Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation
Nature Based Tourism Plans produced by ESCAMP (Hurulu Complex, Sinharaja, Knuckles, Bundala, Udawalawe, Galavila)
Nature-Centric Tourism Development and Implementing Nature-Based Tourism Plans
Tourism has been recognized as a high-priority area capable of effectively driving Sri Lanka’s economic development. It was the third biggest Foreign Exchange (FE) earner in 2019, with a total earning of US $4.4 billion in 2018 and US $3.6 billion in 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to tourism worldwide in 2020, including Sri Lanka, resulting in a drastic reduction in international tourist arrivals to the country. As the country is opening up again to air travel, tourism will be a priority development option in the country to maximize foreign exchange receipts, employment, and government revenue; to ultimately help rebuild the national economy. Global tourism trends indicate that nature-based tourism will play an increasingly important role in resurrecting the tourism sector, as tourists are becoming more discerning and focused on sustainable tourism at present. Nature-based tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors worldwide and is expected to continue growing in the future. Sri Lanka is well-positioned to take advantage of this trend due to its abundant wildlife parks, forest reserves, wetlands, and coastal and marine habitats teeming with diverse species; scenic beauty including majestic mountains, rivers, waterfalls, picturesque beaches; and the unique way of life of the people living in close proximity to these exceptional places. The country also boasts four UNESCO-recognized Biosphere Reserves and two natural World Heritage sites comprising four forests. Furthermore, these attractions can be easily accessed within a short timeframe, making them highly appealing to visitors.
In the past, however, most international visitors to Sri Lanka were primarily engaged in mainstream activities such as sun and beach tourism, exploring historical and cultural sites, and wildlife viewing that focussed mainly on elephants and another charismatic macrofauna. Consequently, the Sri Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020 acknowledged that “the sector has not fully captured its true potential and thus has not reaped the expected benefits.” The Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation, through the World Bank-funded Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP), has developed six (6) Nature-Based Tourism Plans that will help address this gap. These plans have been specifically prepared for notable sites such as the Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve (which also contains a World Heritage Site), the Knuckles Conservation Forest (a constituent of the Central Highlands World Heritage Site), Udawalawe National Park, Bundala Biosphere Reserve (Also a Ramsar Site), Galwila Eco Park, and the Hurulu Cluster, which comprises several Wildlife Parks. They all have exceptional natural and cultural features. These comprehensive plans include product diversification, improving tourism services such as hospitality and interpretive functions, visitor and habitat management, developing infrastructure, and implementing effective marketing strategies etc. A key focus of the plans is to expand the array of attractions available for nature-based tourism within the country. Furthermore, the plans align with the government’s current emphasis on actively attracting high-value tourists, aiming to boost revenue from the tourism sector.
The recognition and adoption of these plans by the Sri Lankan Government and the relevant institutions is essential and implementation of them holds immense potential for the sustainable development and growth of our tourism sector and the national economy.