A panel discussion at the Summit in progress
Aijt Gunewardene delivering the welcome speech
Aijt Gunewardene delivering the welcome speech

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is the island’s ‘Golden Egg’ with the potential to cure many if not all the ills of the country but has presently reached a crossroads, a top business personality said today.

Addressing the Cinnamon ‘Future of Tourism Summit 2015’, Ajit Gunewardene, the Deputy Chairman of John Keells Holdings (JKH) said that the tourism industry can be a significant contributor for long term economic growth solving the issue of balance of payment deficit, creation of employment, attraction of investment and generation of revenue to the government.

“It is in fact the low hanging fruit. It is the Golden Egg. However today we have reached a crossroads. We are at a juncture where we have the opportunity to create a long term tourism product and have to make the decision as to which road we will take,” Gunawardena said.

He cited that one of the roads Sri Lanka could take is to allow ad hoc unplanned development with very little oversight, quality checks and regulation.

“There is a school of thought that believes in this route, where self-regulation and market forces determine the equilibrium, is the way forward,” Gunawardena exclaimed however noting that the other road, some may call it the utopian road, is to create – on what is essentially a blank canvas, a unique and sustainable industry where all stakeholders will benefit over the long term.

“An industry that focusses on minimum quality standards, manages and monitors over-visitation and over-development, protects national treasures and resources etc. Essentially an industry that doesn’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg!” the JKH Deputy Chairman, who is also the President at the Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts pointed out.

Delivering the opening remarks at the Summit held at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in Colombo and attended by a host of renowned speakers, Gunawardena said that globally a new way of travelling has emerged described as ‘deep’ travel.

“This is all about getting under the skin of a place. The modern traveller already seeks out authenticity and real experiences rather than fake culture packaged-up for tourists. But travel in 2020 and beyond, will go further – it will be about the appreciation of local distinctiveness, the idiosyncrasies and the detail, the things that make a place unique and special,” he said.

“It will be about the fragrance of fresh Sri Lankan spices cooked in a village home in Dambulla, it will be about spending a night in a Cattle farmer’s tree house in Tissamaharama and enjoying a black tea served in a coconut shell, it will be about the feeling when you are in the middle of the ocean off Mirissa right beside the blue whale, in awe of the natural world. “

“It could be about getting away from the busy, fast-paced routine and appreciating the serenity in the lifestyle of a hermit in any of the sanctuaries or monasteries in Sri Lanka. Or even in Colombo – which is set to be the modern and vibrant metropolis of South Asia, we should look to create the mix of the future while retaining the best of the past. The hustle and bustle of street life and the markets, with the glitz and glamour of contemporary urbanity.”

“We can learn from the mistakes of other destinations as we decide the path we will travel. So, which road will we take, the left fork or the right fork? Or maybe there is a middle path,” Gunawardena quipped.

He added that the final outcome that the industry players want is: a Sri Lanka with a Unique and Sustainable Tourism industry.