Development of Sri Lanka tourism and entertainment

World Tourism

Development of Sri Lanka tourism and entertainment

World Tourism
Tourism is referred to by many as the world’s largest and fastest-growing industry. It accounts for over 9% of global GDP, and in spite of several external setbacks, still continues to grow at 4-5% annually. International tourist numbers are expected to reach the 1 billion mark this year, which means about 1/6 of the world’s population would be traveling to visit other countries. Earnings from tourism will in the meantime reach US$1 trillion this year and will form the main source of foreign exchange of some 37 developing countries. It is estimated that employment in tourism (both direct and indirect) will account for 260 million jobs worldwide (WTTC, 2012). This translates to the fact that the tourism industry will employ close to 1 in every 12 working people in the world. Hence it is obvious that tourism plays a major role in the world’s economic activity. Tourism takes place practically everywhere, in the context of great inequality, both where there is wealth and poverty (Rao cited in Gonsalves, 1996).

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Impact of Tourism
The impact of tourism is seen in different perspectives by different stakeholders. Economists generally see tourism as route to macro-economic growth, and particularly a means of generating foreign exchange. For the private sector, tourism is a commercial activity, so the main concerns are product development, competitiveness, and commercial returns. Many conservationists now see tourism as a form of sustainable use of wild resources, and hence as a way to enhance incentives for conservation. For rural people, and the development NGOs that support them, tourism is one component of rural development.

There is no doubt that if properly developed and managed, tourism can be a vital cog of the economies of many countries. It can also play a major role in poverty elevation, particularly in some of the Asian countries, due to its large multiplier effect. In the Asian region, this economic multiplier effect can be as large as 1.0 to 1.5 times (UN ESCAP, 1996). In Sri Lanka, official receipts from tourism was US$839 in 2011, but the informal tourism economy, which is not caught up in these numbers, probably accounts for at least another 50%.

Hence there is no doubt that tourism today brings about an array of benefits to any country, developed or under-developed. While tourism certainly creates employment, enhances economic activity, and improves the well-being of people, especially in less-developed countries, it can also have a significant impact on the environment and culture of the host nation. Due to its very nature, tourism has a great impact on resources and can have serious detrimental effects on the environment and the socio-cultural fabric of a country. (The use of the word “environment” will be used hereafter in the larger context, including both the natural and physical environment as well as socio-cultural aspects.) Negative impacts from tourism occur when the level of visitor use is greater than the environment’s ability to cope with this use within the acceptable limits of change. Uncontrolled conventional (mass market) tourism poses potential threats to many natural areas around the world.

Some of the positive impacts of tourism:

-A major foreign exchange earner.

-Although effectively an export industry, the consumption of the goods and services are at the point of production itself, giving greater benefits to the local population.

-Relatively high value-adding industry.

-Generates a significant share of government (national and local) tax revenues.

-Usually accompanied by considerable investments in infrastructure and technology, such as airports, roads, water and sewerage facilities, telecommunications, and other public utilities, which in turn contribute to improving the living conditions of local populations (USAID, 2005).

-Provides employment for opportunities, including for women.

-Creates new skills.

-Brings positive change (on the assumptions the contact with West – the modern world – is good)

Some of the serious negative aspects are:

-Promotes service mentality and low-skilled jobs.

-Creates environmental problems.

-Few linkages to local economy.

-Benefits accrue mostly to big companies.

-Increases land prices.

-Disadvantages local people.

-Increases begging, prostitution, and crimes.

-Undermines local culture.

-Encourages cultural alienation and crime.

-Corrupts and displaces societal norms and traditions.

-Encourages prostitution and human trafficking.

Hence the challenge world tourism faces today, is to nurture and stimulate the demand/growth, while at the same time ensuring sustainability and responsible consumption practices.

The World Tourism Organization (1996) defines this as, “tourism which leads to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.” In a more simplistic manner, sustainable tourism is achieving quality growth in a manner that it does not deplete the natural and built environment, and preserves the cultural, heritage, and history of the local communities (Edgell, 2006).

Post War Tourism in Sri Lanka
In the post war scenario, Sri Lanka tourism has shown tremendous growth. Year on year, it has achieved double digit growth, with arrivals expected to surpass 1 million this year. In pursuit of the ambitious targets that have been set for 2016, there is a surge of tourism development place in the hotel sector, with about 90 new hotel projects having been already approved up to July 2012, which will add another 4,524 new rooms (ref SLTDA) to the already available 20,000 room stock of hotels and other approved accommodation establishments.

