27th marks the World Tourism Day and we celebrate it at a time when the tourism industry has collapsed due to a global pandemic. Sri Lanka's tourism industry has reached a critical juncture more than ever with the Covid pandemic.

In the face of the current global pandemic, the tourism industry collapsed in every country of the world.  The lockdown of the countries led to the breakdown of relations and disruption of travelling.  As a result, the tourism industry came to a complete standstill.  This is an unbearable situation for the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, which has a population of nearly 3 million who are directly and indirectly dependent on the tourism industry.

Countries around the world are now focusing on controlling the Covid pandemic and boosting the tourism industry. Celebrating the World Tourism Day under the theme —Tourism for inclusive growth˜ really makes sense at this moment of living with Covid and trying to resurrect the world.

The tourism industry, which can bring in the highest foreign exchange, is an important sector of our economy.  It is also a sector that can be easily developed.  Under the ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, the policy framework, we aim to add US $ 10 billion annually to the national economy through tourism.  Although that goal has been set back due to the Covid pandemic, we hope to achieve that goal again after re-opening the country for tourists.

Our primary goal in maintaining the tourism industry under the Covid pandemic is to prevent the spread of the Covid -19 virus from tourists to the local community and vice versa.  Our government, led by the President, H.E. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, has given priority to vaccination against Covid -19 in order to protect the people of this country from the Covid pandemic and by now, more than 60% of the total population has been fully vaccinated.  Almost all those involved in the tourism industry have already get the Covid vaccine.  In this context, we have the potential to revive the tourism industry with renewed energy on World Tourism Day today.  We have already taken a number of steps for that purpose.

We aim to bring the benefits of developing the tourism industry to a better level than ever before from the self-employed to the large-scale entrepreneur associated with the tourism industry. To this end, we are working to build an eco-friendly and culturally friendly tourism industry with the participation of the public.  In addition to natural beauty of Sri Lanka, new areas based on entertainment are being identified with an aim of tourism promotion.  I also invite the private sector to develop the tourism industry based on the fields such as religious, cultural, heritage tourism, adventure sports, agriculture, eco-tourism, and indigenous medicine etc.

We look forward to implementing a number of initiatives in the future to develop the tourism industry, such as, modernization of domestic airports and development of domestic aviation, establishment of Tourist Service centres along the routes connecting the major tourist cities of the country, construction of sanitary facilities, restaurants, money exchange centres, etc. of those places with international standards, introducing a centralized internet software system and automated entry gateway system for tourists for online booking of hotels, obtaining transport services with tour guides, purchasing domestic air tickets and entry tickets etc, increasing  the number of trained and untrained tourism service providers in the tourism industry up to one million, developing a programme that will provide  showcasing opportunities for the performances of traditional  and modern dancers  and for selling the creations of artists and sculptors in tourist hotels and tourist attractions etc. 

The country cannot be closed forever due to the Covid pandemic.  The tourism industry cannot be stopped.  Thus, we have to be ready to live with Covid under the new normal condition.  What is needed now is the support of the people.  Therefore, I invite all stakeholders to join hands to revive the country's economy and revive the tourism industry.

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