It is heartening to note that tourism development has been identified by the Government as a program capable of effectively driving the country’s socio-economic development.

Key issues

However, a few key challenges must be addressed if these economy-enhancing benefits are to be fully realized. These include, investments in infrastructure and human capacity, the development of national strategies, the adoption of robust regulatory frameworks and mechanisms to maximize foreign currency earnings.

The issues are of two kinds: those for the tourism industry itself and issues for the Government.

The first of these issues is the need to define the relative roles of the local and foreign partners in development decisions on the tourism sector, particularly, decisions in the areas of investment, marketing and operation.

These decisions would have wider economic consequences for the country. It is therefore, essential that investors take care that their actions will not have adverse consequences in the overall interest of the long-term sustainability of the tourism sector.

The second challenge is the need to develop human resources, particularly, local personnel, both, for reasons of delivering quality services for tourists, as well as enhancing the general skills of the local workforce.

Achieving these two broad objectives would potentially encourage sound utilisation of local resources and thus enhance their productivity. In this sense, the spin-off effects are obvious: foreign exchange will be retained locally and further income would be earned.

The third challenge involves the problems facing the local tourism industry that are characterised by a large number of small and medium-sized tourism enterprises. Although SMEs serve useful functions in tourism, for most of them, life is a daily struggle, with many operating at the margin of survival.

They also lack the requisite experience to run tourism business along modem management principles. The real challenge is for Government authorities to help them develop management and marketing skills to overcome their difficulties.

Issues for the Government

The traditional role of the government is to formulate a policy for the tourism sector. Today, the focus has changed because of the rapid and continuous changes in the international tourism scene.

The challenge for the Government is to formulate tourism sector policies that best reflect the new thinking.

Some other important areas needing policy refocusing are the forging partnership with the local private sector and the liberal immigration regulations to facilitate free tourist movement.

Other aspects of policy re-focusing include training in entrepreneurial skills among small and medium level owners.

The most important of all is the formulation of a policy to identify ways in which benefits from tourism activity can be spread more evenly throughout society. As tourism is essentially an export activity, we need to identify some of the elements that are relevant to the long-term sustainable development of tourism.

Despite mounting criticism on the negative effects of tourism development, we must understand that international tourism has come to stay. It is a foregone conclusion.

Secondly, to succeed in today’s tourism development, modern management techniques are necessary. The objective of modern management is to maximise the advantages, contain and mitigate negative impacts.

Thirdly, the development of the tourism sector needs to be supported by large inflows of foreign resources (e.g. financial, personnel).

This brings us to a fourth point, namely, that tourism development cannot be separated from other facets of economy and society.

Merely creating national and regional institutions or planning bodies responsible for tourism is hollow in the absence of a political mandate and adequate resources to do their jobs.

Here lies much of the difficulties with developing tourism from ineffectual policies. This holds the key to future advances in tourism development in the region.

It means, the existence of credible political, commitment on the part of the Government is a sine qua non to the realisation of such strategies.