While the actual number of rooms required to meet the 2016 influx might vary somewhat depending on the market mix and average length of stay that is being targeted, the fact of the matter is very large number of hotel rooms and related tourism infrastructure will be developed in a short space of time. The total (direct and indirect) employment in the tourism industry will easily surpass 600,000, if we even get close to these targets in 2016. Currently only about 60,000 people are directly employed in the industry, while at least another 1.5 times as much are employed in the informal sector, making a total of about 180,000 persons employed, directly or indirectly, in the industry. This translates to about 2% of the total employed in Sri Lanka.

Tourism and Entertainment
It is said that tourism is all about “making dreams come true,” where the dreams and expectations of guests have to be fulfilled in the service offering. A guest in a foreign country, reads about an exotic destination in a brochure, or more often on the web these days, sees spectacular photographs and “conjures” up a dream of this place he has never set eyes on. It is, therefore, up to the tourism professionals then, to be able to ascertain what this individual’s “dream” is and try and make it come true.

Tourism has also been compared to “show business.” It is all about “making believe,” a fantasy and escaping from reality, where a guest would want to enjoy a few weeks of happiness, forgetting their daily stress and grind. The tourism professional, therefore, has “put on a non-stop, 24-hour show” to fulfill these desires of the guests.

Tourism is thus closely associated with “entertainment,” not only in the real definition of the word, but also in the larger context. This entertainment can take a wide range of forms, from the more direct activities provided in the hotel, to the larger experiential offering of the varied peripheral tourism offerings, such as culture, nature, wildlife, night life, shopping, etc. “Attractions are an extremely important part of tourism and other drivers making tourism happen.” (Swarbrooke
1995). Without attractions, there will be no need for peripheral tourism services.

The New Discerning Tourists
On the other side of the fence is the “new” emerging tourist. They are information savvy, more demanding, have a wide and complex range of demands, seek more personalized experience, and have higher expectations levels. In a research study done by Fast Future Research, and commissioned by Amadeus, entitled “Hotels 2020: Beyond Segmentation” it was found that tourism has to “move away from segmentation, and towards a ‘total service’ model, delivering a ‘personalized experience through a wide spectrum of service choice.’”

Hence, the emerging demand of the discerning tourists is for more experience, exploration, and learning, rather than the old fashioned, basic needs for good rooms, good food, and facilities. It is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where the new tourist of today seems to have satisfied his basic needs and is now looking for more self-actualization, moving higher up, along the pyramid.

Sri Lanka’s Tourism Positioning
While much has been talked about and debated of the now defunct “Small Miracle” Sri Lanka tourism branding campaign, the fundamental brand positioning of the destination that was developed after months of research and hard work by a wide range of professionals and stakeholders, is still very relevant and acceptable. “Sri Lanka – Asia’s most diverse, compact and authentic island.” This positioning statement certainly encapsulates the total tourism offering that Sri Lanka should portray to the word. It is relevant to this discussion that the positioning statement very clearly identifies authenticity as a main driving force of the branding. This means, therefore, that the entertainment and experience developed and portrayed by the destination should always maintain its charm, authenticity, and indigenous culture and historical roots. It is this factor that the more discerning tourist seeks out, and not some artificially “imported” and a packaged experience which, of course, some tourists, of a lower segment of the market, may still be stimulated and excited by.

Managing Sri Lanka’s Tourism Growth and Related Entertainment Products and Services
Sri Lanka is a pristine island, boasting of a rich and proud cultural heritage, with a spectacular range of natural beauty, flora, and fauna. Hence it is imperative that in the rush to develop tourism and provide a range of product and service offerings for the satisfaction and entertainment of tourists, the environment and cultural heritage is protected by embracing sustainable development and consumption practices in all tourism activities.

Sri Lanka has a 2,500-year-old history, virgin forests, Royal Palaces and sacred cities, cliff-top citadels, colonial strongholds, and temple caves. It has 8 World Heritage sites declared by UNESCO, and Sri Lanka is considered as one of Asia’s richest reassure troves of manmade and natural wonders.

Sri Lanka is blessed with these attractions which only needs proper development, packaging, and proper management, unlike a country like Singapore, which has to constantly build and artificially create attractions at great cost, albeit quite successfully. There is a need certainly to develop a range of peripheral tourism products and services to enhance the core product offering of Sri Lanka. This will include the showcasing of its natural beauty, diversity, traditions, and culture. But it is important that this product and service offering retains the core authenticity and indigenous flavor, without being modified to the point of degradation. It must not be over exploited, commercialized, or commoditized.

