Regional Cooperation Essential in Tourism Sector: Arundika Fernando

Arundika Fernando, Deputy Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka

Kochi: India, Sri Lanka and Maldives should join hands and promote them as one destination to ward off competition from regional rivals in the tourism sector, said Arundika Fernando, Deputy Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka.

Speaking to Destination Kerala in Kochi, he said competition is not among three South Asian countries. “From Sri Lanka’s point of view there is no competition with India. The competition is from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam etc. We have to face it. One thing we are doing is to develop domestic airports. We are also looking forward to have a cruise lane. India, Sri Lanka and Maldives should be promoted as one single destination,” he said.

 “If a tourist comes from the US, he need not necessarily have only Sri Lanka in mind. He may want to go to Maldives, come to India, and visit Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. All these countries should come together for the common good of the regional tourism,” Fernando said.

The Tourism Minister, however, added that though there is competition among regional countries in the tourism sector, the scope for cooperation is always there. “If a tourist comes from the US, he need not necessarily have only Sri Lanka in mind. He may want to go to Maldives, come to India, and visit Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. All these countries should come together for the common good of the regional tourism,” Fernando said.

According to him, the Ministry of Tourism Development, Sri Lanka is focused on destination promotion with specific emphasis on seven major markets. “We had over 30 years of conflict (civil war). Even at that time one of the key areas which helped us gain revenue was tourism. After 2009, we are remaining really focussed, hoping to achieve four million tourist arrivals by 2020. Right now, revenue from tourism stands at $2.94 billion. We are targeting $7 billion by 2020. To achieve this goal, we are promoting Sri Lanka with a new theme, ‘eight experiences in eight days’. Our focus is on seven major markets – China, India, UK, Germany, France, Russia and Italy. Also we are planning to tap Australian market. SriLankan Airlines will be operating daily flights between Melbourne and Colombo starting October 28 this year.”

Apart from highlighting beautiful beaches, scenic spots, mountains dotted with waterfalls, tea industry, sports, ayurvedic spas, meditation, flora and fauna, the Tourism Ministry is also focussing on religious and heritage tourisms. “When we talk about religious tourism, it is largely focused on Indians visiting temples and pilgrimage sites. Buddhist festivals are also attracting tourists in large numbers,” he said.

The island nation is also planning to increase its national room inventory to 45,000. Today, the industry’s employment generation stands at around 1,30,000 and we are aiming to double it, Arundika Fernando said. “Our target is to raise the per capita spend of each visitor from the present $165 per night to $250 per night soon. Then there is the opportunity for MICE. The Government is always supportive and is canvassing top companies to organise their events in Sri Lanka,” he said.

The Minister added that Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has been focussing on regularising the informal sector and is considering a permanent system for waste management. “We will bring some amendments to laws and regulations specifically related to clubs and alcohol licences. There are also a lot of boutique hotels and homestays. We are in the process of bringing them into the mainstream,” the Lankan Minister added.

Regarding collaboration between Kerala and Sri Lanka, Fernando said his country is looking forward to investments from the God’s Own Country. “We want Kerala people to come and invest in Sri Lanka’s tourism sector. We are giving our land on outright or long-term lease. Apart from these, we should have exchange programmes. I always suggest exchange programmes for students. Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management is one of the oldest institutions in Asia. Right now there are about 3000 students and we have increased the intake to 6000 students. I invite Kerala students to come there. People can also invest in Ayurvedic system in Sri Lanka,” Arundika Fernando said.