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Ambitious plans to achieve tourism goals

In 2010, while presenting the Mahinda Chinthana - Vision for the Future policy document, President Mahinda Rajapaksa set a goal for the country to attract 2.5 million tourists annually by 2016. For a country just emerging from a conflict situation, this was indeed an ambitious target.

"The good thing about such an ambitious target is that it demands a strategy to achieve results," said Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa.

MP Namal Rajapaksa at the Shangri-La premises in Hambantota

Addressing a Central Bank public lecture, he said accordingly, in 2011 the Ministry of Economic Development, under the guidance of Minister Basil Rajapaksa, presented a master plan named 'Tourism Development Strategy 2011-2016' towards achieving this target. "While defining a set of clear objectives which further elaborated the main goal, the strategy identified five areas that the Government and the industry need to focus on," he said. With the conflict ending, tourism arrivals have increased and new airlines are now flying to Sri Lanka while existing airlines are adding capacity to meet the demands of tourists coming to Sri Lanka. It is to meet the growing demand that the Government started building the country's second airport at Mattala.

While the Government is investing heavily on the development of the road and railway network, new transport solutions such as sea planes and city taxis have emerged during the last two years. With more three-wheeler owners voluntarily deciding to fix meters for their taxis, this unique transport solution has also become a key attraction among tourists. The railway network is also being upgraded and we would see more tourists travelling by train in future.

"After the end of the war against terrorism, one area where we have been extremely successful is the city beautification program initiated by the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. Today many tourists claim that Colombo is one of the cleanest cities in Asia. The World Bank-funded US $ 223 million Metro-Colombo Urban Development program will further enhance the city's cleanliness and beauty. The Ministry of Defence and Urban Development is working hard to extend the same concept throughout the country," Dr. Godahewa said. Apart from accommodation and transportation another key challenge for the industry would be manpower.

"The total direct and indirect workforce in the tourism industry at the end of the conflict was less than 125,000. The additional manpower requirement of the industry over the next five years was estimated to be more than 300,000 of which a substantial number was indirect employment opportunities.

This is a significant challenge for the country and perhaps is an area of concern currently because we have not been able to put in place a proper plan yet to address the manpower requirement. "I believe that the training aspect has to be divided among vocational training institutes of the State, in-house training by the industry itself and also by private educational institutes which would also create a new business opportunities.

We will also have no option, but to accept the reality that we may require a small percentage of expatriate workers to handle skilled jobs at the initial stages, he said.

Even though tourism is generating only a small fraction of our national GDP, it is an industry which is vital for the global economy. In fact, tourism is one of the world's largest and fastest growing economic sectors. This sector directly represents five percent of global GDP and 30 percent of the world's services exports. It generates close to three billion US dollars per day in overall export income and ranks fourth after fuels, chemicals and automotive products.

Benefits from the industry would also give economic benefits to hoteliers, tour operators, ticketing agents, tour guides, airline staff, transport providers, tourist information providers, craftsmen, artistes, performers, translators, event managers, restaurant and guest house keepers, home stay providers, fishermen, farmers and street vendors.

One classic example is the building of the Shangri-La Hotel in Hambantota; employment has already been offered to rural youth in the area.

 

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