However, this entertainment must satisfy tourists’ needs, wants, and demands. To be successful and, therefore, commercially viable, the tourism product must be in some way manipulated and packaged in such a way that it can easily consumed by the public (Eden, 1990; Cohen, 1972). It is in this process that one needs to guard against completely losing the core indigenousness of the product offering.

On the other hand, even if the product and service offering is in place, there has to be good “interpretation” to enable the tourist to learn, understand, and absorb and enrich themselves. This is what is being talked about in tourism today, with guiding services being gradually replaced by “interpretation services,” calling for better quality, well-trained interpreters.

To further elaborate on these aspects, some specific examples will be dwelt upon as follows:

I.Kandyan Dance

The Kandyan dance is of great historical importance, where legend has it that its origins are from an exorcism ritual for ancient Kings. The elaborately-costumed dancers, doing spectacular frenzied and vigorous acrobatic moves to the throbbing beat of drums, is something quite spectacular for foreign visitors. This has become perhaps the most commonly-used hallmark cultural entertainment of Sri Lanka, abundantly used in tourism activities. However, there is little or no proper interpretation of what exactly this dance performance is, and its historical and cultural significance. A great majority of tourists go back, happy to have seen a great acrobatic dance performance. In this context, there is the also the aspect of the commodification of culture that needs to be discussed. Commodification of culture takes place when rituals and artifacts used for everyday purposes become objects of tourist appeal and are created for the tourist market. Today, there is some controversy about the new dance performances that we see very often, that could have some “staged” authenticity. There have been a large number of mushroom dance troops cropping up to serve the demands of the tourism industry, which seem to have gone down this route. However, some of the more respected dance companies have taken the essence of the original dances, and modified, condensed, and packaged it in a more palatable and professional manner for tourists.

II.National Park Visitation

With the popularity of wildlife tourism increasing, there is large influx of tourists to Sri Lanka to see wildlife, especially the more exotic and rare species such as leopards and whales. This has caused serious over-visitation and overcrowding which is damaging the very “product” that is being exhibited. A poorly-regulated and badly-managed product offering is virtually “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.” Here again, there is little interpretation and knowledge sharing, with the experience and entertainment limited purely to having sighted these rare animals without learning and understanding anything about them. How many of the tourists visiting Yala and Uda Walawe, would leave our shores with the knowledge that they have seen a sub-species of elephant that is unique to Sri Lanka, that the leopard they saw is also a distinct subspecies found only in Sri Lanka, and that Sri Lanka has one of the highest density of leopards in the world?

III.The Kandy Perahera

The Kandy Perahera has become a sub-brand of its own, and it is well known all over the world. Watching the Perahera’s of recent times, I wonder whether exploitation and commercialization has overtaken the historical significance of this very important cultural pageant. In the frenzy to accommodate and showcase this spectacle to large number of visitors, the core product offering and its authenticity may be slowly becoming compromised. How many of the tourists flocking to see the Perahara go back with a knowledge that this is an age-old event dating back to the 3rd century BC, a ritual enacted to venerate and celebrate the gods for a good rainfall?

IV. The Gathering

More recently, another tourist attraction that has got worldwide acclaim is “The Gathering” – a congregation of 200-300 elephants on the plains of the Minneriya reservoir every year during the months of June to October. It has been formally recognized as the 6th most unique wildlife of the world by the prestigious travel publication “Lonely Planet.” Visitors to the Minneriya Park have increased, and occupation of hotels in the Habarana and Sigiriya areas have improved because of the annual feature. However, other than simply being able to see a large number of wild elephants in one and the same place quite easily, there are no experiential positives to tourists. Most of them would possibly never know that this is Asia’s largest gathering of wild elephants and that it is a very unique phenomena which occurs due to a combination of the drought, the Minneriya Lake, which retains its water throughout the drought, and its surrounding grasslands, which offers a good source of food for the elephants. There is little or no real interpretation.

V. Village Experience

A few years back, Hotel Sigiriya pioneered the concept of a village experience for tourists, where small groups of tourists were taken to spend the day in the Diyakepilla village near the hotel. The entire excursion was based on a rich experience to give the tourists an authentic feel of village life. They were transported by bullock cart or hand tractor across the fields to the village where they participated in harvesting the vegetables from the home garden, watched the meal being cooked in traditional village style on the open hearth, and eventually partook of the meal on a lotus leaf and eating with their fingers.

Before the excursion, the tourists were briefed of what they were going to experience by the resident naturalist of the hotel and given an information brochure. It was only after this sensitization and “briefing” that their excursion would begin.

