High Commission of Sri Lanka in India

High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam visits the State of Goa PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail

High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam visited the State of Goa on 29 – 31st May and called on Hon. S.S. Sidhu, the Governor of Goa and the Hon. Digambar Kamat, Chief Minister of Goa.  During the visit High Commissioner spoke on the topic “Quest for promotion of tourism between Goa and Sri Lanka” at the International Centre of Goa at a talk presided by Hon. Pratap Singh Rane, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Goa and the former Chief Minister.  This event was co-sponsored by the Goa Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa.

Full text of the High Commissioner’s address is below :

Ladies and Gentlemen,
“Swaying palms, white sands and sparkling waters: the three essential elements that attract 2 million visitors annually to Goa’s balmy shores are plentiful in this tiny, glorious slice of India, hugging the country’s western coastline, and bounded by the Arabian Sea.” - That is how the Lonely Planet Guide, which could be called a tourist’s bible, introduces Goa.

I come from a Port City called Galle in the South of Sri Lanka, which, incidentally is from where the Portuguese had their first introduction to Sri Lanka in 1505. So to be here today in Goa, for me, is no different from being at home in Galle. I must therefore extend my heartfelt appreciation to the International Centre for Excellence in New Delhi and the Goa International Centre for inviting me here to undertake this quest for  promoting tourism between “Goa, Gods Own Paradise”, and “Sri Lanka, a Land Like no Other!” 

As most of you know well, India and Sri Lanka share a very special relationship. The bonds between our two countries are so ancient that they are immersed in the mists of legendary narratives. Our written history itself dates back to more than 2500 years. Although centuries and generations have passed, the people of Sri Lanka still recall with a sense of gratitude, the arrival in Sri Lanka of Emperor Asoka’s son Mahinda with the Message of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. While Goa, being a part of the Mauryan Empire, came under the direct influence of Emperor Asoka’s benevolence; the people of Sri Lanka benefitted from his compassion as well, from his gift of Buddhism, and its civilisational impact on our country.

As you all know, Sri Lanka is an island nation that is less than one sixtieth of the size of India. Nevertheless, its strategic location in the major sea lanes of the world, has led Sri Lanka, from ancient times, to profile above its size and develop relations with countries near and far. As a result, Sri Lanka has also shared and developed special ties, at various times in history, with some of the States in India. The emerald land of Goa is one such State.  Just as Sri Lanka was a cynosure of the covetous eyes of the foreigners, particularly the traders, so was Goa. While Goa became an international trading post for Arabian, Persian, Greek and Chinese traders, so did various points around the coast of Sri Lanka. Today, inscriptions, coins, beads and ceramic-ware salvaged by archaeologists tell us the stories of our glorious ancient past.

In more recent history, Goa and Sri Lanka saw their paths meet once again as a result of the conquests of the Portuguese.  The Portuguese era in Sri Lanka, just as in Goa, was not without turmoil and conflict. However, the era was not without its positive aspects as well, such as the links between my country and Goa, which, today, I am able to talk about and utilise meaningfully to form fresh connections with all of you for our mutual benefit. 

It was the Portuguese who introduced Christianity to Sri Lanka. In 1557, the King of Kotte, on the western coast of Sri Lanka, converted. However, when the Dutch who followed the Portuguese into Sri Lanka routed the Portuguese and forced conversions into the Calvinist faith, the Catholic Church almost disappeared. It was Goan priests who stepped into Sri Lanka at that point to save Catholicism. Father Joseph Vaz came to Sri Lanka in 1687 from Goa. He worked single-handedly for ten years and was known as the Apostle of Ceylon. With some colleagues who joined him later, Father Joseph Vaz produced a catechism and liturgy in Sinhala and Tamil. Even today, you would therefore find in Sri Lanka, a devoted Catholic community, indebted to the work of Father Joseph Vaz and the priests from Goa. He lived and passed away in Sri Lanka and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Colombo, in 1995.

