General Thoughts on Tourism in Sri Lanka
We travelled to Sri Lanka, not part of an expensive tour group nor as volunteers, but as independent travellers looking to investigate all other tourists and have a go at being volunteers if we could.
During the taxi ride from the airport to Hikkaduwa there appeared to be no other western people in any of the places we past through. It appeared that the entire island may be devoid of them, which was a little frightening! However, once we had spent a week in Hikkaduwa other tourists were far more obvious. Along the south west coast we encountered many types of traveller. In Hikkaduwa there was a range of holiday makers, families and groups staying in the more middle range hotels and then younger travellers staying in the guest houses, where we ourselves made our home. These travellers seemed to be there for a mixture of holiday, travel and volunteering. Further north along the coast lies Bentota, a more expensive and stylish resort. Along the beach in Bentota were many plush hotels with vast grounds and beautiful stylish insides, complete even with security guards by the beach entrances. It was quite shocking entering one such hotel, (the Bentota Beach Hotel), where it was apparent that guests need not leave the hotel if so desired, as the hotel was complete with its very own small arcade of gift shops!
We decided to focus especially on life as volunteer tourists, as we had the opportunity to meet with an NGO in our first few days and we then spent almost half of our stay there as volunteer tourists. This was also because a high number of other people we met around Hikkaduwa were involved in volunteer tourism. Meeting with several other volunteers, it was clear that some just come and do their stint and then move on, but many others become very involved and end up extending their stay or returning repeatedly to help and enjoy living in the paradise of Sri Lanka.
To find out about ‘Present perceptions on travel and tourism in Sri Lanka’ we had designed a questionnaire to survey the reasons that the tourists had decided to come and visit Sri Lanka. Click here to view the English version.
In our first week we did not encounter as many tourists as we expected. When we did find tourists it was not often easy to produce the questionnaire and start asking them questions, as the tourists were somewhat guarded against speaking to people, which is understandable as they had to learn how to deal with constant attention and sales pitches from locals!
We found it much more practical just to get into a conversation with people and ask similar questions to those on the questionnaire. In this way we gleaned a lot more information and were also able to find out places of interest that they had visited that they may not have considered putting on the form.
- Of all the people surveyed we did not come across any that were travelling as part of a gap year.
- On the plane we got taking to a few people that were travelling to Sri Lanka to visit relatives
- Consequently of all the people surveyed most were either on holiday (75%) or had been doing volunteer (25%) work or a combination of both.
- For a few tourists that we spoke to, this was not their first visit to Sri Lanka- they had returned to visit friends made on previous visits during volunteering projects.
- One person we spoke to was visiting Sri Lanka in August as part of a Sabbatical year
- Several people had chosen to visit in July/August because they had been invited by other travelling companions who were visiting friends.
- Many of the younger people that we spoke to were visiting in July/August because it was the University Holidays- they wanted to come for a longer period than the Christmas or Easter Holidays would allow.
- Some people who had previously visited Sri Lanka in July/August had chosen to return at the same time of year as they knew what to expect.
To the question- 'why have you chosen to visit the south west of the Island?'
Most people answered ‘for the beaches’. Others said that they were visiting as part of an organised tour. For the people that had visited the south west of the Island before it was logical that they would return to visit friends that they had made there.
One group of French people that we spoke to were working with an organisation called Green Hope and were organising a festival. They were staying on the south west of the Island because that’s where their charity was based.
Some younger tourists who had been doing volunteer work with an organisation had been assigned to the south west by their organisation.
For two people that we spoke to, Sri Lanka was a free stop over on a travel ticket.
Many tourists would like to have visited the East of the Island or travelled further north- but due to the conflict there this was not possible. So this may have caused a larger number of tourists to congregate on the South of the Island.
Of the people that we surveyed in Hikkaduwa- most were staying in Hikkaduwa.
In response to the question: 'What type of accommodation are you staying in?'
Approximately 80% of people were staying in guest houses. This is not really surprising as there is a very high density of Guest houses in Hikkaduwa. If we had carried out more surveys in Bentota we expect that the answers would mostly have been ‘in hotels’.
One category that we had not considered putting on the questionnaire was ‘staying with a family’- several people that were doing a volunteer project had been placed with a family.
In response to questions about tourist attractions:
We had not considered that people would not visit some tourist attractions out of season. This was reflected in the answers on the questionnaires as not one person said that they would be visiting Adam's Peak. This we later found out was because it was not suitable to visit out of season.
Although we were visiting at the time of the Perahera not everybody had decided to go to the ‘cultural triangle area’ to see Kandy and the surrounding tourist attractions. Many tourists may have been put off by the possible threat of trouble.
Most of the people that we sampled had visited several temples- this is not unexpected as they are one of the wonderful sites of Sri Lanka and they are everywhere even in smaller towns. The architecture is also vastly different from the English or Dutch churches they may be used to seeing.
Elephant orphanages were also another popular site, with most of the people we surveyed having visited one. From the number of tourists that were at the elephant orphanage of Pinnewala this is not surprising- I think that they are something of a tourist hot spot- as here you can get closer to the elephants than in any zoo.
In response to the question: 'What age range do you fall into?'
Hikkaduwa was very much a place for younger holiday makers or groups of young people. Consequently the majority of people that we surveyed fell into the age category 16-19 or 20-25. Of the older people that we surveyed one was on a sabbatical year and the others were helping to organise a Green Hope Festival. We also met a family who had come to visit a relative who was doing long term charity work in Sri Lanka.
The majority of holiday makers that we surveyed were British (some people specified Scottish or Irish) –this may have because they were easier to approach and engage in conversation (speaking the same language as us). We also surveyed some French, Spanish and Italian people.
Comments: These are a few of the comments that we received on the questionnaires
‘ I would love to come back to Sri Lanka- the people are very friendly- there are many sites to visit other than the beautiful beaches.'
‘immersed in an amazing culture’
‘wonderful generous people- so much to do and see. I would highly recommend it!’
‘ Volunteering at schools and orphanages was so worthwhile, I would recommend it. The beaches at Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna are stunning. It is worth going to animal conservation projects too.’
TOP THREE REASONS! The top 3 reasons that the tourists we surveyed gave for coming to Sri Lanka were:
2) The availability of volunteer work
3) The climate/culture/history.