Parks Beyond Borders: Sri Lanka's National Parks Report Record Visitor Income

International tourism in Sri Lanka is spelling good news for the nation’s national parks. While Africa’s national park proponents discuss ways to increase tourism and reduce poaching that’s alarming the world and threatening to eliminate some species—Sri Lanka’s parks are being touted as “the best place in Asia for seeing wildlife.”

The bottom line for this small nation? “Income of all functioning national parks in the island has shown a sharp increase this year,” says an article by Disna Mudalige in the Sri Lanka Daily News.

The Wildlife Conservation Department (WCD) spokesperson “noted there is a marked increase in the number of foreign visitors to these parks.” The WCD told the Daily News that, “the peaceful environment in the country, and improving tourism sectors have led to this achievement.”

The spokesperson said twenty of the country’s twenty-two national parks were operating and that “the income of Galoya and Kumana national parks has trebled” over the previous year. In addition, fees and other income in Galoya, Kumana, Maduru Oya and Lahugala national parks have set records “compared with the statistics of past years.”

An article in the Wanderlust online magazine spells out a few reasons why Sri Lanka’s parks are appealing.

“The island’s isolation from the mainland, the heavy rainfall of the two diagonally blowing monsoons, and the country’s wide range of altitudes have given Sri Lanka a variation in climate and biodiversity normally found only across an entire continent,” says the article’s author Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (who the magazine identifies as being affiliated with a Sri Lankan tour operator).

“And Sri Lanka is proud of its natural heritage,” says the Wanderlust writer. “For over 2,000 years swathes of land have been preserved as sanctuaries by Sri Lankan royalty – Mihintale, the world’s first reserve, was created here in the third century BC. Now there are 100 areas of protected land in the country...”

The park announcement indicated that Somawathiya and Ussangoda national parks were not collecting fees but, perhaps understandably. “the department has planned to commence issuing tickets at the Somawathiya National Park by next year.”

Sri Lanka national parks include Yala (the second largest, but most visited national park, about 190 miles from the Sri Lankan capital, Columbo), Udawalawe (known for birding and elephant viewing, 103 miles from Colombo and the country’s third most visited park), and Wilpattu (Sri Lanka’s biggest, known for elephants and leopards).

For more on Sri Lanka’s national parks, see an earlier Parks Beyond Borders column.

Other Sri Lankan parks include Galoya, Kumana, Lahugala, Maduru Oya, Wasgamuwa, Flood Plains, Somawathiya, Horton Plains, Bundala, Lunugamvehera, Minneriya, Kaudulla, Hikkaduwa, Pigeon Island, Horagolla, Galway's Land, Angammedilla, Ussangoda and Mulathivu National Parks.

Postscript

After this story appeared we received a lengthy response from Mrs. Sandy Vadi of Toronto, Ontario pointing out a variety of cautions about travel to Sri Lanka. We’d like to highlight her concerns and respond to her main point—that the “Travel media has a moral obligation to the readers in raising awareness of not just the tourist destinations but a safe and ethical tourism.”

In her note—

1/ She said the Daily News citing of the “peaceful environment in the country, and improving tourism sectors “ ... is “totally one- sided, offering no travel advice about the other potential safety risks and threats currently experienced in Sri Lanka.” She called it “just another tourism promotion from the Sri Lankan administration,” citing the government’s “military occupation and rapid colonization taking place in the north and east provinces in Sri Lanka.”

2/ She says, “your story on Sri Lanka completely ignores the sporadic outbursts of politically motivated violence and white van abductions in certain areas around Colombo and suburbs. In many areas, tourists never leave their hotels and most Sri Lankans are too frightened to speak ...”

3/ She cited the murder of a Red Cross worker complaints “of sexual harassment in Sri Lanka and physical sexual harassment” that are the “highest in the South Asian region. According to a recent study by the European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (ECCSL), most of the foreign women had complained of such incidents and being frequently harrassed in public places.”

Response—

Travel to lesser-developed and Third World countries always involve risks—as does travel anywhere. Third World travel also often involves politically charged discussions of whether tourism is even ethical.

The story was primarily intended to report revenue increases at Sri Lankan parks, and was in no way intended as a “glossy marketing brochure ... about the Sri Lankan tourism packages.” Nor was it intended as a thorough overview of safety in the country. Any reader of National Parks Traveler—and especially those traveling anywhere outside the United States—is urged to review online data about travel safety, including materials provided by the United States Department of State.

Among other items found on those pages are these statements:

"Sri Lanka is a presidential parliamentary democracy with a developing economy. On May 18, 2009, more than 26 years of conflict ended with the Sri Lankan government defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During the war, the LTTE had a history of attacks against civilians, though none were directed against U.S. citizens. There have been no terrorist attacks since the end of the conflict, and the government has authority throughout the island.”

“Since the end of the 26-year separatist war, stability and safety in the country have improved. ... Most violent crime occurs within the local community ... Since the end of the conflict, there have been no (terrorist) attacks, and the Sri Lankan government has relaxed some, but not all, of the Emergency Regulations implemented during the war.”

“U.S. government employees and their family members are permitted to travel throughout the country on official and personal travel."

Finally, we specifically focused the travel material in the article on sources related to "guided tour travel," intending to both inform the reader of the source of some of the travel promotion—as well as to imply that guided and packaged park trips may be best. Indeed, that is often the best option in almost any Third World country where national park wildlife safaris are the attraction.

On that note, Mrs. Vadi suggests a link to an “ethical tourism” web site that includes a tour operator acceptable to that group.