The head table included, Minister Maddumabandara, Minister John Amaratunga, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism
Esala Weerakoon, DG SLTDA, P.U. Ratnayake, and chairman, Sri Lanka Tourist Hotels Association Sanath Ukwatte.Pic by Sujatha Jayaratne
Chairman, Weligama Urban Council Rehan Wijeratne Jayawickreme speaking at a press conference convened by the Ministry of Tourism yesterday said that considering the high return industry tourism has developed into, the popularity of the South and its safety for tourists would take precedence in economic policy-making to encourage increasing tourist arrivals, particularly to his Urban Council area.
‘I can speak with confidence in reference to Weligama, and ensure that our contribution to the economy of this country would not be stifled at any time in future. The incident that occurred in our area was unfortunate, but thanks to the police we have taken corrective action that the seriousness of the despicable behavior of these thugs will not be repeated. I am fully aware of the importance of tourism to swell our forex earnings; more so that the South forms an important cog in projecting the image of our country to foreigners who visit for the ‘Sun and Sand’. Its good image will always be maintained, Jayawickreme said in reference to an incident where some foreigners were harassed by some local criminal elements in Mirissa and Weligama.
He further said he was distinctly aware that other coastal sites popular among tourists, that included the east coast as well, contributed substantially to the tourist Industry's earnings.
The press required first hand information on the corrective action that would be taken in regard to the damage that was caused to Sri Lankan tourism as a result of incidents such as those that occurred in Mirissa.
At that stage, Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga said if the press had further questions he would direct such queries to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) present at the head table.
IGP Pujith Jayasundera, said the police took action immediately after the incident was reported. Sixteen persons were arrested and are now in custody awaiting further action. Facing further press questions he conceded this was not the first incident of tourists being harassed but said effective action would be taken to prevent a repetition of the Mirissa and Weligama incidents. He agreed both these incidents had debilitating international repercussions but reiterated that the police would enhance their presence for prevention of such unruly behavior.
He also said there were serious incidents of this kind in other countries as well; but considering the Weligama and Mirissa incidents had attracted international attention, he assured their repetition would be prevented.
The IGP said manpower was restricted, but this area of concern was being addressed. 'It would take some time to be resolved.'
Director General, Coast Conservation Prabath Chandrakirthi said Kalutara, Panadura, Wennappuwa, Arugambey, and Pasikudah, popular among surfers, would also be intensely patrolled and corrective action taken.
Minister , Law and Order, Ranjith Maddumabandara also spoke.