Sri Lanka: Tourism in self-destructive mode

Our tourism ministry and hotel industry are simply killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

by Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra

( August 23, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I read with considerable scepticism the Tourism Ministry’s new “strategic plan” to focus on increasing tourist spending, rather than tourist numbers.

Sri Lanka’s hotel and restaurant industry already provide Third World services at First World prices. By imposing minimum hotel rates the government effectively kills the competition that may contribute to a change in this status quo.

Wealthy tourists rarely visit Sri Lanka, as there are far better destinations with better amenities closer home. The typical Western tourist who comes to our shores is either a backpacking student or a lower middle-class couple, who have saved for many years to have what is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Yet many Sri Lankans seem to equate white skin with wealth, and coupled with the widespread “beggar mentality”, this quickly alienates people who could otherwise be Sri Lanka’s best tourism ambassadors in their own countries.

As for the Chinese and Russian markets, these visitors usually come in tour-groups and payments are made in their home countries.

Sri Lanka will never match, say, Thailand in attractiveness, simply because our hotels and restaurants are over-priced. The Thai government also does not practice the discrimination that the Sri Lankan government does with regard to foreign tourists. Sri Lankan tourism developers have a “get-rich-quick” mentality which is harmful to the real development of the country. A clever businessman thinks long-term: he knows that winning the trust and loyalty of customers through providing satisfactory, honest and reliable services is the best way to market his product and stay for the long haul.

Foreign visitors, from the time they arrive at the Colombo airport, are harassed by all kinds of touts and con-men. Those who are independent travellers (not staying in private homes or luxury hotels, and not part of charter groups) are especially vulnerable. Why the airport authority, in conjunction with the Tourist Development Board, cannot provide pre-paid taxi services at the same rates for locals and foreigners, as is done in many other Asian airports, is beyond my understanding.

Furthermore, what “Sri Lankan values” does a tourist learn who has been forced to pay several thousand rupees to climb Sigiriya, explore ruined cities, obtain a pavement seat for the EsalaPerahera, or visit the Dalada Maligawa? Surely World Heritage Sites belong to citizens of the world and not just to Sri Lankans. And the irony is that it is often these visitors’ governments that are paying for the maintenance of these sites through international agencies. Isn’t this practice of charging one rate for locals and a much higher rate for foreigners, despite the fact that some locals are far richer than many Westerners, simply racist? In any case, can we know how much of the dollars collected at such sites ends up in the public treasury?

Instead of hiring expensive foreign PR agents to promote Sri Lanka abroad, why doesn’t the Tourist Board read the large amount of research that already exists on how to make tourism a means to alleviate poverty rather than making more Fat Cats?

Our tourism ministry and hotel industry are simply killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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