Tourists won’t put up with bombs and random violence.
I am writing this on my laptop in the thatched dining area of our cabanas in Tangalle, Sri Lanka, safe in the knowledge that we are the only guests here.
Given the rising level of violence, and the refusal of both sides to make concessions in peace talks, it is no surprise that tourists haven’t exactly been flocking to this fabled isle.
And after the LTTE attack on the Galle naval harbour last month, there have been massive cancellations.
Long considered safe, the attack on Galle demonstrated yet again the long reach of the Tigers.
Although foreigners were not the targets of the attack, the proximity of the naval harbour to Galle’s ritzy boutique hotels was enough to make foreigners think twice about a holiday in Sri Lanka.
So while the Sri Lankan government optimistically hopes to match last year’s 600,000 tourists, it will be lucky if half as many come.
The reality is that a large number of the foreigners who flew in last year were relief workers and NGO-wallahs. But after the more obvious effects of the tsunami have worn off, they have moved on to fresh disasters.
All the locals here in Tangalle — from tuk-tuk drivers to hotel owners — have told me how they are suffering from the sharp drop in the number of tourists.
We normally stay at Surya Gardens, a set of cabanas owned by our Italian friend Manuela, and they have been empty for months. Manuela almost sobbed with relief when we checked in.
She explained it wasn’t just the money, but the loneliness that made her think of selling out after 17 years. There are hardly any reservations for Christmas, although the peak tourist season is about to start.
The island’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism for its foreign exchange. To promote this industry, more than any other, peace is essential.
While tourists might put up with minor inconveniences and hardships, they will not put up with bombs and random violence. Pakistan has learned that the hard way, with tourists now an extinct species.
If Sri Lanka doesn’t want to follow our path, the government should be looking very closely at its policies dealing with the stalled peace process.