‘Rethinking Tourism in Sri Lanka,’ a symposium in celebration of International Tourism Day was held on 27 September 2022 at Shangri-La Hambantota.
The event featured eminent guests Lion Brewery CEO Dr. Rajiv Meewakkala, Walkers Tours CEO Nalaka Amaratunga, Adventure Experience Consultant Krishani Samaraweera, Sun Match Company Director Gowri Rajan, and keynote speaker Capital Maharaja Group Group Director Chevaan Daniel. The panel was moderated by UNDP Consultant on Travel Experience Development in Sri Lanka Dr. Rohantha Athukorala.
The speakers covered pressing concerns with regard to Sri Lanka and its tourism industry as it stands today, speaking on the topics of ‘Food and Leisure as a USP for Tourism,’ ‘The Importance of Agility in Experience Development,’ ‘Exploring an Angle Through Adventure,’ ‘Connecting Communities to Develop Tourism,’ and more.
The overarching conversation however linked to the main concept of ‘rethinking tourism’ and Shangri-La General Manager Refhan Razeen placed great emphasis on this: “Sri Lanka has suffered many setbacks and now it is time to rally and breathe life, so let’s rethink tourism, rebuild, and revamp locally and globally.” He also added: “I think it is high time we rethink our concept and provide for this need to create a demand for tourism in Sri Lanka.”
Keynote speaker Capital Maharaja Group Group Director Chevaan Daniel shared that while we were indeed experiencing some setbacks, we, as a nation, were ready to pick ourselves back up: “By virtue of forums such as this, regardless of the hardships, proves a clear message – yes, Sri Lanka is facing a challenging time, but we are ready to work our way out of it,” he said.
Daniel also noted that a changing of frame was also in order: “When we are rethinking tourism, we should be proud to call it a ‘weva’ – the only man-made construction that still serves us to this day. Not a tank or a reservoir, but a ‘weva’. They still serve us to this day, they feed us, and sustain our nation. If that isn’t sustainable development I don’t know what is. Sri Lanka was founded on the foundation of sustainability,” he said.
He also noted that in this changing of frame and mindset, we should also promote pride in our nation: “A ‘weva’ is not dug up and created erratically, it is part of a larger system. Then there is Sri Lanka as a wealth of attractions; we as a country have the highest density of world heritage sites in the world, even more than Greece. Should we not be proud of that?” he said.
Walkers Tours CEO Nalaka Amaratunga also highlighted the importance of establishing a blueprint for Sri Lankan tourism which would be the cornerstone upon which we build our industry: “We need to have a plan, a blueprint, so that even if the Government changes we will still have a plan to follow, regardless of who is in charge,” he said, adding: “What we have to do is rethink our strategies.”
The panellists also made note of the importance of diversified marketing, with Krishani Samaraweera noting that tourism highlighted the lesser explored areas with potential: “Everyone has a tourism requirement and I think this can be found online. Instagram is the future. This is one area Sri Lankan tourism has to focus on,” she said.
She also spoke of indigenous medicine, noting that there was a concept called ‘holiday dialysis’. She noted that there were only 400 such treatment centres around the world and that countries including the Maldives were already considering adopting a centre, with Bali already having five-star resorts with dialysis centres. She said that this was something that Sri Lanka could pursue as well.
The panellists all collectively noted that there was a need for Sri Lanka tourism to undergo a facelift if we were to move forward.
The event also marked Shangri-La Hambatota’s pledge to enter the Guinness Book of World Records in building a sand sculpture which will require the labour of nearly 450 people.