Ecotourism and Northern Sri Lanka

A traditional Sri Lankan house made of timber frame (or wattle), supporting walls of clay (or daub), smoothed using coarse sand, cow dung and Nater.

Ecotourism industry is growing and changing at a fast pace to be an increasingly important source of income and employment in many countries. According to the World Tourism Organization, ecotourism is recorded as the highest growing market in the tourism industry with an annual growth rate of 5 per cent worldwide and representing six per cent of the world’s GDP and 11.4 per cent of all consumers spending. Sri Lanka has tremendous ecotourism resources with great potential for further development in Southern Asia.

At present tourism industry with ecotourism sector is a major foreign exchange generating industry in Sri Lanka.  Despite the positive trends Sri Lanka’s ecotourism has negative environmental feedbacks in the forms of land degradation, land clearance, erosion, disturbances and loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution.

In Sri Lanka, many tourists and travel business use the term “ecotourism” extensively to promote destination without concerning the most basic principles. This ‘green washing’ has undermined the true value of ecotourism and it is a result of a lack of understanding of basic principles of
ecotourism. Consequently, this has resulted to reduce benefits for many of the sectors which ecotourism intends to support.

As most of the operators are not willing to practice ecotourism in its true sense although they believed in the importance of implementation. Therefore, the majority of them can be categorized into nature-based tourism and a few combinations of nature and adventure-based tourism but not authentic ecotourism.

Most of the tourist operators use the eco-label without genuinely practicing its concept. Moreover, the lack of a proper guiding mechanism and certification make this concept into a loose cannon. Therefore, it is pragmatic to implement true ecotourism rather than changing some of the its underline basic principles. Developing authentic ecotourism activities will enhance the economy and conserve biodiversity.

A simple visit to a natural area is not ecotourism and even mass tourism into the natural areas cannot be considered ecotourism; mass tourism into the protected areas can affect negatively.

The ecotourism is on the infant stage in the province, thus there are minimum ecotourism activities within the province. Further people still have fear and avoid selecting the northern province as a destination due to past war experiences.

Thus a proper promotional activities should be conducted about attractions within the province for ecotourism development.  Ecotourism is suggested to implement as a proper tool for the conservation of biodiversity and the cultural identity of the people.

Ecotourism provides sustainable living income for the people around the area thus better for the sustainable development paradigm as a win-win solution.

Endowed with rich natural, cultural and historical values, the northern province of Sri Lanka heavily impacted by the three decades long civil-war; has exceptional potential for ecotourism development.

The province has a rich biodiversity, is threatened with these rapid post-war unplanned and biased development activities by the state.

Lack of awareness and participation among the local people is the major problem, as a result, they are not much supportive. Hence proper awareness programs are essential prior to any ecotourism program.

Despite its high potential, the government has given little attention to the Northern Province. Hence, participation of all the stakeholders is pragmatic and necessary to make the province a better destination and the lack of studies on the potential that exists within the province makes difficult to achieve this objective.

Further studies on ecotourism are recommended to explore the potential within the province. As such a study will provide the basement for future ecotourism development in the Northern Province.