It is a common observation in Sri Lanka that the main concerns of the Portuguese, as traders, at that time, were promoting their faith and seeking spices. Cinnamon and elephants became articles of monopoly. They provided good profits, as did the trade in pepper, and betel nuts. Once again, this led to links between Goa and Sri Lanka. It is said that oar-vessels left Goa for Ceylon every September. On their way to Ceylon, they carried food provisions. On their return, they came with 2,500 to 3,000 bahars of cinnamon. The same boats, it is said, brought elephants, coconuts, and several other items. So, the goods exported to Portugal from Goa included among other commodities, cinnamon from Sri Lanka. Although Sri Lanka today is more famed for her Tea, a little known fact is that we are still hailed as the producers of the highest quality cinnamon in the world.

The Portuguese language was the trade language or lingua franca of the Indian Ocean shores at that time. It was used extensively by local rulers in their relations with other European powers such as the Dutch and the English. Several Kings of Ceylon were fluent in speaking the language, and Portuguese names became common among the nobility. It is said that when the Dutch occupied coastal Ceylon, they took steps to stop the use of Portuguese. However, it had become so well established, that in 1704, the Dutch Governor had remarked that “if one spoke Portuguese in Ceylon, one could be understood everywhere”. Although one does not find Portuguese in use in Sri Lanka today, just as it is no longer popular in Goa, the language has left its mark with words permanently incorporated into the local languages of Sinhala and Tamil. Similarly, in both Goa and in Sri Lanka, Portuguese names have been localised and adopted as our own.

What I have just set before you are some of the common threads that bind Goa and Sri Lanka from the past. The quest is to pick up these threads and weave them on into the future. How do we set about doing this? Lets start by looking briefly at where Sri Lanka stands today.

Having put 30 years of conflict behind, and with peace and tranquility firmly established, Sri Lanka now stands on the threshold of beginning anew. The economy of the country is growing by more than 8%. Rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the North and the East of Sri Lanka, which are the areas that were directly affected by the conflict, are being expedited. Economic activity in the area is being revived. With the conclusion of the conflict and the cessation of fear, it is not only the North and the East of the country that is experiencing a vibrant resurgence. The whole country is witnessing a revival. Walls are coming down in Colombo with the relaxation of security. Areas of the country, both in the interior as well as the coast that were inaccessible to the tourist for 30 long years are now opening up. This includes some of our best wildlife parks and beaches on the East Coast. The New York Times recently ranked Sri Lanka as the number one destination of thirty places to visit. The Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Singapore, in a public comment, said that Sri Lanka is the second fastest developing economy in Asia next to China. The number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka has increased by leaps and bounds. So much so, that we don’t have sufficient accommodation to offer them.  Investors in the hospitality industry are therefore now heading out to Sri Lanka. The Shangri-La chain has just gone into Sri Lanka. As you know, what generally happens in such circumstances is that a large hotel chain will negotiate with the Government for a variety of concessions. In the case of Shangri-La, they paid upfront in convertible currency for the land that they purchased in the heart of Colombo.

Though relatively small in size, visitors to Sri Lanka are often amazed at the variety that this small island holds in terms of land formations, vegetation, climate and animal life. The country’s vegetation and micro-climates extend from sand dunes and groves of coconut palms to grassy highland plateaus and tropical rain forest stretching over steep slopes of mountains. It has been estimated that the island has over 3000 indigenous species of plant life which is three times as many as in the British Isles, an area which is about three times as large. Our island is blessed with 120 waterfalls and it is also home to no less than 6000 elephants, manifesting the highest land to elephant ratio in Asia. These are facts that are little known. Sri Lanka has been listed as one of the world’s 34 official “Biodiversity Hotspots” by Conservation International. Sri Lanka’s rich tropical vegetation has supported a great wealth of animal and bird life. Off the Southern, Eastern and Western coasts one can even watch dolphins and whales. Little Sri Lanka is home to the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, and the largest sea mammal, the blue whale. Such diversity packed within just 65,610 square kilometres adorned by a rich cultural heritage and history makes Sri Lanka a paradise for the tourism industry.

