Developing plans and policies without young people is a futile exercise: UNICEF Sri Lanka

Series of crises SL has faced have dealt a heavy blow

Reviving presents SL with an opportunity to address its long-running challenges

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Young people are not only the present but also the future; developing plans and policies without them is a futile exercise, they need to be the front and centre of the discussions because they are the ones with fresh ideas and the most at stake, in terms of the sustainability of the planet and the tourism sector, Christian Skoog, Representative, UNICEF Sri Lanka said in Colombo yesterday.

“Here in Sri Lanka, we have a gift. That gift is the 4.4m young people. The contribution young people can make to the tourism sector is immense. But to harness their energy and ideas, there is a need to provide them the skills, training and opportunities to thrive within a dynamic and fast-growing industry,” he said.

“Across the world it is young people who are the hungriest for travel. They are seeking new experiences and looking to broaden their horizons. They serve not only as your potential clientele, they are also your best marketers through tools like social media. Indeed, Sri Lanka has been named one of the world’s most instagramable locations,”

“Rarely has there been such an urgent moment for us to ensure the energy and enthusiasm of young people to contribute to Sri Lanka’s sustainable development is given expression. And rarely has there been such an opportune moment to discuss building back better in the context of sustainable tourism.

Skoog made these points at an event hosted by the Chamber of Tourism and Industry held to mark the World Tourism Day.

Further speaking he said:

“Today we consider how to sustainably revive a sector upon which the livelihoods of so many people depend and we discuss how we can effectively respond to the challenges that confront us. When I learned in late 2020 that I would be appointed to serve as UNICEF Rep in Sri Lanka, I felt invigorated by the prospect of coming. Of course, much of that vigour was related to the work I expected to undertake here. But I confess that part of my excitement came from listening to my friends saying it is “paradise” and “best vacation spot”. Whenever I have had the opportunity to explore Sri Lanka since, I have been captivated by the landscapes, the biodiversity, the food, and the warmth of the people I meet across this island. But of course, I also arrived at a time of profound economic hardship for so many. I know those impacts have been felt deeply across the tourism sector. Many of you have struggled valiantly to keep your businesses running, and to maintain decent livelihoods for workers across the sector: from hoteliers to taxi drivers to souvenir sellers, to tour guides, to wait staff.”

“Sri Lanka’s tourism sector has contended with a succession of adverse events in the past 3 years: 1) The devastating terrorist attacks of Easter 2019 reduced arrivals by 18%. 2) COVID-19 crisis shut borders & paralysed air travel. 3) Conflict in Ukraine entirely cut a tourism market that until recently represented 25% of foreign arrivals. And, of course, economic crisis continues to pose an array of challenges. Reviving tourism in a manner that is sustainable and inclusive is one of the key tools to help us navigate through this crisis.”

“I would like to reiterate the importance of sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka, to touch upon the relationship between sustainable tourism and the SDGs, and mention the role young people can play as we re-think tourism in Sri Lanka.”

“Tourism is a critical component of the economy; it is Sri Lanka’s 3rd-largest source of foreign exchange, and contributed about 5% of GDP, pre-COVID. Tourism is also a major employer of people across the island. In fact, globally, tourism employs one in every ten people.”

“Let’s be under no illusions. The series of crises SL has faced have dealt a heavy blow. But the task we now face in reviving the sector also presents us with an opportunity to address some its long-running challenges.”

“These include over-tourism and other unsustainable practices; contributions to Climate Change; pollution; a loss of biodiversity; and a lack of inclusion. As an island nation with extraordinary biodiversity, Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of unsustainable tourism.”

“Indeed, when tourism arrivals plunged during the pandemic, many destinations took the opportunity to reflect on the toll irresponsible or unsustainable practices had on their ecologies; and they resolved to do this differently. We too, should resolve to do things differently.”

“As tourism returns, the demand for ethical and sustainable products and experiences continues to rise. We can no longer consider sustainable tourism offerings as a choice. Costs incurred in adopting practices that benefit the environment and community, need to be looked at as investments which provide the industry with an advantage.”

“The tourism sector, as a whole, needs to focus on marketing Sri Lanka as not only a desirable destination because of its natural beauty, culture and heritage, but also differentiating it as a sustainable destination.”

“I believe that harnessing tourism’s positive contribution to sustainable development and the mitigation of the sector’s adverse effects calls for strong partnerships and decisive action by all tourism stakeholders.”

“Events like this give us an opportunity to build partnerships: to reflect, and to share ideas and strategies. Creating true partnerships of both public and private sector operators in the country is key to our ability to revive the sector and develop sustainable tourism as a tool for a better future for Sri Lanka.”

“With the right safeguards in place, tourism can provide decent jobs, particularly for young people, it can inspire us to protect life on land and life below water, it can help build resilient, gender-equal, inclusive economies and societies that work for everyone. And it can help Sri Lanka thrive,” the UNICEF representative said.

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