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14 Jul, 2022

Sri Lankan turmoil shows it failed to learn the lessons of a 26-year civil war

Watching the turmoil in Sri Lanka these days reminded me of a UNWTO conference on “Tourism: A Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation” held in the northern Sri Lanka township of Passikudah in July 2016.

It was organised by the Sri Lankan tourism authorities with the support of the then UNWTO Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai, a great advocate of tourism as a conduit for peace and development. I was honoured to be one of the speakers. The UNWTO has a website on it with some of the speeches, but my speech is not included. Neither is the most important one, the opening remarks by Mr John Amaratunga, the then Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs and Lands.

“We have learnt our lessons,” the Minister said, a reference to the 26 years of ethnic strife and its resulting death and destruction. He added, “Sri Lanka is aware of what it should do and the role of government. We will work with both the public and private sectors in building a sustainable model that will not only transform the north and east to all year round tourism destinations but also be a beacon to the world in how to rise from the ashes through tourism development.”

I carefully preserved the Minister’s speech over the years. As the Asia-Pacific region’s leading Travel & Tourism historian, I find these speeches provide valuable context to what actually happens subsequently. A link to the Minister’s speech is at the bottom of this dispatch, along with mine, to help the current generation reflect on the lessons of history and avoid repeating past mistakes.

I recommend going through the other speeches too, especially that by Mr Hiran Cooray, now Chairman of Sri Lanka’s leading travel conglomerate, the Jetwing group. Then take another good look at the current situation in Sri Lanka….

Click here to access the UNWTO website.

Click here to access Minister John Amaratunga’s speech.

Click here to access my speech.