Achievements a triumph for ecotourism in Sri Lanka

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The Sri Lanka Tourism Awards 2011 was held on August 30, 2012, at the Waters Edge – Battramulla. The Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation (SLEF) bagged 2 awards in creating a history of Sri Lanka Tourism, being the first ecotourism organization in Sri Lanka to receive such awards for ecotourism.

The awards received were: Best Initiative for Ecotourism Research, Training and Education in Sri Lanka; and Best Model Community Based Tourism Project in Sri Lanka, Walawa Nadee Ecotourism Organization, Ambalantota, nominated and supported by the Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation (SLEF).

The Sri Lanka Tourism Awards 2011 pays tribute to organizations and individuals for their excellence and inspired achievements for the previous year, while contributing towards the strengthening and empowering of the nation’s tourism industry. This annual event, held for the 5th consecutive year under the aegis of Sri Lanka Tourism, provides an enviable platform for industry recognition. These accolades also present an opportunity for tourism operators to reinforce their commitment to perpetuating visitor experience and celebrating their success in an evolving business environment. An objective of this year’s awards was to recognize and reward excellence in the travel and tourism industry, thus promoting and enhancing the delivery of service standards.

These important awards would certainly contribute to Sri Lanka tourism in positioning Sri Lanka as an ecotourism destination in the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, these achievements would certainly help SLEF to extend further support to the poor communities living around the tourism-generating areas of Sri Lanka in sharing the tourism income.

SLEF has been actively contributing to the development of ecotourism in Sri Lanka for last 14 years. Palitha Gurusinghe is the founder President of Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation (SLEF), and the pioneer of the National Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka that was established in 1998. During the past 14 years, SLEF pioneered the promotion of community-based ecotourism in Sri Lanka and worked hand in hand with other like-minded organizations in Sri Lanka, South and Southeast Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region, in promoting community-based tourism projects and poverty alleviation programs through tourism. SLEF has also introduced the concepts of “community ecolodges” and “community camping” to Sri Lanka tourism.

Community camping and community ecolodges are vital tools to ensure a tangible alternative income to communities through tourism. The concepts developed and the activities initiated and implemented in ecotourism by SLEF would go a long way in supporting Sri Lanka tourism, because, ecotourists are higher spenders than the “ordinary” mass of tourists. High spending, nature-loving, responsible tourists are undoubtedly an attractive option for governments looking for ways of earning foreign exchange through tourism.

SLEF is dedicated to the cause of poverty alleviation through ecotourism in Sri Lanka, because ecotourism is often seen by the poor communities as one of the few alternative livelihoods which are open to them. Communities, whose people are living in poverty, invariably find their young people migrating to urban centers, because of the decline in traditional industries such as agriculture and fishing. Ecotourism can prevent this urban drift and provide them with an essential alternative income. Ecotourism could act as a catalyst to mitigate community setbacks and assure economic justification to the communities living around protected and natural areas.

Over the past years and to the date, SLEF has been dedicated to promoting community-based ecotourism enterprises (CBEs) such as the Walaw Nadee Ecotourism Organization, in various areas in SriLanka, to ensure the community gets a tangible share of tourism income, alleviating poverty in tourism-generating areas, and thereby encouraging the community to support environmental and biodiversity conservation.

During the past years, SLEF has pioneered in popularizing ecotourism education, as well as training and research among the community, travel agents, tourism marketing/planning executives and decision makers, adventure and nature-based tour operators, university students, teachers, researchers, practicing national tourist guide lecturers, hotels, guest houses, restaurants, ecolodge owners and camping operators, and travel journalists in electronic and print media.

SLEF has just completed an Ecotourism Business Development Certificate Program (EBD), which was started in June, 2012 (see more information at www.ecotourismsrilanka.net .

SLEF is of the view that ecotourism education and related training and research programs should be considered as the most important issue as far as future development of ecotourism is concerned. Education of tourism industry operators, their customers, and the wider community is an essential but often overlooked component of sustainable tourism. In the race to develop new tourism products and services in natural areas, it is often marketing infrastructure and management that receives priority, and the development of educational programs is an afterthought.

The potential to use the vastly expanding knowledge, with regard to natural and human systems in the educational programs for ecotourism is not only important but essential to long-term sustainability. Any attempt to implement sustainable practices that do not incorporate educational programs will be self defeating. Future generations of ecotourists will need to be aware of environmental considerations not only when holidaying but also in their daily lives.

SLEF has conducted diverse ecotourism training, research and educational programs focusing on:

– Creating an awareness of sustainable tourism, and environmental and biodiversity conservation, among tourists and the community.

– Research programs conducted to popularize ecotourism in Sri Lanka

– Supporting the many who are interested in widening their horizons in ecotourism

– Helping universities, other institutions, and individuals who are conducting research and training programs in ecotourism, bringing together the tourism industry segments, academia, and general public in Sri Lanka who are interested in ecotourism, with a view to providing the latest information on new trends of ecotourism worldwide, environmental and biodiversity conservation through the development of ecotourism, how to ensure economic and social benefits to the communities through tourism, and educating travel industry members in developing and marketing ecotourism products in a sustainable manner, including training of interpreters and guides, offering cost-effective green certification, eco-labeling, and accreditation programs, etc. These sorts of programs would certainly help in strengthening the ecotourism and sustainable tourism fabric in Sri Lanka.

Further information may be found at www.ecotourismsrilalanka.net .

The Sri Lanka Eco Tourism Foundation is a member of the International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP), a fast-growing grassroots travel and tourism coalition of global destinations committed to quality service and green growth.

PHOTO (L to R): Lasantha, Treasurer of Walawa Nadee Ecotourism Organization; Sirisoma Edirisinghe, Chairman, Walawa Nadee Ecotourism Organization; Sanath Weerasuriya, Vice President of Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation (SLEF); & Palitha Gurusinghe, President, Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation