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‘Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future of Sri Lanka

Original Date of the Article - Tuesday, September 24, 2013
For: World Tourism Day 2013 for Chamber of Tourism and Industry - Sri Lanka 
By Jithendra Antonio

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) celebrates World Tourism Day on September 27 every year.

In line with the 2013 United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, the 2013 theme for World Tourism Day is ‘Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future’. And this year’s World Tourism Day celebrations will be climaxed in the Maldives as the host country and Sri Lanka was the official host country of World Tourism Day in 2007. UNWTO’s membership includes 155 countries, 7 territories and over 400 Affiliate Members representing the private sector, The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

The celebration aims at creating further awareness among the international community on the social, cultural, political and economic importance of tourism. It also seeks to address the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to highlight the contribution the tourism sector can make in meeting these goals.
Tourism today is a trillion dollar sector involving the movement of over one billion tourists a year around the world and another five to six billion domestically. As the most widely celebrated global day for tourism, it represents a unique opportunity to raise awareness of tourism’s role in water access and shine a spotlight on the sector’s contribution to a more sustainable water future.
Tourism has proven to provide environmentally sound solutions, as well as political and financial support, for the conservation and sustainable use of water sources. But more must be done. With a record one billion international tourists travelling in a single year in 2012, now is the time to commit to a more sustainable tourism sector in order to protect our common future.

This year’s theme highlights tourism’s role in water access and shines a spotlight on the actions currently being taken by the sector in order to contribute to a more sustainable water future, as well as the challenges ahead.

The Maldives is in fact a very matching to theme as the host country to celebrate as a country covered 99% by water. Official WTD celebrations in the Maldives will include a High-Level Think Tank bringing together public and private tourism stakeholders and water experts to devise policies and strategies aimed at ensuring the tourism sector contributes to protecting water resources.

UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in his official WTD 2013 message had said that as one of the largest economic sectors in the world, it is the responsibility of the tourism sector to take a leadership role and ensure companies and destinations invest in adequate water management throughout the value chain.

He had further said that if managed sustainably, tourism can bring benefits to the national and local communities and support water preservation.
Clean, accessible water is vital to tourism, running most of the sector´s businesses, from hotels and restaurants to leisure facilities and transportation. More importantly, wetland tourism is growing, with many of the world’s coastlines, lakes and other wetlands among the most popular tourism destinations.

World Tourism Day will be a unique opportunity to examine the challenges facing water management in tourism and the measures being undertaken by the sector to protect and promote water resources while creating benefits for local populations around water tourism destinations.

Tourism is a major industry that contributes to the economic and social development of Sri Lanka by way of foreign exchange earnings, employment generation, income creation and generation of government revenue. Tourist traffic to the country soared from 1968 onwards until the eruption of ethnic conflict in 1983. Arrival plunged sharply due to the ethnic conflict from that year but arrival increased sharply with the improvement of the security situation in the early 1990s.Since 2009 with the end of War against Terrorism Sri Lanka is now emerging to reap the benefits of a thriving Tourism Industry.

Sri Lanka as a country that is filled with natural water resources as well as manmade water-resources Sri Lanka has more potential to brand itself as premier destination for wetland tourism products in line with this year’s ‘World Tourism Day’ theme. From breathtaking coastlines, rivers, waterfalls, manmade tanks and a lakes and other wetlands, Sri Lanka is could be positioned as a most popular tourism destinations for even water sports.

Sri Lanka's radial network of rivers begins in the central highlands. There are about 103 distinct river basins covering 90% of the island. The southwest quarter of the island has seven major basins with catchment areas ranging from 620 to 2,700 square kilometers. They are: Kelani ganga, Kalu ganga, Maha Oya, Attanagalla Oya, Gin Ganga, Nilwala Ganga, and Bentota ganga. An exception to the above radial pattern is the largest basin, that of the 335-km-long Mahaweli River which has a catchment area of 10,448 square kilometers. After leaving the central highlands, it runs almost north for 90 kilometers (km) from Minipe to Manampitiya and a then further 70 km through several distributaries as far as Verugal and Mutur on the east coast. Most Sri Lankan river basins are small. Only 17 of the 103 basins exceed 1,000 square kilometers. The total runoff in Sri Lanka is estimated at 49.2 cubic kilometers (km3/year).

