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It’s time BIMSTEC focus on ‘Boarderless Tourism’ – Ranil WickremeSinghe

Shobhna Jain from Colombo

In an inspiring move to boost  tourism industry  in BIMSTEC region  Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickeremeinghe has suggested  to focusing on transforming the entire area into a remarkable “Borderless tourism hub”

The initiative aims to foster unity and camaraderie among the seven BIMSTEC countries that share borders, potentially bringing unprecedented economic prosperity over the next decade and raising the average income of the region to new heights. The key is to connect these nations  through tourism and move away from isolation through cross-border tourism. Besides generating revenue  this initiative will  prove to be a great boost for people to connect and will create better understanding between nations. It may be mentioned that BIMSTEC aligned with the broader framework of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)  is a regional grouping that comprises India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,Myanmar,Thailand Nepal and Bhutan

At a time when Lanka’s economy, after overcoming a challenging economic crisis, is gradually coming back to track,  this is  an important statement from President WickeremeSinghe.

He  shared  this idea in a  major  event, the 67th Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) convention held in Colombo recently that promised groundbreaking opportunities  for boosting tourism with the theme ‘Transcending Borders, Transforming Lives’. TAAI is oldest body of tourism related associations of India

Led by President Ranil WickeremeSinghe, the convention saw the TAAI enthusiastically pledging its support to revive Sri Lanka’s tourism economy, which was hit hard by the previous year’s economic downturn and political turmoil Ms. Jyoti Mayal, the President TAAI said ,”Lanka’s economy after overcoming a challenging economic crisis, expressed boundless enthusiasm, seeing the conference as a momentous milestone in showcasing Sri Lanka’s recovery to the world’s travelers”. As a travel industry expert  rightly said, “The collaboration between Sri Lanka and India aims to boost tourism in the region, promoting it as a top priority on the national agenda

The inauguration ceremony was attended by distinguished figures, including the Prime Minister Mahinda, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Gopal Bagle, and Sri Lankan luminaries like Transport and Tourism Minister Harin Fernaldo and Minister of Aviation and Water Transport N Sripala, chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism  Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chalaka Gajabahu. Around 700 stakeholders from both countries’ tourism sectors participated in the event. The Convention highlighted Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary identity. The convention emphasized the cultural, social and spiritual bonds that unite India and Sri Lanka since ages.

In inaugural president WickeremeSinghe said ” we are trying to  give tourism a new face so that more and more  visitors visit Sri Lanka’s fascinating natural beauty places and amazing ancient world heritage sights, he added that SriLanka faced bankruptcy and now we are gradually out of it. One of the ways of raising a fund which is not debt creating is tourism, so we should take full use of this industry .

In his address, Mr. Bagle emphasized the deep historical, spiritual, and cultural connections between India and Sri Lanka. He also announced direct flight services between Jaffna in Sri Lanka and Chennai in India, strengthening the bond between the two nations, especially considering the sizable Tamil population in the Jaffna region.

The concerted efforts of the Sri Lankan tourism department and the participation of stakeholders from India and Sri Lanka show a significant leap towards fortifying ties through tourism, aligned with the broader framework of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

Tourism is a vital sector for Sri Lanka’s economy, contributing around 5% to the country’s GDP. The nation faced a severe economic crisis last year but now showed promising signs of recovery, with a remarkable 27.02% surge in tourist arrivals in 2022, reaching 719,778 tourists. Sri Lanka’s cultural and spiritual attractions, such as the Elephant Sanctuary in Minarai National Park and the revered tooth of Mahatma Buddha in Kandy, continue to captivate tourists.

During a period of political instability, India provided essential support to Sri Lanka, injecting a $3.9 billion loan, which prevented the country from sliding into bankruptcy. The inflation rate, which was once alarming, has been tamed to a more manageable 12%, thanks to collective support from international financial institutions and the resilient efforts of Sri Lanka’s government and people.

The initiative to promote tourism between India and Sri Lanka holds immense potential for economic growth and cultural exchange. Sri Lanka’s resilience and India’s support have played crucial roles in overcoming challenges, paving the way for a brighter future in tourism for the region. The larger question is that   at this juncture are  these countries ready for this kind of proposal ?

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