With the proper policies, Sri Lanka could become the best destination for wildlife tourism outside of Africa, according to global research agency Euromonitor International.
“Sri Lanka is very well-positioned to be an authentic destination for experiential travel, especially in wildlife tourism. Sri Lanka can be the best wildlife tourism destination outside Africa,” Euromonitor Research Analyst Jocelyn Cheung said during Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit 2017.
She noted that travellers are becoming keen to explore destinations, which offer unique experiences, farther away from Africa.
“But wildlife conservation and protection will become extremely crucial here. Instead of promoting animal sightings, you will also need to cultivate the experience for discovering and understanding wildlife habitats in travellers,” she said. Increased understanding of a destination on the part of the tourist would contribute towards the destination’s sustainability.
Cheung said that since Sri Lanka is one of the 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world, the country should take sustainability seriously.
Minor Hotels CEO Dilip Rajakarier, speaking just before Cheung, noted how in Yala—the most popular national park in Sri Lanka—too many tourists are admitted beyond the capacity of the park and where animal sightings result in all the vehicles crowding in on the animals, threatening the sustainability of the park. Jeep drivers in Yala use mobile phone to update each other on animal sightings—especially the leopards—to provide tourists with a special memory but such acts have resulted in vehicles speeding inside the national park, with some animals, including leopards, becoming road kill for the speeding jeeps.
The Wildlife Conservation Department managed to ban mobile network operations in mid-2015 to combat this but the ban was lifted shortly thereafter.
Some local stakeholders, such as wildlife enthusiasts and veteran hotelier Srilal Miththapala, are attempting to create the experience surrounding wildlife tourism and to educate the local guides and drivers of the importance of sustainability for their future job security, as was highlighted by him during a seminar at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce this year.
Many stakeholders, including Aitken Spence Group Chairman Harry Jayawardena, have called for regulations to restrict the number of tourists visiting wildlife parks as a solution.
Sri Lanka made Rs.1.45 billion in revenue from sales of wildlife park entrance tickets to foreigners in 2016, up 42.94 percent year-on-year (YoY), while the number of foreign visitors was 783,203 in 2016, up 40.23 percent YoY.
The price discrimination, with which the government sells tickets to locals at a fraction of the price of a ticket sold to a foreigner, contributes to the congestion inside the parks.
The state received just Rs.70.02 million from local ticket sales in 2016, up 39.77 percent YoY, although the number of local visitors to the parks was 1.41 million, up 47.93 percent YoY.
The discrepancy between the growth of the number of tourists and the ticket sales is due to price discrimination between adults and children.