In fact the surrounding areas in these basins have created an environment for the growth of tourism in the country as many of the rivers and the water falls that are born form their flow paths are major attractions in the country’s natural beauty.

Groundwater resources of Sri Lanka have been extensively used since ancient times for domestic purposes using shallow open wells in almost all parts of the country. Sri Lanka's largest aquifer extends over 200 km in the northwestern and northern coastal areas. There are about 25,000 tube-wells in the country. The quality of the groundwater is generally fairly good and relatively constant throughout the year. However, in some parts of the country (Northern and Northwestern coastal areas) excessive concentrations of Iron and Nitrates (due to agrochemicals and fertilizers) have been reported.

Dams in Sri Lanka are classed according to the materials they use. They are mainly earthen, rockfill, or concrete dams. Earthen dams are the most common type in Sri Lanka, the longest being the Parakrama Samudraya dam which is 13.5 km long and has a storage capacity of 0.12 square kilometers. The highest in this category is the Senanayake Samudraya dam at 44 m and with a storage capacity of 0.95 square kilometers. The Victoria dam, built under the Mahaweli multipurpose project, is the highest concrete (double curvature) dam with a height of 106 m and a storage capacity of 0.73 square kilometers. The gross theoretical hydropower potential in Sri Lanka is estimated at 8,000 Gigawatt hours per year (GWh/year). Still Hydropower accounts for over 90% of electricity generation in Sri Lanka.

Dams, Hydropower plants are also sites of major attraction for locals and the current trends in tourism industry have changed in which many of the generations born to baby boomers are tech-kids who love visiting man made Super and Mega Structures in the modern world. In that context Sri Lanka’s present development drive that includes Mega Structures such as Ports, Airports, Fly-Overs, Highways, Mega Star Class Hotels, Leisure Centres and Cultural Centres, Performing Arts Theatres and Medium and Up market City Centres including Shopping Malls had also boosted countries tourism with local travelers increasing their sightseeing around the Mega Structure sites and foreign travelers also being attracted to those sites.

Further local Government has placed a high priority on providing water supply to urban communities where groundwater is contaminated. Sri Lankan Government spends over US $ 45 million a year in providing piped water to the population. But major tourism oriented cities such as Colombo, Negombo, Mount Lavinia, Habarana, Galle already have many hotels that are managing cleaning plants to process their used water and wastewater and reuse the same water for watering gardens, flower beds, ponds and various other cleaning activities in the hotels and resorts.

On the other hands Sandy Golden Beaches such as Negombo, Mount Lavinia,  Kalutara, Beruwela, Bentota, Pasikudah & Kalkudah, Unawatuna, Mirissa, Weligama, Polhena, Dickwella, Hikkaduwa, Koggala, Tangalle, Trincomalee, Nilaveli, Batticaloa,  Arugam Bay, Casuarina Beach, Kilaaly Beach, Vankalai, and even Kalpitiya are major tourism attraction zones. Those areas have contributed vastly to the economic development of the country and to the boom of country’s tourism industry. And in fact the present government had considered the ‘Tourism’ as a major sector to drive Sri Lanka’s economic growth whilst the several new leisure projects are in the pipeline across Sri Lanka’s coastline. Many of them are 5-star properties and international chains and popular hospitality brands such as Shangri- La, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Mövenpick, Starwood, Raffles, Sheraton, Avic are yet to open some major star class properties in the country.
Country’s tourism authorities are also mulling to promote Sri Lanka as a preferred holiday destination for emerging middle class in two of the world’s largest economies – India and China. During the last two years there is major annual growth in tourists arrivals from China and India whilst from January to August 2013 Chinese visitors to the country had increased by 74.3% to 24,306 and Indian arrivals had increased by 4.9% to 113,541.

