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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

Sri Lanka: Ecotourism for self employment through Regulatory Authorities.

Ecotourism also called ecological tourism appeals to the ecological and socially conscious; it focuses on local culture, wilderness adventure and learning new ways to live in this planet—or even a search for peace that comes with that simmering desire to discover a past way of living amongst the biodiversity of this planet?

Whist conventional tourism is at times seen as destroying environment by pollution and carelessness, ecotourism is directed to promote recycling of products, water conservation, electricity generation, local crafts, opportunity for folklore etc, thus creating self employment for the community in and around ecotourism sites enhancing their cultural integrity, and sustainable development; it is certainly promoting a less stressed out way of life, increasingly sought by those caught in the rat race of the urban city by enabling an escape into an oasis of peace away from the world of turmoil!

Ecotourism is an attempt to maintain pristine ecological sites-an attempt to make people discover sites that have to be preserved for the nation’s pride. It seeks—conservation of biological diversity-this being the theory and techniques of describing, naming and classifying living and extinct organisms on the basis of similarities of features and structure, a natural phenomenon attracting tourists—sustainable use of such biological diversity—sharing of such socio/economic benefits with the local community, and increase of environmental /cultural knowledge.

This attempt could turn out to be a degradation of the ecology with commercialization, unless carefully planned with proper guidelines. Exposure to commercialization with no consideration for the beauty and fragility of nature in its original state is described by critics as ‘green-washing’, among many other terms; this can eventually deter genuine ecotourism-a consequence following the loss of pristine ecological settings.

Ecotourism, responsible tourism and sustainable development have become synonymous terms since the late 1980’s; ecotourism has had a very fast growth from then on by way of increased environmental awareness and the natural desire to explore this. Due to the great potential for environmental protection the UN has named an International Year of Ecotourism.

Reportedly many of the eco-tourists come from the United States, Western Europe, Canada and Australia; there is a high potential of tourists from India.

Every attempt must be made by the government in conjunction with tourist stake holders and other concerned academics to show a heritage that the rest of humanity has a right and also the anxiety to see, without letting this heritage be buried under a bushel due to infighting over academic disputes; a way out has to be discovered by discussion and compromise: in no way should a-Dog in Manger policy be followed!

It has over the years become a serious problem in many parts of the world where pristine ecology still exists, as to whether commercialization of sites and its consequences far outweigh the benefits of ecotourism proper for the host country. This is due to controversies prevailing among environmentalists, tourism stakeholders and governments. This requires that basic element of dialogue for compromise and a keen sense of moving forward to exhibit our resources and at the same time generate much needed income and job opportunities.

It is the contention of environmentalists that ecotourism is nature based conservation supportive and also environmentally educative; however they should compromise on ecotourism ventures if these could be sustainably managed.

On the other hand certain governments and tourism stakeholders’ focus more on the product aspect treating ecotourism as equivalent to any other tourism based on nature; they must realize that haphazard commercialization would eventually cause degradation of the ecology-a long term loss to the country.

Lack of proper definition and understanding of ecotourism has led to confusion among tourist stakeholders, academics and governments, thus causing public controversy and an inability to find a via media for ecotourism ventures.

Some opine that insensitive commercialization is environmentally destructive, economically exploitive and culturally insensitive, thus manipulating tourists’ concerns for environment observation.

Critics of haphazard commercialization also point out an example in a country where the so-called green-washing has converted an ancient habitat, naming it, ‘Nature’s Paradise’ with age old inhabitants dislodged, thus violating their fundamental rights; this debacle has been made worse by keeping endangered species of animals in captivity to attract visitors; all this is inimical to maintaining the balance of bio diversity.

If not carried out with well guarded and internationally accepted guidelines, highly commercialized ecotourism can disturb fauna/flora and its biodiversity: even harmless but haphazard nature hikes and jeep drives could become ecologically destructive.

The United Nations has declared a World Environment Day; this is incidentally celebrated in Sri Lanka this year: UN must lay down an international code of conduct to be adhered to by both host countries and visitors in this fast trend for globalization.
Generally it falls on the government of the country to administer and enforce environmental protection, but it is learnt that they lack the commitment and capability to manage ecotourism sites effectively; also their decisions can be politically motivated; it is also evident that private enterprise could mange it better because stakeholders will have a self interest in arresting environmental degradation, as tourists will pay more for pristine environments.

It is however evidenced that even private enterprise can prove futile when more and more entrepreneurs enter the field outdoing each other for higher profit margins-unless these enterprises are controlled by a Regulatory Authority set up by the government; this Authority can include other stakeholders of the industry.

Ecotourists who are expected to follow that eventual international code of conduct must be educated on cause-and-effect of their actions on the environment with incentives for such awareness and environmental sensitivities. Tour guides are the best medium for this and for this to be successful tour guide training programs should be conducted and certificates granted to those coming up to standards expected.

In developing ecotourism, a matter to be guarded is a new form of imperialism that may set in, if multinational corporations are invited for improvement of ecotourism. These companies may try to siphon profits away from the company at the expense of the degradation of the local environment.

However even for small scale tourism ventures foreign investments may be needed for promotion and initial set up; it is best in such a situation to find a company or non-governmental organization that reflects the philosophy of ecotourism over a search for profit only, which however is a must for any venture.

