Proper vision and determination needed to boost Sri Lankan tourism industry: SLINTGL 

Two seasoned campaigners who have led from the front, making crucial, decades-long contributions to the Sri Lankan tourism industry, are stressing on the relevant authorities to make revolutionary changes to boost the country’s image, the industry’s revenue-generating potential and also to infuse young blood into the industry by strategic motivational programmes. 

Sri Lanka Institute of National Tourist Guide Lecturers (SLINTGL) spokesman and its Director (Legal) Manoj Maddage said, despite moves and announcements of opening the country for tourism after the long agonising lockdowns and travel restrictions, it has to be revealed if a proper methodology is in place to resume tourism in the country.

“Uncertainties and fears about the Delta virus still remain. Indian tourists are meanwhile afforded quarantine packages here. After going through phases of ups and downs during the war, the tsunami, the Easter Sunday attacks and now the Covid-19 pandemic, it is tragic to note that key service providers in the tourism sector have been disregarded. Among them are travel agencies, tour operators, national tourist guide lecturers, chauffeur tourist guide lecturers, hoteliers and others. Some four million people are dependent on this industry. During the past two years, national tourist guide lecturers who were out of work only got Rs. 20,000 from the Government once. True, that every sector has been shattered economy-wise, but at a time when the country is eager to find dollars, isn’t tourism the best source to generate it? Yet in this backdrop, we hardly see any visionary plans set up to resume tourism and bring in new vigour to this crucial sector,” he said. 

“National tour guide lecturers play the most significant role in this tourism network. Travel agents do get down the tourists by selling them dreams. But it is the tourist guide lecturer who helps them realise those dreams. It is a make or break task. To do this skillfully, you need knowledge, dedication, commitment, and passion. Our institute SLINTGL have tour guide lecturers who speak 26 different languages, meaning that we are able to cater to needs of tourists from any country. The quality and standard we maintained helped Sri Lanka to clinch the best destination award too. This is an internationally recognised profession. Our counterparts in other countries are paid something between $ 100-150 as their daily wage, but we get a mere Rs. 2,500. We used all peaceful modes to seek a hike in this daily wage. We sought $ 50 a day. Mind you we have work on an average of 100 days a year. The SLTDA that monitors and regulates the industry offered us $ 35 a month, but it is yet to be implemented. We urged them to gazette and make it law. This is not being paid by the Treasury, the Government or the travel company. This is paid by the client. In addition, we urged a life insurance cover like all other tourist guide lecturers get in other countries. Many professional tourist guide lecturers are considering alternate employment avenues and if we don’t retain them by giving their rightful dues, the consequences can be disastrous. Some unscrupulous travel companies are upto shady deals, offering cheap packages, using unqualified guides illegally and largely operating a business cum commission-based tourism network. This may have harmful effects if the SLTDA does not mediate and put a stop to it. What’s the point in getting down foreigners in millions if we can’t offer them a quality service? In this backdrop qualified tourist guide lecturers are on the verge of moving out of the industry if their dues are not considered favourably. On the other hand, we don’t have youngsters coming in to replace us? We must motivate youngsters to look at this as a lucrative profession. For that they must be treated and cared for as a professional. We are unofficial ambassadors in this field. The youth must be professionally trained and moulded to undertake this mission. The authorities can obtain the services of graduates, train them and conduct awareness programmes at village level or provincial level. So, the authorities have a crucial role to play in gazetting our new fee of $ 35 a day and the life cover of Rs. 10 million, in addition to drawing up plans to practically boost this industry so that we can be assured of a repeat clientele. There is no other way out,” said Manoj Maddage who was the recipient of the 2018/2019 Best World Tour Guide award. 

SLINTGL Media Director Jayadewa Sudusinghe pointed out the importance of amalgamating the subject of tourism into our school curriculum. 

Tourism is a wide-ranging subject that has to be taught if we are to groom professionals in this industry in various sectors. This is a country which boasts of an amazing array of natural resources and beautiful people. But are we really exploiting these factors to boost tourism? Besides our climatic magic, the beaches, the greenery, the hills, we are blessed with a rich cultural and arts heritage in addition to our hospitality. This is why we were able to attract tourists from 1965 onwards. They cherished our beautiful country and ungrudgingly spent their money here. However, our growth as an industry must be consistent, transparent and also of high standards. These are crucial factors that have to be addressed. This period of lull that was given by nature should have been ideal to look into areas that we lacked and fix those issues. For this the SLTDA should go down to provincial level, study the ground realities and resolve issues faced by the stakeholders at village level too. The Health Ministry can also play a supporting role by reconsidering moderate regulations to encourage more tourists.  We must encourage tourists to leave the country with a positive image and not carry negative views largely due to commission based tourism or illegal guiding tactics. If we are to expect six million tourists next year, let’s plan it out now. We don’t need huge investments to come up with such concepts. All we need is a proper streamlined system. We must teach people how to respect tourists. Our attitudes at all levels must change if we are seriously going in for a change. Get the help and expertise of national tourist guide lecturers to talk and woo ambassadors to help our mission. We should never forget the significant backing tourism gives to our national economy,” explained Sudusinghe. 

“Another suggestion, given the pandemic fears, is that we can get more tourists coming in from the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota harbour. To give more life and vigour to this we can also make Tissamaharama the tourism hub of Sri Lanka,” he added.