Barmy Army to Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Monday, 24 September 2007, 08:49 GMT]
The British High Commissioner, speaking at the Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association in Habarana, on Saturday, praised the tourism potentiality of Sri Lanka and the "smiling faces" of Sri Lankan people. He was hopeful of England's touring fans, the Barmy Army to Sri Lanka on the eve of England's cricket tour. Meanwhile, a Sri Lankan academic in the field of cultural tourism told TamilNet that western tourists, ever crazy about novelty, chose Sri Lanka as a destination in recent times to get the thrill of being in a war zone.

Full text of the British High Commission press release, and the speech of the High Commissioner follow:

High Commissioner praises tourism industry, calls for investment to deliver full potential.

On 22 September, the British High Commissioner, Dominick Chilcott, spoke at the Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association in Habarana.

In his speech the High Commissioner said that strong historical and cultural links between Britain and Sri Lanka meant that British tourist arrivals had dropped only slightly compared to some other nations in recent months. British tourists remained the industries most valuable overseas customers. On the eve of England’s cricket tour he hoped the tourism industry and the country as a whole, were prepared for the arrival of England’s touring fans, the “Barmy Army”.

Highlighting the potential for tourism to contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic development he praised the performance of the industry despite the difficult environment created by the conflict. He encouraged both the government and the industry to realise the massive potential for tourism, particularly in promoting growth in rural areas. The variety of tourist sites, from beaches to temples to scenery to wildlife, together with the smiling Sri Lankan people, made Sri Lanka a unique destination. The High Commissioner highlighted three areas where change would significantly improve Sri Lanka’s earnings from tourism: ending the conflict, more eco-tourism and improving the country’s transport infrastructure.

Concluding the High Commissioner said

“I have a dream that the tourist industry will one day take its rightful place on a par with Sri Lanka’s most important industries. There really is everything here that the enterprising tourist could possibly be looking for. And I hope that dream will come true, sooner rather than later.”

British High Commission

Full text of British High Commissioner's speech:

"Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association, 22 September

"Mr Anandaraj, president of the Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association,

"Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

"Thank you very much for inviting me to your AGM. It’s wonderful for my wife and I to have the perfect excuse to visit the cultural triangle, a part of Sri Lanka of which we are very fond. We feel very fortunate to be your guests here in Habarana.

"I am also glad to be here to express my solidarity with you, the leading members of the tourist industry in Sri Lanka, at what must be a very difficult time for your businesses. It is sadly ironic that the industry that prides itself on welcoming visitors to these shores, that by its very nature is open-minded to people of different cultures and which upholds the highest standards of generous hospitality towards others should be amongst the hardest hit by the resurgence of the country’s conflict, a conflict whose roots are to be found in narrow mindedness and chauvinism.

"There are some signs that tourist arrivals may be picking up again. I certainly hope so. Your industry deserves success.

"Another reason to be glad to be here, as the British High Commissioner, is that, throughout these difficult times, British visitors have been more faithful than most others to Sri Lanka. Our numbers have dipped a bit too. But maybe because of the myriad ties that link our peoples, ties of kith, kin and friendship, building on many years of shared history, perhaps British people have been less easily put off.

"Our two countries have a huge amount in common. This country’s political institutions, your laws, your education system, your favourite sport cricket, your business culture and much more besides are easily recognisable to British people because so often they have been formed by the same traditions that shaped our institutions and habits. And whereas in the past, most of this cultural traffic was in one direction, from Britain to this island, nowadays our cultural exchanges have become more of a two-way street with both of us borrowing from the other.

"Modern Britain is increasingly an Anglo-Asian country. Our favourite food is curry. Our cricket team would be even worse than it is without its many players of South Asian origin, including an all rounder, Dimi Mascarenhas, whose parents originated from Negombo. Many of Britain’s leading business people came from this part of the world. In the sphere of politics, we have a growing number of ministers, MPs and local councillors of South Asian origin, as Nirj Deva was pointing out to me only the other day.