In such a set up it is best that ecotourism is given to local entrepreneurs to conduct ecotourism under Regulatory Authorities in small scale enterprises, on the premise that local people have a vested interest in the well being of their communities and environments. Moreover such small local enterprises with economies in scale arising from deploying local products, material and labor should be more conducive to sustainable ecotourism development.

In pursuit of local small scale entrepreneurs for ecotourism projects, the Grameen Bank concept may be utilized to initiate projects among those in and around ecotourism sites; their website is-www.grameen-info.org It provides credit without any collateral to deserving people who are industrious and lacking financial resources; it also encourages the overall development of socio-economic projects.

Environment and Tourism Ministries could jointly form a Regulatory Authority to initiate small scale projects and develop these with standard international guidelines, to suit tourists who should preferably visit the sites from hotels situated away from the ecology to be preserved.

It is noted that such small scale ecotourism ventures have been initiated in Sri Lanka with the good offices of the Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation-SLEF set up recently by the Minister of Tourism; this could be the nucleus of that Regulatory Authority with other diverse representations.

Sri Lanka is reportedly one of the 25 Biodiversity hot spots in the world and has the highest biodiversity per 10000 square km in Asia. It has 15 distinct bioregions in an area covering only 63,860 square km in the Indian Ocean, each offering different landscapes and wild life.

With an ancient civilization contemporary to that of the Greeks and Romans and numerous cultural sites of antiquity, including six world heritage sites, Sri Lanka is considered having an exotic and vibrant resource base of Ecotourism.

Singharaja forest is the most famous rainforest of the country. This tropical rain forest is a living heritage. Bio diversity of the forest is very high and a large proportion of the flora in this forest is endemic to the country and some endemic to the Singharaja Forest itself.

The jungles of the country abound in a variety of wildlife, surprising for an island of this size. Ecotourism sites available are;

National parks in-Horton Plains-Yala-Uda Walawe-Wasgamuwa and Minneriya-Wildlife sanctuaries in-Peak wilderness and Pallekele-Nature Reserves in-Hakgala and Ritigala-Forest range in Kitulgala and Knuckles-Sinharaja-World heritage Site-Bird Sanctuaries in-Bundala-Kumana-Bellanwila-Attidiya and Kegalle Kurulukelle vegetation-Wetlands in-Muthurajawela-Negombo and Bolgoda Lake-Botanical Gardens in-Paradeniya-Hakgala and Gampaha-Zoological Gardens in Dehiwela-Museum and Natural Museum in Colombo 7-Elephant orphanage in Pinnawela.

The island abounds with 103 rivers and streams radiating from the central hills, rushing down rocky precipices forming a number of roaring waterfalls of various shapes and heights, all ending up in the Indian Ocean.

Here are some of the most picturesque waterfalls, out of which only a few can be viewed with ease; others can only be seen by penetrating thick forests and tea plantations;

Bambarakanda Ella, the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka (865 feet); this is at its peak capacity during September and October-Diyaluma, the 2nd highest waterfall around 13 Km towards Koslanda on the Wellawaya Road; Diyaluma means watery light-Dunhinda; to see the breathtaking beauty of Dunhinda falls(210 feet) one has to travel about 5 Km from Badulla along the Mahiyangana road, and walk for another 2 Km (trekking) away from the main road-St. Claire, the widest waterfall in Sri Lanka, about 265 feet high-Laxapana Falls, 377 feet high-Aberdeen Falls, 322 feet is 5 Km away from Laxapana-Aberdeen Falls-Devon Falls 318 feet can be best viewed from the 20th mile post of the Talawakele-Nawalapitiya highway-Rawana Falls, visible from the Ella-Wellawaya road, near Udunuwara village-a popular stopover for travelers.

Further falls are:

Alupola Ella, 200 feet is seen 25 Km away from Ratnapura in the Wewalwatte village-Bopath Ella,100 feet falls in the shape of a Bo leaf seen along the Colombo-Ratnapura-The Lovers Leap, 100 feet and begins its journey as a fountain at the Southern slope of Sri Lanka`s highest mountain Pidurutalagala-Mawanella Ella, 35 Km from Nuwara Eliya towards Udupussallaw-Bakers Fall, discovered by Sir Samuel Baker-Elgin Falls, 75 feet between Nanu Oya and Ambewela- Elgin Falls.-Bridal Falls resembling a bridal veil, while dropping over the rock face-Perawella Falls, 90 feet and Ramboda Falls, seen from the Ramboda Bazaar on the Nuwara Eliya-Ramboda road.

Tourist sites so mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg, in comparison to all that is available for tourists to feast on!

All tourist sites in Sri Lanka are no problem as regards time and space, being situated within the 63,860 square km area of the country, and where various trips could be planned out from the main city of Colombo the commercial hub of the country; little wonder the heavy influx of tourists both in good and bad times, in a world full of unforeseen mishaps—at least in Sri Lanka it is intensely confined to only a part of the country, with sporadic incidents outside!

This article is a contribution by the writer to the United Press International UPI Washington, associated with the Universal Peace Federation UPF New York.

- Asian Tribune -

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