This statement is in response to the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) decision to suspend the removal of 17 identified unauthorized establishments in the Mirissa coastal belt until further notice:
In the wake of the tourism industry crisis, triggered by the brutal attack on Dutch tourists at a beach bar in Mirissa, Hon. John Amaratunga proactively called all stakeholders to meet together without delay. The Sri Lanka Police, the Ministry of Law and Order, the SLTDA and the CCD were present at the meeting where the Minister assured them and the tourism fraternity as a whole, that swift action would be taken to ensure the removal of unauthorized constructions in the area.
On receiving his assurances, SLAITO in turn assured foreign tour operators that the issue was under control and is being appropriately managed by the relevant authorities.
However, we were disturbed to learn, that days later, the Coastal Conservation Department has decided to suspend the removal of illegal constructions on the Mirissa and Weligama coastal belt until further notice, going against assurances given to the tourism industry, the previous week. SLAITO members are disappointed to hear about the suspension as this issue is being monitored by tour operators who are waiting to see a swift response from authorities as they are responsible for the safety of tourists they send to Sri Lanka.
The illegal establishments identified for removal are a compliance and safety risk and have resulted in creating a dangerous and unsafe perception of Sri Lanka tourism. This is probably the worst public relations for the country at a time when the government is relying on the tourism sector to bring in precious foreign exchange.
SLAITO entreats the Government to proceed with the initial decision, as not coming down hard and strong on such attacks against tourists will effectively kill the industry and keep tourists away for fear of more such attacks. Undoubtedly, by suspending the effective and punitive measures that were taken, other disruptive elements will be emboldened to copy such attacks which go against the culture and hospitality of Sri Lanka itself.
At a time when the country is striving to earn foreign exchange, the growing influx of tourists not only supports the economy but also creates livelihoods for many along the supply chain. Therefore, any leniency in implementing the law, especially in a high profile case such as this; which has received worldwide attention, will result in negative word-of-mouth publicity that will take years to correct.
However, if swift and decisive action is taken at Mirissa as publicly announced by the Minister of Law and Order to remove illegal establishments, coupled with punitive action against the culprits, it will send out a strong message to the world that Sri Lanka respects tourists and that their safety is of paramount importance.