The Tourism sector being a vital foreign exchange earner and source of employment in Sri Lanka’s economy has suffered multiple crises since the 2019 Easter attack and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing the need to revitalize tourism, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka have come together to support the Government and people of Sri Lanka to build back tourism as a resilient and sustainable sector through the ‘Transforming Tourism in Sri Lanka: Emerging from crisis as a strong, resurgent and rebranded industry’ Project.

A key expected outcome of this initiative is to strengthen the tourism policy framework and institutional capacity at national level, providing vital policy direction to rebuild, recover and trigger transformational change for more sustainable and inclusive tourism in the island. The draft Tourism Policy aims to create a unique tourism experience for travellers to Sri Lanka and create sustainable and inclusive benefits for all actors in the tourism industry. This in turn will aid in protecting Sri Lanka’s best features; its natural resources, culture and history while benefitting local communities, taking us a step closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – leaving no one behind.

To this end, the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), in line with the recently published draft National Tourism Policy and public call for comments to the draft, held a meeting yesterday to discuss the engagement of the EU and UNDP in supporting tourism, particularly, in the implementation of the National Tourism Policy. The meeting was chaired by Mr. S. Hettiarachchi, Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism, with the participation of Ms. Jenny Correia Nunes, Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka. Also present at the meeting were Ms. Suranga Vithanage, Director General (Planning), Ministry of Tourism; Ms. Dhammika Wijayasinghe, Director General, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA); and members of the Tourism Working Group.

Speaking at the meeting on the importance of the National Tourism Policy, Mr. S. Hettiarachchi, Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism stated, “due to the nature of the tourism industry, developing policies after consulting the diverse array of stakeholders ensures a sustainable solution that is beneficial for Sri Lanka to unlock its true potential in developing tourism. The Ministry of Tourism looks forward to cross-collaborating and working closely with all other relevant ministries, in order to create a more resilient tourism industry.”

Reiterating the EU’s support, Ms. Jenny Correia Nunes, Head of the Development Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives stated, “The EU has been supporting Sri Lanka in a number of sectors including rural development, private sector support, justice and social inclusion. In response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now also focusing on tourism as we see the great potential and value addition it brings in terms of holistic economic and social development for the country and its citizens.”

Highlighting UNDP’s overall support to tourism recovery, Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “UNDP helped bring together multiple stakeholders to widen the consultative process, importantly bridging perspectives and ensuring inclusiveness of Sri Lanka’s sustainable tourism revival. Creating this platform for key associations, communities, private sector and government entities at the national and sub-national level to provide their recommendations has significantly strengthened the draft National Tourism Policy. UNDP looks forward to assisting the Ministry to continue this consultative platform to promote the implementation of the Policy’s social, economic and environmental sustainability objectives in years to come.”

The collaboration between the EU and UNDP signifies the critical importance of tourism to Sri Lanka’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery. The Transforming Tourism Project will aim to address the urgent needs of the industry, strengthening the institutional framework and capacity to set it on a trajectory for a greener, more resilient future.

-Ada Derana