Being heirs to a recorded history of over 2500 years, Sri Lanka has plenty to offer to the history buffs. The ruins of once powerful and architecturally magnificent kingdoms beckon the visitor to many sites in the North Central Province. The rock fortress citadel of Sigiriya is one such site that is recognized as one of the most important urban sites of the first millennium. The city and palace planning is acknowledged as imaginative and elaborate. Compared with other Asian wonders of the era like Angkor in Cambodia and Taxila in Pakistan, Sigiriya is one of the best preserved sites where the layout of buildings, gardens and water gardens is still clearly evident. The ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, once the heart of the ancient civilization that thrived in Sri Lanka, still hold ruins dating back to the 4th century BC. These were the seats of power of the ancient Kings of Lanka who fostered Buddhism received from Emperor Asoka of India. They built majestic cities and citadels as well as some of the most ambitious irrigation systems and dams of the ancient world. 

Sri Lanka is home to 8 World Heritage Sites, out of which 6 are cultural sites and 2 are natural sites or biodiversity hotspots.

Ayurvedic spas, nature trails, spirituality, tea estates, spices, precious and semi-precious stones, waterfalls, elephants, leopard, whales, dolphins, lakes, hot water springs, colonial architecture, ancient ruins, Buddhist temples, mosques, Hindu kovils and churches, mixed with modern hotels including boutique hotels, shopping malls, nightclubs, hot air balloon rides, scuba diving and more – these are some of the attractions that Sri Lanka has on offer. An added advantage for the visitors to Sri Lanka is that there is no clear cut tourist season in the Island due to its unique geographical location. Visitors can therefore enjoy Sri Lanka throughout the year. Just like in Goa, where various religious communities have lived and continue to live in harmony, side by side, in Sri Lanka too, one would find temples, hindu kovils, churches and mosques next to each other or in close proximity to each other, dotting the landscape wherever one travels in the country. One of the interesting sites in Sri Lanka in terms of harmonious co-existence of religions is the Holy Mountain called Siri Pada or Adam’s Peak. The mountain which is 7,360 feet has, on its Summit, a depression resembling a foot print. It has been venerated as sacred from remote antiquity by Buddhists who claim that it is the footprint of the Buddha; Hindus as that of Shiva; Muslims as Adam’s; and Christians as that of St. Thomas the Apostle. Sri Lanka therefore offers much more beyond its sandy beaches and rolling waves.   

Now lets turn to Goa. The 25th State of the Union of India has today emerged as one of the most developed and richest in the Union. Renowned for its beaches, places of worship and world heritage architecture, Goa is visited by large numbers of international and domestic tourists every year. It is rich in fauna and flora and is classified as a biodiversity hot spot. Perhaps Goa could even be called a smaller version of Sri Lanka in certain aspects.

You have probably heard the saying that tourism promotion can be compared to dream selling. To sell dreams to people, the dreams sold must be beautiful and believable. Goa and Sri Lanka, in my eyes, are the stuff that dreams are made of – not only beautiful but believable. Yet, no real effort has been made so far to try to sell this dream jointly. Goa and Sri Lanka have historical and religious ties, similarities and differences. All of which could be exploited by the investors and the tour designers to encourage, not only the populations of Goa and Sri Lanka to visit each other, but the Indian travellers, as well as those far and beyond each other’s shores.

We believe that intra-regional tourism promotion is an important precursor to promoting the region for international visitors. Taking that route will gradually strengthen the capacity within the region to develop better structures and institutions that deal with tourism. This is not to say that we should ignore or neglect focusing on the markets outside India and Sri Lanka. We must do so and strive to do so together, jointly. But at the same time, we must work together in promoting intra-regional tourism. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has already recognised the importance of focusing on intra-regional tourism and also promoting the South Asian Region jointly as a tourist destination. However, considering the vastness of India, the best way for us in Sri Lanka to do this is to take a step at a time, and in doing so, reach out to States such as Goa with whom links already exist.

