Tourism Minister touts peace and reconciliation at UNWTO conference


Untitled-7UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai ighting the traditional Inaugural lamp – Pix by Githika Tedulkar

By Shiran Illanperuma

Minister of Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs, John Amaratunga, while speaking at the opening of a United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference, announced that Sri Lanka was one of the safest places to travel to.

“While the world around us is in turmoil, we are enjoying absolute peace and I know for a fact that this peace will be protected at all costs,” he said to a crowd of international delegates and representatives from both the private and public sectors of the Sri Lankan tourism industry.

The conference, entitled ‘Tourism: A Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation’, took place in Pasikudah, a region which saw disaster not only through the 26-year civil war but also the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Pasikudah was also one of the first regions to be developed for tourism by Sri Lankan Tourism, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“This region was out of bounds to tourism for almost three decades due to the war. Today we have investors lining up to put up hotels along this stretch of unspoiled, unexplored beach because they see the vast potential for tourism,” said Amaratunga.

The minister went on to assert that the Government planned to continue development of tourism infrastructure in the north and east as well as work in tandem with both private and public sector enterprises. He said that the financial stability that the tourism industry could bring to war-affected communities could have a transformative effect in speeding up the reconciliation process. “It has been said over many years that the root cause of the conflict here was the economic inequality and marginalisation of certain communities. We have learnt our lessons. Tourism is one of the few industries that can develop economies overnight,” said Amaratunga.

Amaratunga explained that the Government was committed to ensuring that local communities would continue to be the biggest beneficiaries of the post-war tourism boom.

“The revenue that we earn from this industry is the peace dividend that the country has received with the end of the conflict. This Government is determined to ensure that this dividend is first enjoyed by those who were at the receiving end during the war,” he said.

Youth hesitancy at joining the workforce of the service industry was highlighted by Amaratunga as a key challenge in development. The minister went on to say that it was up to the Government to “guide these youth” and “make them contribute to the development of this industry”.

“The message that we want to tell the world is that Sri Lanka is one of the safest places to travel to today and this is the best time to explore the hidden treasures of this land,” stated Amaratunga.

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