The Sunday Leader

An Idea For The Slumbering Tourism Ministry

Sigiriya shot by ŶΣŅΡǾΧ

By Ravi Perera

Surely, one of the most objectionable features of our tourism industry, at least from the point of view of the visitors, is the two-tier entrance fee structure operating mostly at places of historical/religious interest. At some of these sites, the difference could be more than 20 times what a local person may pay!

This very apartheid looking system  is often defended on the basis that the charges are compatible with what a tourist would  generally pay to visit a place of similar historical significance in a developed country, and that a local with his much lower income, cannot afford such prices, hence the cut rate for him. This income based fee structure, if applied to other situations like restaurants or transport, would lead to huge social unrest. We can get away with such a system only because the victim is a visitor. Even in the case of tourists in the Cultural Triangle, it leaves a bitter taste, suggesting to the visitor that the whole purpose of our tourist industry is to extract as much money as possible from him, without any legal or ethical considerations.

It goes without saying that even among the tourists there are huge gaps in personal income. The other day I met a history student from Bangladesh, who had to pay the tourist rate at Sigiriya because of his foreign passport. In income terms, he would fall into the lower middle-class category even here. He had made the trip thanks to the largesse of a European University which had sponsored the trip. A friend suggested that he may have been able to obtain a student concession, but the bureaucratic procedure involved to obtain such would have made it futile.

This matter has been raised many times before, but to no avail. Since the authorities seem unable to change, may I suggest that we at least make it look less like ‘broad daylight’ robbery.
One thing we could do is to give the tourist, who is paying so much more than the others, a docket containing a well written description of the place, a map, relevant literature, other tourist information and maybe even some free offers. Such a docket would be readily sponsored by the tourist industry, and would go a long way towards making the tourist feel that he is not being blatantly cheated.

Needless to say, this docket must be prepared by professionals. It is a striking fact that most places in Sri Lanka do not have authoritative literature on it. For example, if an interested party wants to read up on the history of Colombo there is no easy reference. In most countries with a strong tourist industry every village and sometimes even little hotels and pubs have short histories written of the place.

In this country even the little literature now available to the tourist is most times meaningless hype obviously written by juvenile minds. One is put to shame that such twaddle is given as historical reports. To compete in the modern world, to be average, is simply not good enough.

14 Comments for “An Idea For The Slumbering Tourism Ministry”

  1. Banda

    Certainly this should be looked into by a team of professionals so that most Asians (except Japan, South Korea and maybe China) who fall into the low income category of tourists would pay less than those from Europe etc. It is true that the entrance fees are high for foreigners but we also have to remember that those in Europe and USA who could pay more for such facilities (or much less) in their countries don’t give concessions to people from poorer countries !

    Look at the University charges in the UK, foreign students from poorer countries have to pay 15 TIMES that of the local fees !! Is that fair ?!

  2. Kaybee

    I have a friend visiting from Srilanka just now who cannot believe when going around the historic city I live in Charges the exact same entrance fees for myself and for him.

  3. eranga

    these fees are definetly not high compared to what thery have to pay to visit such places in their own countries .

  4. basi

    There is no doubt that tourism sector in Sri Lanka is not well organized. Decision makers of the sector are away from the meaning of tourism. Tourism has big meaning other than the spending a day at superior hotel. Most of tourist attraction in Sri Lanka doesn’t have proper infrastructure facilities including standard toilets, rest rooms, lockers, maps, clean restaurants, safety guidance etc. without having standard facilities, what’s the purpose to pay such huge money for the entrance. If decision makers really want to be developed Sri Lanka as a tourism hub, they must develop infrastructures facilities at least at crucial places. I think tourism in Korea is such a wonderful example for Sri Lanka. Even they are charging just $ 4 for the entrance to the UNESCO world heritage palace In Seoul. If government of Sri Lanka has genuine idea to develop this sector, it must recruit professionals to sector other than recruiting of political motivated people.

