Sri Lanka, an emerging Green Tourism destination in Asia

This is an excerpt from the Key-note address by Dr Nalaka Godahewa, Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism at the 24th Joint Meeting of the UNWTO commission for East Asia , South Asia and the Pacific : UNWTO high level Regional Conference on Green Tourism held in  Chiang Mia Thailand on 3rd of May 2012.  Read the full speech delivered by Dr. Nalaka Godahewa at

The secretary General of UNWTO Dr Taleb Refai, Distinguished invitees, presenters, officials, representatives of the media, ladies and gentlemen;

It is indeed a privilege for me and for my country Sri Lanka, to be invited for this high level UNWTO conference to present our perspective of Green Tourism. It is also important to note that until about 3 years ago Sri Lanka was rarely invited to share its experiences at global tourism conferences of this nature due to the fact the tourism was a stagnant industry in Sri Lanka for nearly than 30 years. It is due to a very simple reason. For 30 long years the progress of our beautiful country was hindered by an internal conflict orchestrated  by one of the most brutal and horrendous terrorist outfits that the world has ever seen; The LTTE. Fortunately for Sri Lanka and also for the world this  30 year long armed conflict ended on 18 May 2009 with complete annihilation of LTTE under the enlightened leadership of his Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka. Since then the world tourism industry has rediscovered Sri Lanka as a prime tourism destination. That is why today you want to know more about our country and about our sustainable tourism development policies.

I have structured this presentation to address the following;

  1. The current global scenario in tourism and the rise of Green Tourism 
  2. The sustainable Tourism development policy of Sri Lanka
  3. A few case studies on contributions to Green Tourism in Sri Lanka
  4. The value proposition of Sri Lanka and strategic fit with the green Tourism objectives of UNWTO

As you are already aware the world Tourism arrivals grew by 4.4 % in 2011 to a total of 980Mn up from 939 M in 2010. Among the regions which performed well Asia lead with  6.1 % growth. Sri Lanka also did well with 32% growth in 2011. We are continuing this good performance  in 2012 with 21% growth during the first quarter. We expect to exceed our 950,000 tourism arrivals target this year.

The year 2012 is quite significant to the global tourism industry. The UNWTO secretary general Dr Taleb Refai mentioned at the inauguration of this conference that the global tourism arrivals are expected to exceed 1 billion this year. That will also be great contribution towards the recovery of many global economies which have gone through financial difficulties. As you all know the tourism industry now contributes 5% of the world GDP . With 235 million jobs worldwide, one out of every 12 persons employed in the world today is engaged in Tourism.  World tourism generates closer US$ 3 billion a day in overall income and ranks fourth after fuels, chemicals and automotive products. Tourism is the main source of foreign income for one third of the developing countries. In certain island nations amongst the developing world contribution of tourism to national GDP is as high as 25%. Tourism is expected to be included as a key discussion item even in the agenda of the next G20 summit of world economic leaders scheduled to be held in Mexico in May 2012.

Amongst the recent global trends green tourism play an important role.  The number of travelers seeking green tourism destinations is clearly on the rise. According to UNWTO research 34% of world travelers today are willing to spend more for a hotel that has a record of being environmental friendly. 50% of tourists are willing to pay more for a hotel which shares the economic benefits with the community. These numbers are keep growing with greater awareness on green initiatives across the world.

What is green tourism or sustainable tourism?  We can simply define it as responsible travel to natural destinations that preserves the environment and improves the well-being of local community thereby ensuring sustainability.

It is in this context the sustainable tourism development policy of Sri Lanka becomes quite appropriate. His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa the President of Sri Lanka has set the country a target of 2.5 Million tourist arrivals by 2016. This means an ambitious goal of growing 400 % within 5 years. In order to achieve this ambitious target under the guidance of Hon Basil Rajapaksa, the Minister of Economic Development the country has prepared a 5 year tourism development master plan. The Tourism Development Strategy document published by the Ministry of Economic Development has very clearly articulated the sustainable tourism development policy of the country which is built on 3 main pillars.

Firstly making sure that there is absolutely no negative impact on Environment in any of our tourism development activities and also to contribute actively towards conservation of natural environment.

Secondly to ensure that the economic benefits of Tourism Industry is shared with a larger cross section of the society.

Thirdly to ensure a pleasant experience throughout the stay for each and every tourist so that these tourists will not only repeat their visits  but also promote the destination to friends and relatives.

All these policies fall perfectly inline with the sustainability  concepts that UNWTO is actively advocating.  Just look the UNWTO definition of sustainable tourism;  “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impact, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry , the environment and host communities” .  You can see very clearly the perfect alignment of our sustainability policy with this thought process.

In Sri Lanka tourism is 100% private sector driven industry.  The Government has confined its role to planning, policy making and regulation. Of course we support the development of the industry through development of common infrastructure like roads, ports, airports, energy and water supplies etc. The private sector is making the business investments and are responsible for capacity building, innovation, value creation and quality assurance. Sustainable tourism is of course at the core of all these activities and the social, economic and environmental issues are inseparable. Given tourisms importance to the local and global economy the sector has a responsibility to take the lead on the path towards sustainable development.

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