BETTER LIVELIHOODS TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES THROUGH TOURISM. A SRI LANKAN EXPERIENCE
Dear Ladies & Gentleman " Ayubowan! "
I am indeed privileged to address a distinguished audience and eminent travel industry personalities, such as you. I take this opportunity to thankIIPT for inviting me to the 3rd Global Summit on Peace through Tourism and to this charming seaside resort of Amazing Thailand, the country with which, my country Sri Lanka, has had many pleasant exchanges, especially in 'Theravada Buddhism", over a thousand year history.
My address today, ladies & gentlemen- "BETTER LIVELIHOODS TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES THROUGH TOURISM" a subject largely at my heart and my focus mostly will be to my country. I will speak of what has to be done as well as what our organization JETWING has achieved so far, in a small way.
You will not disagree with me, if I say, in countries where tourism substantially contributes to their GDP, it must be spelt clearly, that 'Tourism is for people and people are for Tourism'. A simple, broad- based two-way concept that should evoke everyone to contribute to alleviate poverty through Tourism. Countries have to deviate from the usual practice of a few reaping the benefits. Because Tourism is all about, People, their Lifestyles & Cultures, their Cuisine, their History, their Nature and Eco systems, their Sports, their health practices etc. All these are things that people involvement is unavoidable and belong to the people and their communities. These are all people activities. But sadly, these are considered only as attractive features to entice tourists, but not to benefit the contributors in any way.
Now let me take you through some photo shots from Sri Lanka.
(Sunrise – Village road among paddy fields- children going to school in a village – a Buddhist monk – a snake charmer- a village fair – a village catholic church – buffalos ploughing fields – a Hindu temple – Vesak lanterns – a village Mosque – a Cricket match( preferably Rangiri Dambulla stadium) – Sinharaja forest – a thovil- sunset – a Buddhist temple – Tea plantation with workers – Ruwanweli seya – Kandyan dancers – stilt fishing – elephant migration- smiling Children waving good bye!)
All these pictures you saw and the connected activities are from rural Sri Lanka. Even the game of Cricket you saw was played 150 km away from the capital Colombo. These are some of the few things among many that make Sri lanka's Tourism canvas colorful and attractive.
In the context of the economy of Sri Lanka, 50% of GDP is concentrated within the Western Province. This is an area of 5.6 % of the country's landmass that includes the capital Colombo and the surrounding suburbs. The population segregation in this province is 28 % of the total population of the country. Now you will see 50% of the GDP activities concentrated in an area of 5.6 % of the whole country. The balance 50% of the economic activities takes place in an area of 94.3 % of the total landmass of the country among 72 % of the total population.
Also 25 % of the rural population is living below poverty line as against the 8 % of the urban population. This is a huge anomaly. These are definite indicators that reveal the need to shift economic activities proportionately to rural areas in order to harness the livelihoods of the local communities. From the pictures you saw, you would realize that Tourism has the phenomenal potential to be an ideal vehicle to deliver this transformation, for better wealth distribution giving equal benefits to all.
Sadly, the Mass tourism model prevalent in most 3rd world economies has not filtered down the benefits to local communities, as it should have been. Reality here is the 'Short term goals of an elite minority standing against a long term interest of a popular majority'.
What are the options available to correct the situation? We have to aim at alternatives that can make communities sustain through tourism. For example smaller projects against large ones, local community involvement, employment of locals as a condition when establishing projects, Co-operative system based tourism facilities, Tourist accommodations with local families, Financial support for such developments, Use of local material as a condition when establishing and operating projects, Conditions more conducive to the local communities than at present at approval level of projects, prominence to local crafts & arts etc. are some thoughts that can be looked at.
But, it is easier to say than do. Nevertheless it remains a necessity to be done if we identify this issue as a social disparity or a social injustice that can eventually boomerang.
But how do we do it?
The need of a paradigm shift in the minds of the Tourism planners to broad base the industry and put in place a do-able strategic plan for the deviation is the priority. There has to be a concerted effort and a commitment from all key players. Tourism Authorities, The local government bodies, monitoring segments, funding agencies, private sector investors, Tour operators/travel agents who would like to join hands with local community, representatives such as village headmen, local religious leaders, local police, youth societies, educational institutions, health sector, environmental lobby groups etc. There has to have a well-focused visionary leadership going beyond the stage of implementation and effective monitoring thereafter.