The recently implemented online visa system had made it easy for tourists to obtain visa to Sri Lanka and further exemption of the exit pass requirement for Chinese tourists travelling to Sri Lanka, increase in the frequency of Sri Lankan Airlines flights between Sri Lanka and China, the vigorous Sri Lanka promotion campaign and the active presence of Sri Lanka / Chinese tour operators at road shows and tourism promotional events in China have contributed to the increased Chinese tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has also launched a series of tourism promotional activities in China for the year 2013 including the visits of Chinese journalists to Sri Lanka for Familiarization Tours, a Bus Advertisement Campaign and “Get Sri Lankaned” Campaign in the main cities of China targeting the arrival of 275,000 Chinese tourists to Sri Lanka by 2016.

Sri Lanka's Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) recently announced that plans are afoot to invite 300 Chinese tour operators on a familiarization tour in the island.
Sri Lanka is also positioning itself to be a major player in the gaming industry hoping to attract more Chinese and Indian gaming enthusiasts with several large Casino resorts yet to come in the commercial capital Colombo whilst world’s famous Casino empires such as Australia based Crown mulling to invest over US $ 350 million in the country.

Country is yet to reap its benefits from the Tourism industries growth potential and be a part of Asian growth story that is happening for the next 100 years of world’s timeline.

Sri Lanka recorded over One Million tourist arrivals for the first time in 2012 and this year so far over 711,400 tourists have arrived to the country as at August 2013. It is a 14.3% increase year on year compared to 622,661 tourist arrivals till August 2012.

However till a majority of tourists arrivals to the country are from the countries in Western Europe which has increased by 13.9% year on year to 281,233 in January –August this year. Over 30,000 travelers arrive to Sri Lanka monthly from Western European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K. and Germany.
Government has earmarked on projects that would develop tourism under sub sections including Fishing Tourism, Deep Sea Diving, Nature Based Tourism, Beach Tourism, Sport and Adventure Tourism, Agro Tourism, Culture Tourism, Village Tourism and Event Tourism. State also have projects in the pipeline such as the Kalpitiya Dutch Bay Resort Development Project that envisage foreign and local mega tourism related investments through leasing out 14 islands spanning over 4100 acres for resort developments on the long term. The project aims to have 17 resorts in 14 islands with 5,000 hotel rooms and 10,000 beds for travelers. The project also has Desalination and Water Provision Methodology that will be introduced to the Hotel Industries at Kalpitiya Islands accordingly further Purified fresh water will be provide to the Development Islands and The Kalpitiya Town from the Water supply Project at Kala Oya – River mouth at Gangewadiya Village. The project alone hopes to provide 15,000 direct employment opportunities and 22,500 indirect employment opportunities.

In September 2011, Ministry of Economic Development officially launched the Tourism Development Strategy for the next five years period of 2011-2016. According to the newly launched Tourism Development Strategy, the main target of the tourism sector until 2016 is to achieve a target number of 2.5 million tourists by 2016.Country is also mulling to increase the number of hotel rooms to 35,000 to accommodate 2.5 million tourists.

Aspiring to become the 'hub of Asia', Sri Lanka is actually an internationally famous country as a value for money destination for MICE activities. MICE is an acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions.  In this regard The 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that is scheduled to be held from 15-17th November 2013 in Colombo is considered a larger event that would attract many travelers while giving the boost to country’s image as a top MICE Tourism Destination. This is the first time an Asian country is hosting the summit in 24 years. There are 54 independent states under the belt of commonwealth and many of those already have confirmed their participation.
And Also the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) will take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka in conjunction with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). This is the premier business event in the Commonwealth bringing together Heads of Government, Ministers, and top business leaders from around the world and will be attended by over a thousand delegates.

More than 70 representatives from 15 Commonwealth countries are currently in Sri Lanka on an advance visit to make preparations for their respective delegations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013.