"It is easy to take all that commonality for granted. But I believe these connections comes to the fore when the going gets tough. That commonality which underpins our relations, those fundamentals that cement our two countries together, mean, I believe, that British and Sri Lankan people have a bond that is not found in this country’s relations with any other European country and maybe not with any other country in the world. And as a result, British people are more faithful to Sri Lanka than others.

"More Indians than Britons now come as visitors to Sri Lanka. But the Indians don’t stay for so many nights. And they don’t spend so much. So I like to think that the Brits remain your most valuable customers from overseas.

"Ladies and gentlemen,

"You won’t need reminding that a very particular group of Brits will be coming to these shores soon, the Barmy Army. Given the England cricket team’s performances over the years, you would have to be barmy to pay good money to travel round the world following the team. But barmy or not, these visitors are good news for the hospitality business.

"Do you remember the last time the Barmy Army was here in 2003? The story doing the rounds in the British High Commission is that after the Colombo test match, which Sri Lanka won, by the way, by a massive margin of an innings and 215 runs, the story goes that the Barmy Army hit town after the match in party mood and drank so much that Colombo ran out of beer.

"We, in the High Commission, take very seriously our consular responsibilities to protect the interests of the travelling British public overseas. So may I make a collective appeal to you all, with the best interests of my countrymen and women in mind? Please would you very kindly make sure this time that you buy in enough beer before the Colombo test match. Thank you.

"Ladies and gentlemen,

"Although times are hard for Sri Lanka’s tourist industry, I hope you won’t resist an attempt to raise our collective gaze up out of the prevailing gloom towards the sunny uplands of the future.

"For your industry world-wide is massive. According to the WTO in 1998, tourism accounts for one third of the value of total trade in global services. It is among the top five foreign exchange earners for 80% of the world’s countries, including Sri Lanka. In about one third of developing countries, tourism is the biggest foreign exchange earner of all.

"And your industry is getting bigger. According to the WTO and the World Tourism Barometer, the number of international visitor arrivals in 2006 rose by 4.5% over the previous year. This was a slight increase on the trend rate of growth of 4.1% per year. (For those of you who like to keep figures in your head, the estimated total number of visitor arrivals in 2006 was 842m).

"The forecast for 2007 is for tourism, measured by visitor arrivals, to grow by another 4% around the world. But that figure hides even better news for this part of the world. Inbound travel to the South Asian region increased by 11% in 2006.

"It is quite interesting to list those countries that did well in 2006. South Africa, making the most of its rainbow politics, good value for money and wonderful natural beauty, saw its visitors grow by 13%. Visitors to China, not surprisingly given its miraculous economic performance these days, were up 10%. Japan and Singapore attracted 9% more visitors in 2006 than in 2005. India saw a 13% increase, Thailand a massive 15%.

"According to the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, arrivals in Sri Lanka grew in 2006 by only 2% to 560,000. Of course, there may have been special reasons related to the tsunami that explain this lower rate of growth.

"The good news for the tourist industry here, however, was that the number of tourist nights grew substantially from 4.8m to 5.8m. You may only have had slightly more arrivals than the previous year but they stayed for a good deal longer. As a result, the country’s foreign exchange earnings grew a highly creditable 17% to $410m. Tourism thus kept its position as one of the country’s five highest foreign exchange earners after remittances, textiles, tea and gem stones.

The figures so far for 2007 in Sri Lanka make dismal reading. For the first six months of this year, tourist arrivals were down 24%. As I said earlier, there are signs that things are picking up again. Let’s hope so.

"Ladies and gentlemen,

"I sometimes wonder whether the government is sufficiently joined up in its policies towards tourism. Your minister for tourism is, I believe, an outstanding politician. But I wonder whether the wider economic potential of tourism is fully appreciated across government. Does tourism have a sufficiently prominent place in the president’s vision for developing the rural economy, the Mahinda Chinthana? It’s a fair question.

"Because for many developing countries, tourism is an absolutely key component of their national economic plans. This is because tourism, as all of you will know, is able quickly to stimulate income and employment growth and, through taxes and excise duties, to bring in foreign exchange earnings and revenue for the government.

