A lesson on simple economics

After a long number of years of ruling of nearly one-woman show, citizens of Sri Lanka have decided to change the government and have chosen a new one at the moment. The economic crisis that affects all and sundry in the country is a matter that needs immediate attention, not to mention the so-called ethnic problem in the north.

Just 50 years ago, Sri Lanka was the most economically advanced country in the Asian region. Today, it has changed sides and we are the most backward. But can we not resuscitate ourselves?

Fifty years ago, Thailand was one of the most backward countries in this region, to cite an example. In the year 1999, they targeted to attract ten million foreign tourists to the country through an aggressive tourist promotion campaign. And mind you, they succeeded in their attempt and that number of tourists from mostly the western countries visited that country in that year. Believe it or not, this is almost half the population of entire Sri Lanka. It may sound astonishing but yet true that in the following year, i.e. 2000, their target of fifteen million foreign tourists was achieved, too. All this means money in foreign exchange and economic benefit.

But what do they have to offer to the foreign visitor? Hardly anything when we look at the matter from a Sri Lankan point of view. Tourists are given a sense of security and hotel facilities are provided at their best. You can walk even in a drunken stupor in a street in Bangkok, Phuket or Chiangmai or elsewhere without any threat of theft or fracas. Yes. This is a factually correct statement although it may sound strange to us here in our country. I say so only after having visited those parts and cities over there.

Mark, it, Thailand is about fifteen times larger than Sri Lanka. The standard of living of those people is seven times higher than that of our people, All trains there, for example, have air conditioned compartments. You can book a seat beforehand from any station with a ticket issued on the computer since they have such a computerised network like they have on airlines.

But what is it that tourists are shown and their attention attracted? Only monkeys, jungles, crocodiles, elephants, Theravada Buddhist meditation centres and snakes and snake farms! Of course, there are villages of tribal people like our Veddahs and their handicrafts. Comparatively, how much more we in Sri Lanka can offer to the foreign tourists? Over there, you do not have hilly terrain or tea estates as we find in our hill country of salubrious climatic conditions for example.

The message that I am trying to convey to our present day rulers is that we have a great potential in the tourism industry for the economic betterment of the country. The father of tourism in Sri Lanka, the late President J. R. Jayewardene, sensed it long years ago and he organised the industry in a sustainable fashion when he was the minister in charge of the subject during the premiership of Dudley Senanayake. Unfortunately, today, it has been overlooked. May the present day rulers have the sense and awareness to address their minds on this vital economic potentiality. Yes. Sirs, your late leader J. R. has already laid the foundation and you only have to construct upon it.
Dharmapala Senaratne,
Gothatuwa New Town.