By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
We are, as a nation, passing through challenging times. Social unrest, economic collapse and unreal hopes speak of a long period of restoration. Painful will be the regaining of even the present level of deprived existence of the many.
Much is expected of a recovery of Tourism as a means of earning much needed dollars, to enable at least the importation of what we cannot produce. Fuel, basic foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals are in the forefront. If we are to achieve any progress, in uplifting the standards of living of all, and in particular of those of the most deprived segments of our society. Massive increases of investments will be needed. This will impact particularly in the fields of health, education and employment. It is laughable to see the feeble nature of the “official remedies” suggested. Home Gardens, school closures, work from home, reduced working days, bicycles, fertilizers and firewood stoves appear to have suddenly materialized in the visions of officialdom!
Tourism, is highlighted and glamourized as the remedy for our chronic and equally sudden, realization that we are short of dollars to lift ourselves from debt default and bankruptcy. This too is wishful thinking. It would not be unfair to say that tourism “cannot make a poor country rich, but can be of importance in keeping a rich country rich”.
It is certainly true that the deep reduction in tourist arrivals has inflicted heavy wounds on the Hotel Industry. In addition there is the huge impacts on the livelihoods of perhaps several thousands of families. Those that provide direct employment in tourist hotels and the multitude of others, who provide goods required by the industry (Farmers, Livestock operators, fishermen, garment and curio- sellers) and service providers (Tour guides, transport providers and shopkeepers).
People of affluence travel for a multitude of reasons. For leisure and solitude, study and cultural fulfilment, archeological and sites or familiarization with cultural, religious, nature and Wildlife. We deceive ourselves by thinking that we are the sole or principal possessors of vibrant scenery, ancient irrigation systems, massive religious constructions (Dagobas, stone carvings and artefacts). They are truly extraordinary but not unique. Of course their combined proximities is a plus point.
Safety and security will naturally be major concerns. The present situation of scarcity, fuel shortages and transport and power irregularities and the general mood of uncertainty, insecurity and scarcity, are powerful deterrents. Early recovery is remote.
The truth must be faced. We cannot welcome visitors to a home in disorder. We have a lot to put right, before we can again become an attractive option for pleasure-seekers. Tranquility cannot be on offer just now. None would be eager to experiment with safety. The tardiness in dealing with the travesty of the Easter bombings of three years ago, where a large number of foreign visitors died or were disabled, is a terrible discouragement. This is the sad reality.
For tourism to gain its place will take time. A kind of run-up period, before all services would be up and running. Workers have to be brought into action, supply systems restored and transport and other factors fall into place. And above all, adequate security and law and order established. Much of our position as a popular holiday destination, relies mostly on “word of mouth” spread. This highlights the need for normalcy to be assured initially, before the hoped-for flood of visitors materializes.
Media pictures of travelers stranded at bus and railway stations, overflowing crowds in the scarce and irregular buses and trains, are not to the taste of those on a quest for comfort and placid restfulness. This image must be eliminated as a possible deterrent, before our image of a hospitable, welcoming populace is sullied.
Incidentally, as we watch the way that “crowd control” is implemented, one gets an unnerving feeling that some of the use of barricades, water cannons and teargas exceeds necessity. “Trigger-happy” or panic recourse to these security measures, warranted only by grave threats to law and order, should clearly be avoided. This is most important in the use of tear gas. Apart from direct serious Injury from propelled canisters, little is known of possible long- term effects of frequent exposure to the mist (smoke) of dispersed particles. In fact there could be some constituents that may cause nearly lethal effects. It is the sensitive mucus linings of eyes, ears, nose, throat and lungs that are mainly affected. In fact “Tear gas” is a misnomer. It is not really a “gas”, but a suspension of minute particles that constitute the “smoke”. The primary effect is to irritate the lachrymal glands in the eyes, which is the most evident discomfort, and lends itself to the name Tear Gas. The types of chemicals employed vary, and thus increasing the possibilities of immediate or long-term, grave consequences.
It will be some time before a semblance of our former position as a great holiday destination, is restored. Meanwhile the industry may give attention to staffing arrangements at the main resort facilities. The incongruity seen of the most opulent treatment (principally at our legendary buffet meals), of visitors in contrast with the sparse fare of waiters, cooks and other service hands, does demand change. It is said that in Chinese eateries, the waiters are fed first, to reduce their envy of the fine fare served to paying customers.
Tumult and tear gas do not sit well with tourism.