"Tourism creates jobs more quickly than most other sectors of the economy. It is also good at creating jobs for new workers or those with minimal skills. And these jobs are not, of course, confined to those directly employed by the tourist industry.

"So many others benefit from the spending power of foreign holiday makers. Shop owners whether they sell souvenirs or the basic necessities of life, three-wheeler drivers, restaurant owners, suppliers of goods to restaurants and hotels, people who grow the produce or make the goods or import them that the suppliers buy to sell to the hotels and restaurants, the people walking up and down the beach selling sarongs, tambili and wooden models of fishing boats, the mahouts and their elephants, all of these and so many more depend to a greater or lesser extent on vibrant and healthy tourism, even though most of them would not describe themselves as working in the tourism industry.

"The multiplier effect of tourism, the indirect or induced economic effect of tourism, is greater than for most other sectors. In Sri Lanka last year, according to official statistics, employment, indirect and direct, in the tourism sector grew by 6% to 134,000.

"Tourism diversifies economies and therefore reduces the risk associated with too much reliance on one or two big sectors. Sri Lanka’s economy does seem to rely very much at present on remittances and the garment sector. Tourism has the potential to be as big or a bigger earner than these two.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you will have your own ideas as to what needs to be done for the tourism industry to achieve its potential. When I asked my daughter, who has just arrived out here from UK for a holiday, what needed to be done, she said solve the conflict and develop more eco-tourism.

"The first needs no explanation. The second, more eco-tourism, goes with the grain of sentiment in Europe where increasingly people are becoming aware of the cost in carbon emissions of their activities. Anything that involves long distance flying raises the issue. So it may be that European travellers will increasingly be looking to offset the carbon footprint of their journeys by staying at destinations with an eco-friendly character.

"Having lived in Sri Lanka for a year and a half, I would add a third suggestion to my daughter’s two ideas – invest in the roads and railways. I realise this is very expensive. But the economy as a whole suffers because it takes so long to travel around what is not a very big island. And as the number of cars, buses and lorries increases by leaps and bounds, congestion on the roads is only going to get worse unless significant improvements are made. Perhaps faster and more comfortable trains are part of the answer.

"Ladies and gentlemen,

"Rudyard Kipling, in his famous poem ‘If”, in which he sets out the qualities that should become a real man, says: ‘If you can dream but not make dreams your master’, in other words it’s a good idea to dream of better things but not to become a full time dreamer. Wise advice.

"Martin Luther King, in 1963, during America’s civil rights campaign, when discrimination against black people was a daily experience in many parts of the US, made a famous speech in which he set out his dream of a transformed America. I have a dream, he said, that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." Even in turbulent troubled times, he could see a better future for black people.

"That sort of breadth of vision may be necessary today to sustain your hard work and endeavours in the tourism industry. You may need to dream a little.

"But what dreams you can have about Sri Lanka. Beautiful golden sandy beaches, fringed with palms and coconut trees, lapped by the warm, turquoise blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Fascinating, brightly painted temples in spectacular settings. Ancient cities, rediscovered after centuries of decay. Awesome wildlife. Sri Lanka is a paradise for bird watchers, leopard fanciers and elephant enthusiasts. Breathtaking scenery in the hill country, where the tea plantations follow the contours of the slopes like a well groomed short back and sides haircut.

"And most of all, the people. Beautiful, elegant, dignified, smiling Sri Lankans, offering such a warm and beguiling welcome to their country that no foreigner can fail to be seduced by it.

"And it is possible to experience all this wonder and variety in a fairly small place, without having to travel miles and miles, as you do in India. And there is every style of hotel here to accommodate the full spectrum of tastes and budgets.

"So I have a dream that the tourist industry will one day take its rightful place on a par with Sri Lanka’s most important industries. There really is everything here that the enterprising tourist could possibly be looking for. And I hope that dream will come true, sooner rather than later.

Thank you very much.



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