SLTDA assures better visitor management at Yala

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Holding a stakeholders meeting on protection and development of the Yala national park, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman KavanRatnayaka assured that his organization would push for stronger reforms to ensure better visitor management at Sri Lanka’s most-visited wildlife park.

He said overcrowding had been identified as a key issue concerning the Yala national park and added that the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority would closely work with the country’s wildlife authorities, including the newly appointed minister Field Marshal SarathFonseka to formulate a comprehensive plan for better visitor management.

“We need stronger regulations to avoid overcrowding which hampers the sustainability of Sri Lanka’s most prominent wildlife park. We also need to ensure better discipline on the part of Safari operators visiting the Yala national park on a daily basis. Only a handful of unruly operators is enough to cause great damage to the environment and to the animals inhabiting the park,” he said, addressing the meeting held at Cinnamon Wild, Yala, on Saturday (05).

The meeting was attended by all major hotel operators in the Yala-Palatupana area, industry stakeholders and representatives from all government bodies responsible the protection and development of the Yala national park. Senior officials from the SLTDA, including its Director General UpaliRatnayake, also attended the meeting.

Ratnayaka also requested all hoteliers in the area to only work with disciplined and scrupulous Safari operators who do not conduct their business at the expense of the environment and wild animals.

“We do not undermine the value of Safari operators in the area as they are an important cog in the wheel. But a group of unruly and unscrupulous Safari operators can damage the sustainability of the wildlife experience the Yala national park offers. As much we work on the regulation and enforcement front, we believe the hoteliers in the area too have a responsibility to refrain from working with Safari operators who do not follow best practices,” he said.

“We may also have to revisit the road plan near the Yala buffer zone to facilitate the natural movements of wild animals. Some roads, which we recently opened up for construction purposes, will have to be closed down as they restrict the usual ‘crossings’ of wild animals,” Ratnyaka added, saying that his organization would take up such matters with certain hotel operators in the area, on an individual basis.

The SLTDA Chairman also discussed the tourism development masterplan for the Yala-Palatupana area. The industry stakeholders attending the meeting were asked to voice their grievances and share their experiences in dealing with critical issues concerning the sector.

The tourism and hospitality industry stakeholders attending the meeting commended the SLTDA’s initiative to widely discuss issues relating to the Yala national park. They also stressed the need for continuous dialogue in this regard and periodical progress review.

As part of the engagement with industry stakeholders in the area, Ratnayaka and other senior officials representing the SLTDA inspected the constructions done by private parties near the Yala buffer zone to make sure the right standards are met from a tourism standpoint. They also inspected hotels and properties located at SLTDA lands in the area which have been leased out to private parties.

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