  5. kumudini

    India too charges different rates for tourists. I had to pay a substantialy higher fee to enter Taj Mahal ,as I had a foreign passport comapared to my cousin who had a SL passport . This might be an agreement between SL and India to charge a smaller fee for SLankans . I am not sure about this arrangement .

  6. Mrs. Seetha Wanigatunga

    It certainly leave a bad taste in the mouth. It is not fair. When I take foreign friends around I explain that the tax payers pay a low rate. However poor the citizens are that they pay indirect taxes. Perhaps there should be notices stating Tax Payers pay
    ………. Non tax payers pay………… That will lessen the impact. Having said that I found in China, and in India too charge more from foreigners. It is wrong in principle. There should definetely be more facilities like toilets. Providing literature about history of the the places is a very good idea. Let us hope something will come out of these ideas.

  7. Hi Kumudhini, are you Kumi J?

  8. Sopaka

    Why waste money on printing information that a tourist can access through the net. Student fares is a good idea provided it’s not with a family.

  9. Ruwan

    Ravi Perera, ever heard of “Price Differentiation” ? The fact is that places like the Cultural Triangle are part of OUR heritage and we Sri Lankans should be able to enjoy its beauty at a nominal cost if not FOC. All foreigners, irrespective of colour and origin must pay premium if they wish to see our Wold Heritage cites. Remember, tourism is meant to MAKE MONEY for the country – its not a charitable industry! I wonder if you have travelled to world heritage cites like the Acroplois in Greece, Angkorwat in Cambodia and the Pyramids? All thse places charge inernational rates from foreigners. If a tourist can’t afford the product, then they can’t visit it. Our heritage cites must be treasured as national assets and that means we should not pimp it on the cheap to outsiders!

  10. RLJ

    Agree with Mrs. Seetha Wanigatunga – tax payers pay to maintain these sites, therefore should be able to visit these places at a discount, and most Sri Lankans would be kept away from appreciating what is, after all, their heritage at these sites if they had to pay more; however, the fees for foreigners at some of these places are rather high considering the facilities available.

  11. lokumalli

    I agree with Seetha. Tax payers concession is a more polite way to do it, and as for the people from Asian countries… Those with SAARC or ASEAN could have special tariffs too because they must be encouraged to see the sites that belong to asian history.
    Just charging and not giving a good service has a negative impact. At least more security services should be provided to all foreign visitors… specially to western tourists who have to face the TOUTS everywhere the go.
    this is really annoying for visitors… as the touts are pretty PERSISTENT and they just don’t leave them free…
    After paying a higher price than others, they are still being CONTINOUSLY HARASSED by TOUTS right within the tourist sites… and the authorities fail to stop them…. it’s not a pleasure anymore, instead it becomes a nightmare to the tourists. I work for a travel company and I know what some people complain about when they return from sri lanka… Just read comments on various travel forums to understand the problem. Sri Lanka tourism has to seriously address this issue.
    A destination can be expensive, it’s ok. It can even be a plus to filter out the cheap 5$ per day hippies. But on the other hand an expensive destination should offer friendly atmosphere (sri lankans are truely friendly) and not annoying beggars or touts.

  12. Bhumi

    Paying around 20 dollars is not a big deal for a foreigner while for a Sri Lankan paying Rs.2000 is not easy. Such discriminatory practices are there in developed countries also , for instance i paid three times more to do my postgraduate studies in England than the amount a student from a European country would pay, and this is thousands of pounds more.

  13. JS

    These wholly disproportionate charges for foreigners can only be described as a rip-off. Simply because other countries impose such unjust charges, Sri Lanka need not follow the same. It is shameful that even places of worship such as Dambulla temple is resorting to charge extortionate amounts, much of the time, based one’s appearance/skin colour. Clearly the moral, religious, and ethical standards have been put aside for the benefit of pure financial gain. It is astonishing that not even a free picture post card or a bottle of water is offered to foreign tourists who are compelled to pay such exorbitant fees. I fear Sri Lanka is overrating itself in the tourist map. Such blatantly discriminatory entrance fees will put off many potential foreign visitors to these sites if it has not happened already. It is time that the authorities reviewed their policies before it is too late.

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