Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Travel Journal #13: Tourism

As a result of the ongoing civil war tourism in Sri Lanka has been way down. People are afraid (as I was until I did some in depth research) to travel to a country where bombs are exploding on a monthly basis. While it's nice not having hordes of tourists around, on the other hand the country's economy is taking a big hit.

The situation is heartbreaking. Hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka depend on tourism. It is clear in faces of tour guides, restaurant and hotel staff that lately they have been bringing less food to the table. When asked they all are quick to say that tourism isn't what it used to be. I certainly didn't see as many foreigners around as I expected.

Sigiriya, which is supposed to be a major destination, was deserted. I was the only foreigner the whole two hours I was there. The guide who walked me through the ruins (who coincidentally enough is called Sasanka) said he used to climb the Sigiriya rock at least once every day but now he only gets to do it a couple of times a week. Sasanka is 25 years old and this is his full time job. He runs guided tours of Sigiriya in Sinhalese, English, German, French, and Italian. Each tour earns him a tip of around US$5. He has a girlfriend in Kandy about 45km away, and is saving up to get married.

At the end of the Sigiriya tour on the way to the car park there are lots of stands selling refreshments and all sorts of souvenirs from postcards to wooden elephants the size of a large dog. When I was there out of about 15 stalls, only three were open.

The situation isn't much better elsewhere. The beaches of Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna, once popular destinations with foreign tourists, reminded me of Brazilian beaches in winter. The Dutch Fort in Galle was also pretty much deserted apart from local couples, beggars, and the odd German tourist.

From what I could tell the people in Sri Lanka have great hope in the current president. They believe the war will be over soon and once the LTTE is defeated in the north of the country things will start to go back to normal.

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