Tourism and community participation: The way forward for Sri Lankan tourism?

The tourism industry in Sri Lanka and the paradigm shift in the recent past towards experiential travel offer an incredible opportunity to provide much-needed economic benefits in rural and remote areas – particularly to communities that lack the knowledge and financial resources to take part in tourism development without external support.

Travellers are more than willing to spend money on unique, local activities, especially if this benefits local communities. It is a fast-growing niche market and more travellers are interested in learning about local communities and interacting with them. In the post-pandemic environment these activities provide interesting and lower cost alternatives for Sri Lankan interested in doing something new and interesting without the additional costs of traveling abroad.

As sustainable tourism replaces conventional tourism globally, the need for Sri Lanka to steer and develop paradigms under the umbrella of sustainability is substantial. The demand for unique and authentic experiences offers the potential for emerging destinations such as the East to attract high-value visitors increases too. The incredibly rich culture and history in the East offer some of the region’s best and most exciting experiences, at a fantastic value.

With the idea of supporting and encouraging self-help, self-reliance and empowerment of communities in the East, the Skills for Inclusive Growth (S4IG) has partnered with the Sevalanka Foundation – a local organisation that works towards community development to encourage community participation in the tourism industry.

The S4IG is a program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australian Government implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations.

The idea of S4IG is to foster community-based tourism; where local communities extend experiences and share intimate parts of their lives otherwise unknown. It allows travellers the opportunity to completely immerse themselves in a new culture while providing communities with a source of income.  S4IG’s efforts in the East, particularly in the Batticaloa district are two dimensional. Firstly it allows travellers to enjoy an incredible grass-roots experience while directly impacting the local communities. It opens an entirely new set of sources of income to support remote communities whilst being involved in the tourism industry.

Secondly, it develops sustainable livelihoods and builds capacity in village communities to share natural resources and culture and package them into meaningful and enlightening experiences.

The Sevalanka Foundation together with S4IG collaborates and recognises the tourism potential within each community. And while Sevalanka plays a key role in designing tours and activities, S4IG offers training, promotional and business support in building capacity. Together they work to ensure these communities are able to increase their income potential and be self-sufficient while also conserving their cultures and nature.

The East, especially the Batticaloa district, has a plethora of exciting experiences that are yet unexplored. For adventure seekers there is a range of tours such as snorkelling amidst live corals and shipwrecks from the Second World War in Kayangani, hiking in Thoppi Gala and camping with the fishing community in Vahaniri.

Batticaloa also is fantastic for bird enthusiasts with Kirangulam offering over 50 species of birds. A unique tour within the program is the honey experience with the indigenous Vedda community. The experience includes an outdoor exploration where travellers are able to learn how organic honey is collected and taste their indigenous food made using honey. It allows guests to have a deeper understanding of the Veddas’ food habits and lifestyle.

S4IG through their programs builds the capacity of these communities while ensuring their programs has a distribution of benefits that includes social/community, economic and environmental.

Community-based tourism allows high-income opportunities through the facilitation of art, dance and music. Not only does it allow the traveller to experience the local culture through their eyes, taste buds and hearts, but it also allows communities to celebrate their culture and authenticity through meaningful employment while steering Sri Lanka towards a rich and authentic hub for tourism.

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