As I mentioned before, tourists coming into our country have increased exponentially. Currently, we don’t have sufficient accommodation to offer them and we need to urgently build new hotels. While we welcome investors to come in and build resort hotels and boutique hotels, we are also looking to upgrade small hotels and rest houses. Investment in the construction of large shopping malls, theme parks, water parks, and yacht marinas, are opportunities that are coming up.  

In my view, there are several possibilities for cooperation, which among others can include:

-      undertaking joint ventures to develop infrastructure and tourism service sector;

-      joint initiatives at both governmental and private sector operator levels to enhance thematic tour circuits;

-      cruise ship operations that connect Goa with ports of Sri Lanka;

-      undertaking the publication of an annual tourism events directory, a year in advance, to enable tour sales for those events (I am sure that  the large number of festivals in the two countries, both religious and cultural will attract a large number of visitors to Goa and Sri Lanka if marketed well);

-      commencing a twinning of cities programme – Goa and a prominent city in Sri Lanka, perhaps my hometown Galle, with which Goa shares common threads of heritage;

-      sharing of expertise and best practices;

-      taking steps jointly for undertaking eco-friendly and green tourism; and

-   the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and Goa Tourism which could include initiatives for visits by media personnel such as journalists and travel writers from Goa to Sri Lanka and vice versa; producing a guidebook jointly on Goa and Sri Lanka; organizing food festivals; and cultural performances – i.e. cultural troupes from Sri Lanka to perform in Goa and Goan troupes to perform in Sri Lanka.  

Officials of our respective tourism authorities, tour operators, personnel from the airlines, the hotel industry, investors, and perhaps even the historians, the archaeologists and architects on the two sides must be mobilised and must meet without delay. They must think through these ideas with a view to translating them into implementable programmes and projects. As Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India, I would be happy to work with interested stakeholders to facilitate the translation of some of these ideas into action as early as possible.

All of you know that our region is inexorably integrating through several processes. SAARC which is an inter-governmental mechanism of 8 South Asian countries is making a lot of effort in this regard. But decisions taken within SAARC forums and meetings at Ministerial and higher levels will not be successfully translated into programmes, plans and projects and joint ventures on the ground if there is no extra effort taken at the stakeholder level. This is where there is an important role for the officials, the tour operators, the hoteliers, the airlines, the tour guides, the craftsmen and numerous others in the tourism industry. All must think and work together to break down the artificial barriers that have arisen in our region from centuries spent under the colonial yoke and take steps for greater integration, for our mutual benefit. We must enhance complementarities and have a less competitive mindset when it comes to focusing on the international market. In this quest, we could take a cue from the airline industry. In order to stay afloat, they need to make people travel. Twenty years ago, this region had only a few major airlines such as Air Lanka and Indian Airlines. Today, there is an abundance to choose from – SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Air from Sri Lanka; Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet, Indigo, Kingfisher, just to name some from India. And then we have the big international carriers that operate in this region as well. All of them focus on ‘making people travel’ and their plans and strategies transcend national boundaries. SriLankan Airlines which is our national carrier, for example, actively promotes India as a tourist destination in western, eastern and middle-eastern capitals. In other words, SriLankan Airlines has taken the “Incredible India” campaign out into the world as well.  

In conclusion, Sri Lanka has re-emerged and is now able to reach out to the world and the world is reaching out to us. In this process, we are keen to revive our links especially with the Indian States with which we have had links in the past. Goa, which holds similarities and historic connections, is naturally a priority for us. We are keen to work together with the concerned authorities to jointly promote local tourism between Goa and Sri Lanka and also attract the international tourist to the shores of Goa and Sri Lanka jointly. If we work together, I am sure we will succeed in the delivery of dreams that are both beautiful and deliverable. There are of course the challenging issues of modes of connectivity and visa free travel and a myriad other things that need to further progress and evolve. But we must not wait until everything falls into place to start working together. We need to be innovative to fulfil our dreams and to make them come true. When a process is set in motion, packages are put in place, and people start travelling, I am confident that hindrances will gradually diminish, by the weight of progress and compulsions, giving rise naturally to development of better infrastructure and greater connectivity. And the beneficiaries will be our people. In this win-win proposition, we can become stakeholders.