A Story from Arugam Bay
Tourism is Recovering
Arugam Bay, a key tourism hotspot in Sri Lanka was affected economically after the Easter Sunday attacks, affecting the livelihoods of many local establishments for over 3 months. Since of late however, the situation has been improving. The Catamaran spoke with business owners in the area to find out more.
“For the past three and a half months, I have suffered massive losses. The situation was such that the restaurant was simply opened and closed. I faced great difficulty in paying salaries to my employees. I tried to get the attention of locals by cutting prices, but that too did not help. The past two weeks have seen an improvement in tourist arrivals. I am looking forward to seeing a lot of tourists coming for the Surfing Competition during this September as well” says S.M. Azeez, a restaurant owner.
Arugam Bay in the Pottuvil Divisional Secretariat area of Ampara District is one of the main places of tourist attractions. Built here after the year 2011, Azeez’s restaurant is mostly dependent on foreign tourists. The Easter Sunday incident turned everything upside down. He talked to us about how the industry could recover.
“Despite the loss, I am confident that I will be able to rebuild the business even better next year. Normally tourist arrivals in Arugam Bay during the off season are very low. However, we are getting ready for the Surfing Competition to be held this month. The government should identify and promote new areas for tourism in this region. The government should also fix the lapses in public transport, power cuts and road development etc. They are very important for Tourism Industry”, says Joseph Joao of the United Kingdom. He is the owner of a hotel in Arugam Bay.
Sri Lanka being a developing country has seen the Government encouraging foreign investors to the country, by way of offering many incentives. Investors require a peaceful and positive environment in the country in order to come forward to invest. Joao was one investor who came forward to invest after 2011, confirming the favorable situation of the country at the time.
“Various business activities will prop-up and prosper based on tourism. One of the most prosperous businesses is local handicrafts and garments” says Thangarasa Jegan, a handicrafts seller. “Business was at its peak during the same time last year. This year, business has fallen to about ten percent. We expect the situation to improve with tourist arrival in the coming months. We are especially looking forward to the Surfing Competitions.”
A.L.M.Jaufer who works at a Surfboard shop says “No one came to buy, hire or repair surfboards. But we have great expectations this time. In the wake of the Easter Sunday attack we observed an 80% drop in tourist arrivals and a drop in our income. Moreover, because of the Emergency Regulations, Armed Forces patrolling areas where tourists frequent creates an unpleasant scene which discourages tourists. Security is a must but the government should field Tourist Police for the purpose, instead of heavily armed military officers. The military roaming the streets with weapons is not a sign of a peaceful place. Tight security in some key identified areas is okay, but not everywhere. If the present condition continues in the country, we can expect an increase in tourist arrivals in the coming weeks,” he says.
Nithea, an Australian traveller to the area had a positive outlook. She said “Sri Lanka is a very beautiful country. I’m not afraid of coming here now. The situation is peaceful. Easing of the visa procedure also saves me time. Once you decide to go to Sri Lanka, you can take the flight and you are given a visa on-arrival. It is a welcome sign that the Sri Lankan government has made such a concession”.
According to reports, 2.3 million foreign tourists arrived in Sri Lanka in 2018, generating 4.5 billion in foreign exchange. This year there was a drastic drop. The government’s efforts to increase tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka such as introducing the On Arrival Visa to 46 countries has contributed to alleviating the situation.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Industry Forum, a guide for entrepreneurs in the tourism industry operates as an intermediary to increase the income of the entrepreneurs and guide them ideas to solve problems they face. A.M.Jaufer, Chairman of the Forum says “The situation in the area has been somewhat normalized within last two months by the cooperation of soldiers and civilians, after the tragic Easter Sunday incident. At present, there is a growing influx of tourists. April to November is the best season for tourism in the Arugam Bay area. Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Affairs John Amaratunga has made financial allocations for Road Development and Tourism Information Center to improve tourism in the area. With the Global Surfing Competition taking place this month, we hope the tourist arrival will increase and the industry would develop. At the same time, the government has extended the repayment period by one year for those who have obtained bank loans for the construction of hotels and related business activities. Further the government has taken measures to grant interest free loans up to Rs 5 lakhs through the Rural Development Bank for tourism entrepreneurs to carry out their business activities. However, as the government has only chosen the Rural Development Bank to lend and due to this the affected parties face some difficulties in obtaining loans. To overcome this, the finance ministry should make arrangements for mobile banking services and ease the process”.