ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tour operators have say a decision by the government to not to take action against hotels built on the coast illegally, which may have been contributing to the rise in crime against tourists.
The Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tourist Operators (SLAITO) said after a brutal attack on tourists at a beach bar in Mirissa, it was decided to remove unauthorized constructions on the beach.
However the Coast Conversation Department had been later been ordered to halt the removal of the illegal hotels in Mirissa and Weligama beaches, apparently on orders from above, according to reports.
“SLAITO members are disappointed to hear about the suspension as this issue is being monitored by tour operators who are waiting to see a swift response from authorities as they are responsible for the safety of tourists they send to Sri Lanka,” the association said in a statement.
Reports said some of the illegal constructions and bad service to tourists belong to politically powerful individuals directly or indirectly connected to local authorities, some of whom are new to the industry.
In Tangalle local politicians and their henchmen had been arrested for killing a British tourist and raping his girlfriend.
“The illegal establishments identified for removal are a compliance and safety risk and have resulted in creating a dangerous and unsafe perception of Sri Lanka tourism,” SLAITO said.
“This is probably the worst public relations for the country at a time when the government is relying on the tourism sector to bring in precious foreign exchange.
“SLAITO entreats the Government to proceed with the initial decision, as not coming down hard and strong on such attacks against tourists will effectively kill the industry and keep tourists away for fear of more such attacks.
“Undoubtedly, by suspending the effective and punitive measures that were taken, other disruptive elements will be emboldened to copy such attacks which go against the culture and hospitality of Sri Lanka itself.
“At a time when the country is striving to earn foreign exchange, the growing influx of tourists not only supports the economy but also creates livelihoods for many along the supply chain.
“Therefore, any leniency in implementing the law, especially in a high profile case such as this; which has received worldwide attention, will result in negative word-of-mouth publicity that will take years to correct.
“However, if swift and decisive action is taken at Mirissa as publicly announced by the Minister of Law and Order to remove illegal establishments, coupled with punitive action against the culprits, it will send out a strong message to the world that Sri Lanka respects tourists and that their safety is of paramount importance.”