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Sustainable tourism replaces conventional globetrotting: Experts

  • Tourism industry partners German organisations to initiate sustainable tourism in SL

  • Commitment to SDGs signed by key industry associations

By Charumini de Silva

Sustainable tourism has replaced conventional globetrotting, tourism experts said recently, highlighting that the need for Sri Lanka to steer and develop paradigms under the umbrella of sustainability would be imperative post-pandemic. In this context, top industry stakeholders recently partnered with German organisations that work towards improving eco-friendly, sustainable tourism, which is highly valued by international travellers. A commitment to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was signed by Tourism Advisory Committee President Hiran Cooray, Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), The Hotels Association Sri Lanka (THASL), Sri Lanka Chauffeur Guide Association, Travel Agencies Association and the Sri Lanka Institute of National Tourist Guide Lecturers to mark the launch of the Sustainable Tourism Initiative. The virtual kick-off and the initiative was organised jointly by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation of Freedom in Sri Lanka and the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Sri Lanka (AHK Sri Lanka) in cooperation with the Berlin-based think-tank and consultancy – Löning Responsible Business and Human Rights.

The representatives of the sustainable tourism pilot group such as Go-Vacation, Aitken Spence Travels, Hayleys Travels, Hilton Colombo Residencies, Kite-Surfing Lanka, Anantara Hotels Lanka, The Thinnai Hotel, Fox Resorts, Team Resorts and Spa, Wayfarer Travels and Eco-Living-Lanka signed the commitment as well. Firms signing up for the program will develop the economic gains of tourism, while reducing any undesirable impacts on the natural, historic, cultural or social environment. Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Member C. B. Ramkumar said consumers were focusing more on brands that consider sustainable practices. “Travellers are looking for sustainable destinations and hotels. Post-pandemic, sustainability will be the way forward,” he said, adding that countries that were making compulsory shifts towards sustainable tourism would have a better future. From an operations perspective, Ramkumar said sustainability made business sense. “Sustainable practices help companies to reduce operational costs and thereby increase their profitability. Nobody can dispute that anymore as it now has an established model,” he said. Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi said special emphasis had been given to incorporate sustainable tourism development in the impending policy framework. Already three areas — accommodation, destination and operators — have been identified to be incorporated in the new policy under sustainable tourism development with the support from the UNDP and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Hettiarachchi said once the policy was in place, SLTDA would work to obtain 40 GSTC certificates for the accommodation sector. In addition, he said nine destinations in nine provinces in the country had been identified to initiate the program. “We don’t have any expertise or experience in sustainable tourism development. The Ministry is keen to seek technical support from the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the process and train our staff to carry the program forward,” Hettiarachchi added. The Secretary said he hoped to establish a separate Sustainable Tourism Division under Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) with the existing cadre. Ramkumar also stressed that adoption of sustainable standards was key for Sri Lanka’s impending National Tourism Policy. “The Government should also embrace sustainability policies and protect the natural resources of the country,” he added. Tourism Advisory Committee President Hiran Cooray said Sri Lanka should go sustainable, but at the same time, needed to think of new marketing strategies to promote it as a tourist destination. “The time we are living in is so uncertain. No one is sure whether you need oxygen to survive or to keep running. People are not sure what exactly needs to be done. This is not a unique situation to Sri Lanka alone, but for the entire world due to the pandemic,” he pointed out. He also recalled that it was the Germans and the European travellers who visited Sri Lanka even during the height of the war and kept the industry growing to this level. Germany was among the top five source markets for tourism in Sri Lanka pre-COVID pandemic. In 2019, German tourists spent 2.2 million nights in Sri Lanka and was ranked third, behind the UK and India. Cooray commended the initiative and assured the full commitment from Jetwing Hotels and Travel as well, where he is Chairman of Jetwing Symphony and The Lighthouse Hotel. “We are willing to share all that we have learned over the past 35 years in this industry, through sustainability and my work with other international associations,” he added. AHK Sri Lanka Chief Delegate Andreas Hergenröther said the aim of the initiative was to create a sustainable balance between social, economic and environmental dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability. “This initiative will definitely encourage tour operators in Europe, the US and other regions of the world to intensify their cooperation and to market Sri Lanka actively as a sustainable destination,” he said, adding that the digital platform established would also promote sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka. “Tour operators, Destination Management Companies (DMCs), hotels and other stakeholders will be able to achieve sustainable growth in tourism by promoting sustainable tourism as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP),” Hergenröther said. He also pointed out that tourists and operators of Germany had created a crucial role for development of the sector for many years. Members of the initiative will focus on fair working conditions, respect for communities and cultural heritage, health and safety, efficient use of resources and infrastructure adaptation, ecosystem conservation and stewardship and governance with self-assessment.

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