By Ifham Nizam, reporting from Batticaloa
More than 100,000 people of the Eastern Province, of some 600,000 persons categorized as the working class, do nothing for a living, which is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the development of the area, a senior politician said.
However, Eastern Province Chief Minister Naseer Ahamed praised the timely initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and National Geographic Society to develop a comprehensive online guide for tourism attractions and services in the Eastern Province, which he strongly believes would give the province the much needed economic boost.
He stressed that they would go all out to take advantage as a new destination which has tremendous resources and opportunities, with the backing of various stakeholders.
“The objective of this initiative is to promote tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents and the involvement of local people. This objective augurs well with the tourism development plans of the Eastern Provincial Council and the government of Sri Lanka, he said.
The Chief Minister said that the goal for the Eastern Province is to triple the percentage of total foreign guest nights by 2016 to 4.8 per cent from the current 1.6 per cent and to double the percentage of total domestic visitor nights by 2016 to 10.4 per cent from the current 5.2 per cent.
Ahamed said in alignment with the national goal of a 150 per cent increase in foreign arrivals to 2.5 million by the year 2016 from one million in 2012, the goal for the Eastern Province is further elevated by 150 per cent.
“The first challenge in building tourism arrivals in the Eastern Province is improving perception. To those who have never been there it is assumed to be unsafe. Years of news about conflict and fighting have left an impression that it would not be a safe place to visit.
“A new perception must be created that will motivate domestic and international travelers to consider the Eastern Province as their destination of choice from among other established competitive destinations already available, he said at the launch of the National Geographic Eastern Sri Lanka GeoTourism MapGuide at East Lagoon in Batticaloa.
He added: “Foreign capital inflows are a basic national need that strengthens and stabilizes the markets and finances. Today, we have identified tourism sector as a potent medium to address the social issues such as unemployment and poverty.”
Ahamed praised IFC and the National Geographic Society, who have been working tirelessly for the last 18 months to promote the Eastern Province as a tourism destination.
He thanked the European Union for its support for the District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) and the Royal Government of Norway for recognizing and supporting the project financially.
Graeme Harris, Senior Operations Officer, IFC, Meghna Singh, Programme Manager EU-Sri Lanka, Dr. R. Gnanasekar, Geotourism Council Member and S. Giritharan, Additional Government Agent, Batticaloa were also present on the occasion.