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Sustainable and Ethical Tourism in Sri Lanka | Ashan Wijetilleke | Sri Lanka

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ශ්‍රී LankaNZ is a free distributed Sri Lankan Community Newspaper that aims to reach a Sri Lankan population of over 18,000 all over New Zealand. The demand for entertainment in literacy media itself gave birth to ශ්‍රී LankaNZ

Travel can be an entry point to incredible experiences. From the perspective of a country, tourism can be a main contributor to its GDP. However, it’s also important to remember that the cost (or profit) of travel and tourism is not purely financial. The cost of the sector can be divided into three main categories: environmental, social and economic. 

Tourism and the Environment

Just as travel and tourism can be vital sources of income for a country, the sector as a whole accounts for an estimated 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, tourism can also cause long-term environmental degradation, from increased pollution to overconsumption of utilities and resources. Over Tourism can also lead to loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction and wildlife disturbance, causing overall ecological imbalance.

Tourism and Culture 

Tourism, especially long-stay tourists, also presents unique challenges to society. From a societal and cultural point of view, there is the potential for indigenous languages, cuisine, and traditions to be compromised and sometimes excluded or sidelined in the name of inclusion.

In the pursuit of profit, some travel destinations have pushed out residents and local businesses to make room for luxury resorts and major chains that attract tourists. What results is a degradation of the local economy, culture, and community.

Tourism and the Economy 

For an island as small as Sri Lanka, tourism plays a highly significant role in its economy. In 2022, the tourism sector accounted for 12% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and USD 1 billion in December 2022. It is also the third-largest source of foreign exchange, especially for a dollar-strapped country such as Sri Lanka. At the same time, the figures encourage those predicting economic outcomes and circling it back to pre-pandemic and pre-Easter Attack bombings of USD 4 billion.

However, over tourism can also lead to overconsumption, causing the price of essentials, utilities and services to increase, making it unfair to locals of the area.

So, what do local businesses do? 

When businesses discuss tourism and sustainability in the same line, it’s essential to consider a few principles that would protect the environment, the community and the local economy.

  • Have better regulation

The principle of regulation is so broad in this discussion on sustainable tourism. Still, better regulations are needed to ensure the protection of locals, ground rules and code of conduct for tourists and regulations specific to the tourism sector to ensure concerns such as overcrowding don’t lead to overconsumption, which doesn’t lead to environmental degradation.

  • Set standard pricing across the board

The supermarket/grocery/corner shop economy in Sri Lanka, especially in high-tourist areas, can offer you bananas for either LKR 300 or LKR 700. Standard pricing would not only support locals but will also leave a lasting impression on tourists who are constantly working within limited spending budgets.

  • Build the capacity of locals to increase awareness.

To adhere to sustainable and ethical tourism practices, it’s essential to build the capacity of the general public as well as local government representatives and those within the administrative space, to increase awareness of any tourism-related development measures taken to, for example, increase tourists in the area as well as to educate on the strategies, opportunities, challenges available through the initiative.

What can a local travel agent do? 

When looking for a travel agent to support you with your itinerary during your next trip to Sri Lanka, it’s important to do some research to understand their mode of operation better. Experiential Traveller, run by Ashan Wijetilleke, is an example of a local travel agent that advocates for slow, responsible and ethical travel practices.

Experiential Traveller also encourages travellers to travel slow, giving them more time to experience nature, culture and heritage and preventing overcrowding and overtourism in popular tourist hotspots. The team, led by Ashan, also works with people in local communities to share economic gains, ensure fair and equitable treatment of all service providers, and advocate for accommodation options in environmentally-conscious properties.

By Ashan Wijetilleke – Sri Lanka

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