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Oman and Sri Lanka have immense tourism potential

Asoka Girihagama
June 15, 2012
At the end of this year, we will reach the historical landmark of 25 years in our diplomatic relations with Oman.

We opened our mission in the Sultanate of Oman on December 19, 1987 and our relations have grown from strength to strength ever since.

Oman has become one of our closest friends in the Middle East region and our relations encompass various fields -” from manpower, construction industry and hospitality to agriculture, education, tourism, trade and close co-operation in multilateral forums.

I would like to highlight one striking feature between Sri Lanka and Oman, among other similarities. Both countries have been internationally acclaimed as popular tourist destinations due to rich cultural heritage and wealth of natural beauty.

It is common knowledge that Muscat was awarded the prestigious title of 'Arab Tourism Capital 2012' in recognition of its rich culture and heritage. Following this prestigious recognition, Oman has accelerated numerous tourism-related projects to meet the challenges in the tourism sector to make the country more attractive to visitors.

Sri Lanka, while treading the same path, has taken numerous steps in infrastructure development to provide more facilities to visitors and to bring international standards to the tourism sector.

Any visitor can explore Sri Lanka's natural beauty and cultural heritage within a few days time with a limited budget. Interestingly, you can experience cold, hot, mild or rainy weather patterns within a few hours of travelling in the island.

Travellers who wish to enjoy more activities in a single location would undoubtedly appreciate this unique experience.

It is my understanding that aspects such as diversity, satisfaction (of the visitor), value (for money) and convenience (of the visitor) are some vital ingredients that support the development and sustainability of the tourism industry.

Sri Lanka's tourism attractions could be experienced within the land mass of 64,610 sq. km and this compactness has given a great advantage to our tourism industry.

It is our experience that busy travellers in the modern era are interested in diversified, meaningful and pleasurable experiences in terms of value for their money. Diversified tourism concept has been promoted in Sri Lanka in the last decade or so.

This ideology has been given priority in our tourism development plans, as Sri Lanka possesses myriad of tourist products and attractions such as heritage sites, waterfalls, beaches, rainforests, wild life, gemstones, bird sanctuaries, elephant orphanage, whale watching, tea plantations, surfing, scuba diving, etc. In real terms, Sri Lanka is a perfect place for tourists where their aspirations become reality in the shortest possible time.

If this is the case, why has Sri Lanka not emerged as the best tourist destination, at least, in the Asian region? The simple answer is the war ignited by terrorists in the last three decades.

Our economic development was hampered for the last 30 years by the brutal war, which ended in May 2009. All possible steps are now being taken to recover from that setback and currently, the country is under an extensive and well-planned economic drive.

Sri Lankan policy makers initiated a five-year tourism development plan in 2011 with a view to increasing annual tourist arrivals to 2.5 million; expanding annual foreign exchange earnings from tourism to $2.75 billion and to increase the room capacity to 45,000 by 2016, among other things.

In terms of tourism development, our room capacity must be increased by around three-fold from the current capacity of 14,000. Although it is an uphill task, we are determined to achieve that target within the next four-year period.

Therefore, opportunities are open for investors to develop the hospitality industry of the country. I trust this is the opportune time to learn from each other of the challenges and experiences of the industry for the development of tourism sectors of the two countries.Asoka Girihagama is the ambassador of Sri Lanka to Oman.

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