Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe Suggests Making BIMSTEC Area One 'Borderless Tourism' Region

"We are trying to make tourism new and make more use of the potential. We faced bankruptcy in Sri Lanka (and) now that we are getting out of it, the debt restructuring process is taking place," Wickremesinghe, said on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the TAAI convention
Tourist Arrivals In Sri Lanka On Rise Despite Economic Crisis
Tourist Arrivals In Sri Lanka On Rise Despite Economic Crisis

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has suggested making the BIMSTEC area as a "borderless tourism" region to tap the huge potential offered by the countries in the seven-member grouping.
    
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 67th annual convention of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) -- one of India's oldest travel-related associations --, Wickremesinghe also spoke about the recovery the cash-strapped island nation has been making since the unprecedented economic crisis last year.
    
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.
    
"We are trying to make tourism new and make more use of the potential. We faced bankruptcy in Sri Lanka (and) now that we are getting out of it, the debt restructuring process is taking place," Wickremesinghe, who is also Sri Lanka's Finance Minister, said on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the TAAI convention.
    
The theme of the 4-day TAAI convention is 'Transcending Borders, Transforming Lives'.
    
"We still have to remember that the balance of trade is not in our favour. So, we have to ensure a positive balance of trade in the times to come," he said.
    
And one of the ways of raising a fund which is not debt-creating is tourism. So, exploit it to the fullest, he said.
    
Wickremesinghe also spoke about several projects, including seven golf courses and more resorts, planned by his government to help speed up Sri Lanka's recovery from the 2022 crisis. Some laws will be changed to accommodate the plans for the tourism sector, he said.
    
In April 2022, Sri Lanka declared its first-ever debt default, the worst economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1948, triggered by forex shortages that sparked public protests.
    
Months-long street protests led to the ouster of the then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in mid-July last year.
    
In the next 10 years, the per capita income of people will increase and they will travel around, he said.
    
"So, why don't we make our whole BIMSTEC area one borderless tourism (region)... that's what you want... transcending borders," he said.
    
Sri Lankans travelling to India, Indians travelling to Bangladesh, it's "one tourist area" for anyone coming from outside, the president said.
    
"In 10 years, you will have a new industry. So, we will have to arrange our connectivity as well," Wickremesinghe said, adding, "My idea is that BIMSTEC should be one big tourist area... Why don't we open BIMSTEC? Why don't we use the Bay of Bengal for cruise?"
    
The opening ceremony was attended by a host of other dignitaries, including High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Gopal Bagley; Sri Lanka's Minister of Tourism and Lands Harin Fernando; Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala De Silva; and Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chalaka Gajabahu.
    
De Silva later said Wickremesinghe's idea will boost tourism in the BIMSTEC region.
    
Addressing the gathering, Bagley said as announced by Alliance Air, daily flights will be available between Jaffna in Sri Lanka and Chennai in India starting July 16.
    
He also highlighted the historical and cultural ties between India and Sri Lanka, and described the two countries as "civilisational twins".
    
The opening ceremony of the convention also saw several dazzling performances by Sri Lankan artistes.
    
The TAAI Convention will be a great opportunity to promote Sri Lanka by enhancing its position as one of the most sought after travel destinations to further promote Indian market for an year round destination.
    
Tourism accounts for about 5 per cent of Sri Lanka's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with Britain, India, and China being the main markets.
    
In 2022, there was a significant increase in international tourist arrivals to the country, with 719,978 visitors recorded for the year, a 270.2 per cent increase compared to the 194,495 tourists who visited in 2021, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).

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