The need for colorful stories
When a potential tourist calls a hotel or travel agency to inquire about wildlife attractions in Sri Lanka, more often than not the sales staff are just giving directions and mentioning animals that might be sighted, to the point of view. place to represent wildlife in an attractive way.
This would require private sector tourism professionals to have high levels of wildlife experience and enthusiasm, and the message needs to reach down to the employees who communicate with tourists. Meanwhile, most hotels now have naturalists on their payroll, and these hotels should encourage them to engage in storytelling for tourists to enjoy the area’s wildlife.
Over the years, I have presented many stories of charismatic wild animals. Among many others, I have written extensively on:
• Rambo the wild elephant patrolling the sea wall of Uda Walawe National Park.
• The late and great Walawe Raja, undisputed king of Uda Walawe for decades.
• Gemunu, the mischievous wild elephant of Yala National Park, which loots visitors’ vehicles for food.
• Hamu and Ivan, the intelligent mature male leopards (later now deceased) also from Yala National Park.
• Natta, the iconic male leopard, and the shy Cleo, the mature female leopard, from Wilpattu National Park.
• Timothy and Tabitha, the 2 semi-domestic giant squirrels from the Seenuggala Bungalow inside Uda Walawe Park.
I extracted their antics and built characters around them. And I don’t apologize for “humanizing” them. This is what makes it all the more interesting to people. I recently took the story of the resident crocodile, Villy at the Jet Wing Vil Uyana hotel, and told a whole story about it.
Africa may have its “big five”, but we also have our own “big four” mammals: the blue whale, elephant, leopard and sloth bear. Some of my colleagues talk about our “Big Five”, also adding the sperm whale to this list, but I don’t agree with having two identical species on the list.
Sri Lanka has almost 30% of some kind of green cover, over 3,000 plants and over 1,000 animal species. So there is certainly no shortage of good animal tourism Promotional material. So I wonder if Sri Lanka really needs a large number of tourists, or should we pursue a different strategy of quality rather than quantity?
Sri Lanka welcomed 2.3 million tourists in 2018, with a turnover of 4.4 billion US dollars. 2018 is the best baseline scenario, because in 2019 we had the terrorist attacks and then we had the COVID pandemic. Animal tourism is a steadily growing segment and Wikipedia says that animal tourism currently employs 22 million people globally directly or indirectly and contributes more than $ 120 billion to global GDP.
Even in Sri Lanka, we have seen a dramatic increase in this segment. In 2018, nearly 50% of all tourists to the country visited at least one of the animal parks, up from 38% in 2015. The Dept. of Wildlife Conservation earned Rs 2.1 billion in 2018 from overseas ticket sales.
It should be emphasized, however, that the tourism industry must act as a guardian of the wildlife attractions in Sri Lanka rather than causing their degradation, towards which the private sector must be vigilant and accountable.