VI. Miscellaneous

-Gambling and prostitution

Now some thoughts on some other forms of non-indigenous (but significant) forms of “entertainment” to the tourist. Unfortunately, gambling and prostitution are very much an integral part of the modern tourism entertainment menu in most parts of the world. While this is a very sensitive and debatable subject, it is noteworthy that most liberalized countries are fast taking a more rational and broad-minded approach to gambling and prostitution, provided it is well-managed and regulated. The stigma that is associated with these activities seems to be diminishing slowly. Of course, one can hold the view that these are morally unacceptable and that they should be completely eliminated. However, information today is seamless with the availability of the Internet, television, and other forms of electronic communication. In reality, there is nowhere to hide, nor is there any way that something could be hidden, in today’s globalized modern world. Hence, it would be very difficult for any progressive country to completely immunize itself of these pressures, and bury its head in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich.

The more sensible route perhaps would be to accept it and contain it within certain confined boundaries by strict regulations to minimize the possible detrimental effects. The tourism private sector professionals suggested to the government in a publication entitled “Sri Lanka Tourism Way Forward” in 2010 that casinos should not be allowed to operate all over the country. It recommended that if this form of tourism was to be incorporated, these establishments should be confined to a specific area under strict regulations similar to Genting Highlands in Malaysia.

-Local Tourists

While we tend to place all the blame for cultural and environmental degradation on foreign tourists, it is important to realize that this is not quite true. On the contrary, it is often our own Sri Lankan visitors who cause most of the damage by behaving in an unacceptable and untruly manner when visiting locations of interest. Such examples are many. One need not go too far, and a visit on Monday morning to the Gall Face Green more than adequately proves the point with mass garbage and litter. Foreign visitors most often come from a much more disciplined background and have a respect for the environment. They only need to be properly sensitized and briefed. Most often, it is due to negligence or sheer misunderstanding that problems occur with them.

-Inevitable Effect on Culture

However carefully tourism entertainment products and services are planned, developed, and managed, there is bound to be some form of cross-cultural leakage that will take place. Overtime, there will be some form of modification and erosion. This is a fundamental truth that has to be recognized and understood if tourism is to continue playing a lead role in economic development of the country.

Cultures and traditions are living systems, which continually evolve depending on external pressure, resource availability, and change. When cultures interact, there is an inevitable exchange of ideas, values, rituals, and commodities. In practice, this will never happen only in one direction.

With globalization in the form of world market, free trade, and mass tourism, there is an endless opportunity for such cultural interaction that opens the door for cultural change. A good example would be from the popular 1971 film “Fiddler on the Roof,” where in the remote town of Anatevka, in westernmost Tsarist Russia in 1905, where Tevye, a poor milkman, tries to hold on to his culture and traditions in a changing world. He slowly comes to terms that their traditions, which have maintained the stability of their way of life for centuries, cannot be held onto, as
Tevye’s three daughters’ marry men not chosen in the traditional way by the matchmaker and find spouses on their own, and he slowly realizes that tradition will change overtime.

The “life cycle” of a tourist destination is “the evolution from its discovery to development and subsequent deterioration of its key attractions” (Neto, 217, 2003). It is said that now in developed and developing countries, tourism places are becoming “over developed” to the extent to which the environmental and socio-cultural damage caused by degradation and the ultimate loss of revenues arising from a collapse in arrivals of tourism becomes irreversible.

A clean and healthy and protected environment is not only good for tourism, but is also key to its competitiveness. Many tourists are today willing to spend more and choose destinations which have good sustainable conservation practices (Kelly, Hairder, Williams, & Englund, 2006). Thus it can be said that there is an immense importance to understand “how” to manage tourism. It does not mean completely wiping tourism out simply because it is affecting the environment, but rather, managing it in such a way that it does not cause negative disturbances to nature and culture of the host country. If this is done in a sustainable manner, tourism is most likely to provide long-term improvement in every aspect. (Olafsdottir & Runnstrom, 2009).

Sri Lanka certainly still has an immense range of totally un-spoiled and relatively unknown natural product offerings hidden away from the mass tourism routes. If they are to be opened up and exploited as well-developing and improving the existing more popular offerings to meet higher demands, then a careful strategic approach will be needed. Each and every product offering should be planned and developed taking into consideration sound sustainable development principles, ensuring that visitor experience is enriched. Proper marketing and packaging of these numerous peripheral tourism peripheral services and products, in a manner, that the core authenticity of the offering remains pristine and unspoiled by commercialism and commodification should be safeguarded against.

The author, Srilal Miththapala, BSc (Eng); CEng; FIEE; FIH; is Project Director of the E U Switch Asia Program Greening Sri Lanka Hotels Project, and Past President of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka.