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Reviving tourism

Plans are underway to attract more tourists into the country with the ending of three decade war. Already, Sri Lanka Tourism has launched a new promotional campaign with the new destination tagline 'Small Miracle" to capture the international markets.

Of course it is time we come out of the traditional concepts of tourism viz. our golden beaches, ruined cities and salubrious hill country. Tourism all over the world has moved a long way into wider reaches. For instance, there is now natural animal parks where wildlife roam in their familiar habitats which is a major tourist draw in many countries.

For Sri Lanka, with its abundance of fauna and jungle landscape this offers an attractive prospect which our tourism officials should consider exploiting if we are to bring in tourists.

Even the Maldives one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, has moved beyond its beaches to promote new concepts to attract more tourists. Incidentally, a large bulk of tourists who used to visit Sri Lanka shifted base to Maldives during the war years. We should now try to get them back adopting a new sales pitch, with the freeing of the country from terrorism.

True, the unsettled conditions in the country saw a drastic drop in our tourist arrivals. The various Travel Advisories issued by the Western Governments too did not help. Tourism was among the main sectors that took a beating during the three decade long conflict.

Now with the return to normality no time should be lost in getting the tourist industry back on track. In fact, the return to peace could well herald a steady influx of tourists as in the not too distant past when the country's major hotels and resorts enjoyed a booming trade.

But for this to take place, there needs to be a concerted campaign abroad. Mere changing of brand names alone would not suffice. It should be a combined effort of the Tourist Board, industry players such as the travel agents, hoteliers and not least of all our envoys overseas. An appropriate theme line should be crafted out to reflect the new independence gained by the country after its liberation from terrorism.

Such a campaign theme no doubt would interest the holiday maker who will be keen to experience the novelty. More than anything they would be eager to enter a country that has just regained its independence which itself offers unending prospects for the industry.

We say this because the newly liberated North and East offers a vast tourism potential which had been lying dormant all these years. No time should be lost in bringing together all these facets to offer a most attractive package to the tourists.

Therefore, immediate steps should be taken to revive the tourism sector and make it a prominent feature in the Government's Northern Spring Program envisaging the rebuilding and reconstruction of all devastated tourism infrastructure. A separate blue print should be drawn up for the North which in the pre-war years was a major tourist attraction with its network of lagoons, sandy beaches and relics of the Dutch and Portuguese eras.

Tourists would also be keen to visit vital landmarks in the country's war. With its abundant waterways, canals and placid waters, the region could also be developed into a haven for aquatic sports and advertised as a popular destination for exotic sea food. All this, needless to say would open up unending avenues for employment in the North and East which would be a god-sent opportunity to this long impoverished regions.

The Tourism Ministry would do well to invest in setting up hotel schools and similar training centres in that part of the country to enable youth to assimilate into the vocation. With the vast potential in the North for Tourism, steps should be taken to promote the region with extra vigour.

The Government should also think of giving a value added product to the new generation of tourists. For too long have been catering to the economy tourist. As mentioned, new ideas should be infused into the current tourism set up so as to make tourism a major money spinner once more. Concepts such as eco tourism should be introduced and expanded to attract the high paying sophisticated traveller.

Another aspect the planners should factor in is domestic tourism. Today there is a vast scope and potential in this area which sadly the authorities have been neglecting while paying attention to only the foreign tourist. It should not be forgotten that it is this segment that kept the cash strapped industry afloat during the lean times. They therefore deserve special attention. More features of amusement and activity should be introduced to swell the ranks of domestic tourists.

Today, most local tourists cannot afford the packages offered by resort hotels for family outings. Also there had been reports in the media of how certain hotels mete out shabby treatment to local tourists excluding them from certain domains, practising a kind of apartheid.

Hopefully, with the anticipated heavy influx of foreign tourists in the coming days, their local counterparts would not be cold shouldered once again.

With the dawn of peace the many avenues that were shut out due to the years of strife are gradually unlocking themselves. Tourism is one such sector that is set to take off after years of inactivity.

It is hoped that the relevant authorities would take maximum advantage of the unfolding opportunities and make tourism the country's main money spinner as it was not so long ago.

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