There is work to do with the communities as well. The local communities should not be taken unaware of, in introducing Tourism. They must be brought to a level of readiness to accept Tourism whole-heartedly. Introduce them to entrepreneurship; the communities need to learn various skills to maintain required standards in their operations. They must learn and be confident of the greater benefits that tourism can bring in, as well as proactively handle any adverse effects that can negate these benefits including their cultural, social value system as well as their environment.
It must be realized though the solutions cannot be found instantly, with a committed and a well-focused program, given the right leadership can produce the desired results, effectively.
Now I will draw your attention to few of the activities our company has initiated and had very encouraging results on the theme of my address today. Two of our hotels on the west coast of Sri Lanka, namely the Lighthouse and Tropical Villas introduced a program of educating the Trishaw or the Tuk Tuk drivers who were operating from outside these hotels. There use to be eternal conflicts between them and the hotels. These drivers, who were from the local community wanted to get benefited from offering their services to tourists. The tourists who used their services made numerous complaints against them. At times they have been cheated, being rude or even threatened. The hotels did not have a control over them, as they were individuals operating at their will in an unorganized and undisciplined way. The matter was getting out of hand. The company at this point got involved in a dialogue with them and came to an agreement for the drivers to be trained by the hotels to provide a quality service to tourists. The training programs were spread over a period of 6 months and held once a week and provided free. The training consisted of Tourism & its benefits, Eco-tourism, Field visits to places of interests with substantial knowledge about these places, Natural History, Road discipline, Etiquette, Attitudes, Social & Moral Values etc, etc. Results were dramatic. Mindset changes were happening fast. Trust was built between the two fractions. Discipline became a priority and these people who thought that they were a law on to themselves were so grateful to the organization for opening their eyes. Now they are very respectful to tourists and work in unity. It is heartening to say, at the time of the last year's Tsunami when one of these hotels had to be evacuated immediately leaving behind everything including guest valuables, on return it was found everything intact, nothing been looted as happened to hotels in the vicinity. The relationship of the Drivers & the hotel kept away all the looters. This project in fact won the PATA Gold Award for Educational Training Program last year.
Currently, another project on similar lines is initiated to benefit a local community, where a new hotel is being built in the central Sri Lanka named "Vil uyana" in the vicinity of the famous rock fortress Sigiriya.
This area has around 900 youth unemployed, some after studies up to university entrance level. They are mostly from the agricultural community but awaiting employment in other fields. Our project is to teach them Basic English and subsequently equip them with skills to work in hotels. 60% of the total employee requirement of this hotel will be selected from these youths and the rest will have opportunities to find employment in other hotels in the area or even in the Maldives or the Middle East, once trained. These youth do not have the ability and the wealth to enter hotel schools nor to spend for further education. The project is initiated and funded by the company with the co-operation of the leading Buddhist priests and community leaders of the area.
Finally, I also wish to site how the Local communities were benefited from Tourism at a time of adversity- the great tragedy-The Boxing Day Tsunami last year.
I need not tell you of the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami. You can imagine the desperate human cry. The local communities who lived by the sea faced the biggest ever devastation in the known history. In this background it is heartening to note what Tourism contributed to resurrect the lives of these communities. We made an earnest appeal to all our operators, agents, well wishers, to our staff and to our customers who were mainly foreign tourists as well as the Sri lankan clientele, through The Jetwing Relief fund we established for the purpose. The support we received was overwhelming. Some of our foreign tourists immediately established networks, collected funds and transmitted the money. Some of agents came into handle big projects to resurrect lives of these people. In our small way we were able to collect US$ 35,000/= which is equivalent to Sri Lankan Rs. 35 million that helped us to build,
34 new houses,
Repair 18 partly damaged houses,
Provide Livelihood support for 7 families, who lost their breadwinners,
Rebuild 2 schools that were destroyed,
Donate 11 fishing boats etc.
There were many similar voluntary help that came to the country as a contribution of Tourism, at the hour of the need of these people.
We also saw many tourists who came and got involved in them working with the local people, repairing, building houses and doing many other things that was touching that made the affected feel "worth living".
On closing my address to you, I reiterate, that there is ample justification that"BETTER LIVELIHOODS TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES CAN BE BROUGHT THROUGH TOURISM"
"Bohoma Isthuthiy". Thank You.