The need of policy framework and regulations for Sustainable Tourism (Economic wealth distribution, protecting environment, promoting social values) was the focal point of Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Dr Nalaka Godahewa at the evening public lecture organised by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) and held at the CBSL training centre auditorium last evening.
In response to a question raised by a member in the audience on the effect of environmental pollution which will be massive with some provincial council elections confirmed to be held in a few months Dr Nalaka Godahewa requested that any media personnel present in the audience should educate the public and those involved in election campaigning about the adverse effects of defacing the environment and its natural beauty. Making our cities look beautiful and clean is very important in this respect he stressed.
He said there were a lot of measures that the Government was taking towards infrastructure development such as improving road and railway network, constructing domestic air strips and sea plane jetties, convenience centres, and performance art theatres. He claimed that everything that was needed to attract tourists could not be done by the government alone and that private sector participation in this process was vital. “The private sector can participate in the hotels sector, taxi services, sea planes light aircrafts, golf courses, shopping centres, theme parks, Marina’s, race courses and hotel school to name few areas,” he said
He presented the following figures on rooms planned to be constructed between 2011 – 2016, to accommodate the 2.5 million tourists projected to arrive in the country by 2016.
Godahewa also emphasised on the need for more man power to service the industry with the increasing number of tourists due to arrive in the country and went on to enumerate the staff that would be needed to handle the increased inflows of tourists starting from expatriate work force which estimated at 5%. Speaking of training the additional workforce he put down vocational training at 15%, in-house training by the industry at 30%, training by private educational institutes at 20%, and the unskilled & semiskilled work force at 30%.
Giving importance to improving domestic tourism he emphasized that improvements to the infrastructure network, especially the roads and railways were needed to accommodate faster inland travel. He said this process had already begun to take shape and would make inland travel faster, safer and convenient. Dr Godahewa said, the Government was focusing on developing lesser known tourism attractions for both domestic and overseas clientele and was also strict on implementing the guidelines on food hygiene and safety standards when approving restaurants and hotels. “In anticipation of the support of the SME sector, grant of loans and concessions to improve accommodation and other conveniences for tourists have been facilitated,” he claimed.
He said revival of the ‘old rest house’ concept to support domestic tourism was a vital step, stressing that 90% of the rest houses were currently being managed by the private sector as an encouragement to domestic tourists. The persons running these rest houses were being granted loans at low interest to upgrade them with clear guidance on quality standards, appearance, menu cards, accommodation facilities etc.
In addition to these 10 traditional markets, China (16,308 - 56%), Russia (21,385 - 61%), Japan (20,586- 43%) were emerging markets promising a growth in tourist numbers with a need for those in the tourist industry to acquire some knowledge in Mandarin and Russian languages. The Government he said had given consideration to this problem and started a dialogue with these countries to examine the possibility of training some school leavers and interns from universities till competent persons are obtained
Talking of marketing he said, “Foreign missions have been requested to play a more aggressive role in tourism promotion. They have also being advised to recruit specialised staff from within the country as marketing officers attached to the mission, since internet and social media is fast becoming a key influencer in travel decisions,” adding that factors such as convenience of travel, quality of accommodation, convenience of access to information, quality of service providers, value for money in products and services and sense of security influenced decisions to travel and information relating to them and that tourists liked ease of access to information.
Referring to tourism as the best answer to negative publicity of the anti Sri Lankan lobby Dr. Godahewa said a country’s image was critical and a good brand image of the country was essential to influence the way it was perceived by the people you want to communicate with.
“We believe in public relation (PR) which is powerful than advertising. More than 182 foreign journalists visited Sri Lanka in 2011 on our invitation. In 2012 it is planned to increase it up to 200. It is envisaged that the implementing of a sustainable tourism development policy based on creating economic value will help raise the overall standards of society, conserve the natural environment and provide a pleasant experience to tourists visiting the country,” exhorted Dr. Godahewa
Showing some pictures of echo friendly accommodation and an award winning holiday cabana at Maduruoya designed by a Sri Lankan architect the tourism chief stressed the importance of having green solutions for sustainable tourism.