May 01, 2012 (LBO) – Sri Lanka has completed preliminary work assessing the risks of most frequented tourist sites, as the island beefs up its leisure products to welcome more holidaymakers, officials said.
The project was mooted, after an Australian tourist accidently died after walking-off the Hortain Plains in the central mountain regions last year, said Nilmin Nanayakkara, president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.
“The Australian tourist’s family admitted it was their fault, but we wanted to evaluate and avoid future risks, as it makes good business sense,” Nanayakkara said.
Malcolm Ellis, who heads UK’s TUI Travel PLC’s activity health and safety unit, spent nearly two weeks crisscrossing the island to evaluate risks in cultural, heritage, mountains, tropical jungles and safari parks.
“We can’t take the adventure out of adventure,” Ellis told reporters in Colombo. “We have to be aware of the risks we are taking and I believe nothing in Sri Lanka should be stopped.”
Ellis, who toured Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Pasikudah, Trincomalee, the hill country, Yala, Mirissa and Negombo, trekked through tourist sights and also took safari tours to wildlife parks.
He went whale watching, white water rafting, scaled a magnificent fifth-century rock fortress in Sigiriya and hiked Adam’s Peak.
“My legs are a bit sore, after scaling a mountain and a rock within a short time frame,” Ellis said addingthat he will recommend guidelines for heritage sites, national parks and activity-based excursions.
Spread over a landmass of 65,610 square kilometers, Sri Lanka is a unique challenge for risk evaluators, said Ellis, who counts over 11-years in the trade.
“The heritage sites deal with former royal kingdoms and religious places. The parks and mountains, you have to manage the locations and so forth,” Ellis said.
He suggested Sri Lanka install more detail information boards, to educate visitors how they should adapt and interact. “This gives the client a good experience that they are being looked after.”
Other areas, like the visitors shelter midway up the Sigiriya fortress, to prevent wasps and hornet attacks, could be expanded to accommodate more people, he suggested.
Sri Lanka tourism chief Nalaka Godahewa pledged to back the initiative, as it enhances the island’s reputation, keeps insurance claims down, avoids operation costs and promotes the country as a responsible destination.
“It’s quite a timely initiative,” said Godahewa. “Sri Lanka is probably the only virgin girl on the beach right now.”
Sri Lanka is gearing for a five-fold increase in tourist arrivals to 2.5 million by 2016, after government forces wiped out the Tamil Tiger rebels in a no-holds-barred operation in May 2009.
Since then, tourist arrivals have grown steadily and reached a record 855,975 in 2011. From January to March 2012, tourist arrivals have climbed 21.1 percent to 260,525 over the same period a year earlier, according to Sri Lanka Tourism figures.
Tourism is Sri Lanka’s fifth largest foreign exchange earner, besides shipments of clothes, tea and remittances.