Thus the CHOGM could be part of Sri Lanka’s growth story and Tourism as it could be considered an opportunity as many world leaders and top business leaders will be coming to the country.

Sri Lanka had been in the spotlight of many international travel publications around the globe since 2009. Sri Lanka is among the top 10 most affordable destinations in the world, according to the German-language Yahoo! Travel Magazine. In 2010, The National Geographic Channel in an exclusive report categorized Sri Lanka as the second best place to visit. The commentators, Times Travel Writer Jil Crawshow and Editor of Wandertrust Magazine describe Sri Lanka as 'definitely a best place to visit'. The National Geographic Adventure too has ranked Sri Lanka as the Second Best New Trips for 2010 out of 25 countries, accrediting the country as the "Wonder of the World."

Sri Lanka was ranked as the number one tourist destination by the 'New York Times' in its list of "31 Places to go in 2010". Just days after this ranking, a leading lifestyle web resource, Daily Candy, weighed in with a similarly enthusiastic travel recommendation, praising Sri Lanka as "the best place ever been".

The World Travel Market 2011 Industry Report has highlighted five countries including Sri Lanka as the five emerging counties behind the BRICS nations Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

On January 8, 2011 The CNN Travel Magazine has reported that Sri Lanka is a suitable country for tourists to spend their leisure time.

Sri Lanka was among the best destinations to visit in 2012 National Geographic Traveler, by US-based magazine, which has focused on the island’s hill country. Another monthly travel magazine in Britain ‘Condé Nast Traveller’ has nominated Sri Lanka as one of the top five destinations to watch in year 2012. The travel experts of the magazine have predicted that Sri Lanka will be among the hottest new holiday destinations for travellers in the coming year. Sri Lanka was placed third in the list of destinations ahead of Britain, Australia and Abu-Dhabi .
Meanwhile UK’s most discerning monthly fashion and lifestyle magazine “HELLO” named Sri Lanka as one of the top five destinations to visit in year 2012. In ‘Hello’ Magazin Sri Lanka secured the second place among the top five list selected by the magazine being second only to Thailand.

World’s most renowned and largest travel guide book and digital media publisher –“The Lonely Planet” has named Sri Lanka as number one destination in the world to visit in year 2013. The travel experts and the voters have predicted that Sri Lanka will be on the top of the hottest new holiday destinations for the travelers in year 2013. Under the title  ‘Serenity returns to Serendib “  the travel guide raves destination Sri Lanka describing the multi-faceted experiences the traveler can look for in this small Island , fused with novelty and indulgence .
This year Sri Lanka was also awarded the prestigious “Most Potential Outbound Tourist Destination Award” at the Jinhua Travel New Model Awards Ceremony organized by the Beijing Times on 27 February 2013 in Beijing.

Meanwhile Recently Sri Lanka won an award for Best Travel Destination of Cantonese, based on online voting by the readers of the Southern Metropolis Newspaper.  The award was presented to the Sri Lanka Consulate General on the opening day of the China (Guangdong) International Tourism Industry Expo 2013 (CITE 2013), a one-stop platform for the travel trade, which took place at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex, Guangzhou from August 29th –September 1st 2013.

Sri Lanka is on course to develop into a major tourist destination. With tourist arrivals crossing one million in 2012, the sector is firmly on track. Leading industry consultants continue to forecast a demand – supply gap in hotel room inventory, a situation that will be beneficial for existing hotels. Analyst also note that in the long term, with the entrance of more international brands and maturing of the tourism industry, Sri Lanka is set to change from a budget destination to a more exotic one offering a variety of experiences to a diverse segment of travelers.

The Tourism sector has been given priority by the Government to push growth and also to earn foreign exchange and the Tourism Development Strategy 2011-2016 continues to support the President's vision of attracting 2.5 Million Visitors by 2016 with additional objectives of attracting US $ 3 Billion of FDI and increasing tourism related employment five-fold to 500,000 by the year 2016.