Honourable Minister, global experts and professionals who have graciously accepted our invitation to be here as speakers, distinguished invitees and partners of the Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit, representatives of the Media, fellow colleagues and friends from the travel, tourism and hospitality industry, ladies and gentlemen.
Conceptualised around the theme for the World Tourism Day this year – which is “One billion tourists; One billion opportunities” - we at Cinnamon are delighted to present the Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit for the benefit of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.
Firstly, I would like to thank all the organisations that have partnered with Cinnamon in order to make this event a possibility.
A special thanks to the Airline partner - SriLankan Airlines, the International Finance Corporation, Strategic partner - Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Conference partner - Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Digital partner - 230interactive and Creative partner - Landor Associates.
Sri Lanka Tourism is a joint venture, between the government, its regulators and the private sector stakeholders; be they large corporates, SMEs or individuals. We all have a joint role and responsibility in shaping the future of a sustainable tourism industry in Sri Lanka.
This industry has the potential to cure many if not all the ills of the country. Be it the balance of payments deficit, creation of employment, attraction of investment and generation of revenue to the government. It can be a significant contributor for long term economic growth. 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.
One of the roads we could take will be to allow ad hoc un-planned development with very little oversight, quality checks and regulation. There is a school of thought that believes this route, where self-regulation and market forces determine the equilibrium, is the way forward.
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!
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.
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.
Tomorrow’s tourist will come to Sri Lanka in search of authentic experiences such as these and if we do not take the right decisions today, we won’t be able to offer these tomorrow.
In all our efforts we should strive to integrate the economy to the industry, so that we have authentic, sustainable tourism products which are economically feasible. This will ensure that we do not destroy what is good, what is unique and what is valuable, but rather enhance it.
We can learn from the mistakes of other destinations as we decide the path we will travel. Sri Lanka is a remarkable destination with diverse characteristics and experiences. The landscape, the people, the culture, the food, all unique and un-spoilt.
So, which road will we take, the left fork or the right fork? Or maybe there is a middle path.
I believe this conference will give insights, which will give all of us food for thought to deliberate on these matters and hopefully to support the outcome that all of us want – which is: a Sri Lanka with a Unique and Sustainable Tourism industry.