Tourism-dependant Sigirya locals in doldrums after COVID-19
By K. K. Aariyadasa and Eunice Ruth
The Government should implement a plan or a programme to uplift local entrepreneurs who provide goods and services to tourists visiting Sigiriya.
Locals say that 90 per cent of them are involved in tourism and that due to the COVID-19 pandemic they are faced with many problems due to the lack of local and foreign tourists. Many Sigiriya locals make a living by giving boat rides, car and elephant safaris, selling arts and crafts, and providing lodging for tourists.
Some safari cart drivers said that they even sold their draught animals and their carts are becoming dilapidated due to disuse. Elephant safari guides told Ceylon Today that maintaining and feeding elephants cost Rs 80 million a month and that they cannot even find money for their own upkeep due to this reason. Meanwhile, locals engaged in making arts and crafts say they are also helpless in the light of the situation and have moved on to doing manual labour to survive.
“Sigiriya is deserted and we haven’t even seen a visitor for the past two months because of the quarantine curfews and travel restrictions. But there are still three wheel drivers near Sigiriya, waiting for tourists with high expectations,” a local said.
Meanwhile, Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism, S. Hettiarachchi said that on 6 January the Ministry of Health issued relevant health guidelines and protocols to restart tourism and that they expect things to go back to normal. “Also after opening Bandaranaike International Airport, we can expect high number of foreign tourists, as well as local tourists, because the curfews have been lifted in many areas within the island. The tourism industry in Sri Lanka will elevate slowly and these locals can resume their safari rides and business activities in Sigiriya as well as other ancient Archaeological sites by strictly following health guidelines and restrictions,” he said.
However, tourists will be limited according to the Health Ministry’s guidelines to avoid the further spread of COVID-19 in all tourist destinations and separate time slots will be allocated for foreigners and local tourists. Tour agencies also should pay attention to special sites such Sigirya, Polonnaruwa and Dalada Maligawa, and should check and allocate separate times for tourists to stop these areas from being crowded, he added.
He also said that, a separate compensations will not be provided for people providing goods and services around tourist attractions and a special discussion is about to be held regarding the future process of conducting in all tourist areas.