POST TSUNAMI TRAVEL TO SRI LANKA
by Varini de Silva
After the initial shock and reaction to the unprecedented tragedy that hit Sri Lanka and South Asia on Dec 26, it is important to present the traveling public with an accurate account of the current situation on the ground in terms of tourism. I have such information to pass along regarding Sri Lanka.
The tsunami wave that hit Sri Lanka brought with it the most intense media coverage with many of the major networks sending their anchor personnel to report from the worst affected areas. CNN’s coverage on the ground with Anderson Cooper and Christiane
Amanpour was heart wrenching in its candid appraisal of the physical damage as well as the emotional impact on the people of Sri Lanka. The hardest hit regions were the southern and eastern coasts. The outpouring of support and help from millions of people from all over the world has been incredible, with offers of financial support and humanitarian aid to help rebuild lives and communities.
However, as Tony Wheeler of Lonely Planet stated “We can all dig into our pockets and contribute money, but the best thing we can do is simply go there” (USA Today, Friday, January 7, 2005). As we all are aware, the rebuilding of the communities and homes will continue but a full recovery in economic terms will only be a reality when the tourists return to the Island. Tourism impacts every strata of society and for the government of Sri Lanka it is one of the main foreign exchange earners.
Soon after the impact of the devastation the country was in mourning. It was a sensitive period to complete the search and rescue efforts and the time was needed to mourn the passing of the victims. Thereafter the process of cleaning up and rebuilding began.
In real terms, the damage to the hotels in the south and east coast was limited. Out of 246 star-class hotels throughout Sri Lanka, one was destroyed (and will be rebuilt) and 25 were damaged and were expected to be fully operational by the end of February. Also, the roads are clear for normal traffic.
It is important to note that the capital of Colombo, the cultural triangle (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Sigiriya and Aukana) and the central highlands of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and the tea country were not affected at all. The airport is functioning normally and the airline schedules have resumed to normal levels of operation.
Another important factor for a traveler is related to health issues. The recent visit by the Director General of World Health Organization, Dr. Lee Jong Wook helped confirm the swift action by the local authorities to stem the spread of disease. Dr.Wook stated “there is no threat of spreading diseases including diarrhea and cholera among the camp people”.
“Broad Brush” travel advisories which unfairly declare a whole country as unsafe to visitor the sensational ‘tabloid journalists’ who dwell on negative and shocking images of death and destruction will not help these communities. It is important to put the facts in perspective. An appropriate analogy would be to compare how the tragedy of 9/11 in New York would have prevented people from visiting Los Angeles.
The recovery process in Sri Lanka and other countries in South Asia affected by the tsunami will best progress if the facts are published so the traveling public is aware of areas that are safe to visit.
Key Travel Facts -- Sri Lanka
Courtesy of BBC World Travel Consumer Show
·The south and southeastern coast of Sri Lanka, including the tourist city of Galle, was damaged by the tsunami
·Of the 246 hotels island wide, only 25 of the star-class hotels remain closed and most are expected to be fully operational by the end of February · All of Sri Lanka's inland heritage attractions such as Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and the elephant orphanage at Pinnewala are operating normally.
·The west coast beach resorts in and around Negombo are operating normally. ·
For more detailed information on “The Facts About Sri Lanka" visit www.srilankatourism.org. and click on www.contactsrilanka.org