The tourism industry is one of the most thriving industries and contributes significantly to the growth of Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves. It is estimated that tourism accounts for over 10% of the country’s GDP and provides jobs for over 1 million people. The industry has seen steady growth over the past two years and is expected to continue in the coming years.
Tourism revenue indicates an incremental trend since the beginning of this year.
Accordingly, tourism revenue generated in January 2023 amounted to USD 161.80 million, while it increased to USD 169.90 million in February.
In 2021, 194,495 tourists arrived in Sri Lanka. In 2022, it increased to 719,978. The increase is 270.2% as a percentage.
Out of this, 157,766 tourists came to engage in leisure activities such as surfing, whitewater rafting, hiking, jungle safaris, and a variety of other entertainment provided by the leisure industry in the country, and in 2022, the number had swelled to 428,838. That, too, is an increase of 171.8%.
This is due to the increasing popularity of the country as a destination for leisure activities, as well as the efforts taken by the government and the leisure industry to promote the country as a tourist destination.
By January 2023, the country witnessed a sharp increase in tourist arrivals. With a steady influx that spreads through the year.
55% of the foreign tourists who came in March 2023 came for entertainment. Thus, it can be safely assumed that many people in the country rely on tourism as their main source of income.
This data shows how Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is recovering after a slump during the COVID pandemic. This would help the country cruise towards economic recovery.
It’s no secret that backpackers tend to come to this country because they can get an excellent and enjoyable experience at a low cost. They come alone or in small groups instead of using travel agencies. Yet they contribute a sizeable income to the tourism industry in Sri Lanka. This allows the industry to remain viable and profitable, even during times of economic hardship. The backpacker experience is also beneficial to the local economy, as they often buy local goods and services. This helps to create and sustain jobs in the tourism sector, which are important to Sri Lanka’s economy.
They can have some of the greatest experiences in the country. However, regrettably, they are also the ones who are most frequently taken advantage of by locals with no help from the government or any other authority.
These tourists, who enter the country via Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport, often board buses passing through Kurunegala or to Kurunegala from Negombo with the aim of reaching Sigiriya.
However, unsuspecting backpackers are exploited by organized and unscrupulous bus operators by misleading them. In order to reach their desired destination, they need information on the available routes and destinations. Tourist authorities should display signs indicating where tourists are and how to reach their destinations. To prevent dubious guides from exploiting them, tourist police should also be deployed in these areas. This will help tourists make informed decisions when choosing a bus operator and also allow them to be aware of the potential scams and frauds that they may encounter. It will also help them find their way to their destination without having to rely on the guidance of a potentially dishonest guide.
For example, to reach the Sigiriya rock fortress, any individual can board a bus from Kurunegala, Polonnaruwa, Kaduruwela, Trincomalee, and Colombo-Anuradhapura and get off at Inamaluwa. From there, anyone can easily arrive in Sigiriya by taking a single bus from Dambulla to Sigiriya at a low cost.
However, that is not the case. The conductors inform foreign tourists boarding the bus from Kurunegala to go to Sigiriya to get off at Dambulla, the destination before Inamaluwa. Tourists are told that they can go to Sigiriya by Dambulla-Sigiriya bus.
Without getting off from Dambulla, after another 8 kilometres, you can get off at Inamaluwa and get on the Sigiriya bus coming from Dambulla and go to Sigiriya. But the conductors drop these tourists off in Dambulla.
They drop these tourists off at a bus stop of their choice. There are two bus stops selected for it. One bus stand is on Kurunegala Road (near Pizza Hut), and the main bus stand on Trincomalee Road is called Kekirawa Stop. Sigiriya Bus and buses that ply from Colombo to Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Mutur, Polonnaruwa, and Higurakgoda all arrive at this Kekirava stop. These buses can be seen parked in the queue at that stop.
At the back of the bus stop is where the Sigiriya bus is parked. It is not easy to find a bus to Sigiriya. The conductors get a stipend from the three-wheeler drivers for stopping at these bus stops.
Three-wheeler drivers do not often start journeys for locals from both of these bus stops. If they do, that is only after asking the distance they are planning to travel. Only foreigners are accepted for charter travel.
Additionally, taxis like Uber and PickMe are not allowed in this area.
Tourists are often exploited by these three-wheeler drivers. The distance from Dambulla to Sigiriya is 16 kilometres. The average fare for a three-wheeler to and from Dambulla to Sigiriya is 3200 rupees. Three-wheeler drivers charge between 5,000 and 10,000 rupees to carry three foreign tourists per trip.
It is unfortunate to say that, at times, authorities turn a blind eye to this sort of exploitation. Complaints related to thefts, robberies, and molestations launched against tourists are increasing. In Sri Lanka, the police receive one or two of these reports each day. Authorities should also advise tourists to rely on GPS and cell phones in reaching their destination.
As a country that relies heavily on foreign income earned from the tourism industry, these matters must be properly addressed with stringent rules and regulations in place to serve everyone with a sense of justice as expected by them. Only with unbiased, lawful restrictions and by enacting necessary legal decrees can the businesses maintain their discipline while preserving the country’s profile as a tourist-friendly destination in South Asia and creating a win-win situation for both tourists and businessmen.
If the people in power, along with the businessmen who have bad intentions of exploiting these tourists, fail to understand that these actions will have a negative impact and discourage tourists from travelling again to Sri Lanka, it will only pave the way for the collapse of the tourism sector as a whole.
Devising awareness programs and sharing such information will lead the tourists to be mindful, inquire about more options available, whether they are related to travelling within the country or visiting a certain place, and take precautions about the possibility of being exploited.
Sri Lanka is known for being a country with unparalleled beauty, great experiences, unique adventures, and, most of all, the hospitality of its people. It would be a great injustice to our beautiful country to be called a country of exploiters.
Rather, it must be understood that it is the collective few who take it to such extremes, whereas many locals would be more than delighted to ensure that all tourists who visit Sri Lanka get the best from their experience.