The revival of tourism, a top agenda of the Government, is a commendable move to revive a highly lucrative industry which should aim at recording 10 million in the number of tourist arrivals per year to boost State coffers for accelerated development, said Asian German Sports Exchange Program Founder and a tourism industry expert Dr. Dietmar Doering.
He said reviving the tourism industry that brought in the much needed foreign exchange to the country by making Sri Lanka a destination that attracts 10 million visitors per annum will boost economic growth. “With dwindling foreign reserves and ever increasing State burdens, the need to revive the tourism industry is vital for the economy.
On one side, the State is confronted with meeting huge costs to keep the public sector alive. State employees’ salaries, cost of healthcare and education, public transport and numerous social subsidies to meet the needs of the underprivileged sections of society are some of the major challenges which could be addressed through a stable and solid inflow of foreign exchange,” Dr. Doering said.
Earnings from the tourism industry and foreign remittances were severely affected since March this year due to the global pandemic that resulted in the number of tourist arrivals dropping by around 70 percent in March and since then recording no arrivals due to the closure of airports.
“Servicing debts owed to international lenders as such from the World Bank, the IMF and others are set to be another herculean task to be tackled. The decision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not to seek funds from international bodies is the right decision, since one of the tendencies of these lenders is to include terms embedded in collateral conditions which for example affect social or food subsidies. This can be detrimental to social peace and harmony.
He said creating investment opportunities can be a way out but cannot be realised in a short period. We must take a cue from Vietnam, which started tourism almost at the same time as Sri Lanka aiming to reach 11 million in annual tourist arrivals, after already enjoying over 10 million in the number of tourist arrivals in recent times.
“The infrastructural set up in Sri Lanka is a challenge, but neighbouring countries have shown that developing it is possible if there is will to drive development.
China built complete turnkey airports in eight months. If Sri Lanka needs to cater to 10 million annual tourist arrivals it needs new airports as an essential infrastructure element. Roads and transportation have to be improved. The network of highways in the country which enables reaching all corners of the island in a short time is commendable.
He said incentives should be provided to the SME sector tourist businesses to increase accommodation in one, two and three-star hotels.
“Steps should be taken to promote home stays. Social bonding is a vital promotional aspect to ensure repeats of visitors and home staying plays a major role in this sector.
Enabling the SME to participate in the creation of new accommodation facilities should be encouraged by the government,” he said, adding that promoting sports tourism will help attract large numbers to the country.
Promoting sport tourism usually centers on individual sports such as golfing, wind and kite surfing, diving, marathons or Iron Man events and hiking. The events are organised by National Sports Associations or other interested groups with the aim of listing individual sports persons to participate in these events. The number of participants differs from sport to sport.
Team sports is a segment which should not be underestimated. Germany, for example has a large number of sports clubs listed under the National Sports Association (DSB) with over 30 million active members in over 40 kinds of sports.
Addressing the lower and middle standard clubs to engage in sports programs with Sri Lanka’s national teams, club and mercantile teams had been the subject for the Asian-German Sports Exchange Program for the past 30 years. With rather limited marketing, over 5,000 Germans visited Sri Lanka to take part in reciprocal sports exchange programs with their Sri Lankan counterparts.
Since most of the German participants had been ‘first time to Sri Lanka travellers’ a significant number of repeaters were registered in the years after the sporting events.
The newly appointed Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa witnessed this program which could be extended not only to Germany but to many other nations.
Cricket and rugger teams being invited to take part in sports exchange programs would be beneficial to Sri Lanka’s sports scene and to the hospitality sector.