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Short Course alumni lead sustainable tourism initiatives in Sri Lanka

Posted: 29 May 2020

Sri Lanka, Alumni, Impact,

Alumni from the 2018 delivery of the Australia Awards Short Course on Sustainable Tourism Development are currently leading several sustainable tourism initiatives in Sri Lanka, demonstrating the ongoing impact and benefit of Australia Awards.

The Short Course brought together 25 participants from Sri Lanka, representing both the public and private sectors. The course was designed to build the skills, knowledge and aptitude of the participants to help them make positive contributions to tourism in Sri Lanka. It provided the participants with an awareness of the benefits of a well-planned and appropriately resourced tourism industry by looking at case studies from Australia. It also focused on regional and community development by highlighting Australian examples that parallel Sri Lanka’s interests, priorities and investments in the tourism industry.

The Short Course was delivered in Queensland, Australia, by Griffith University and the University of the Sunshine Coast. The participants spent time training in classrooms and on field visits while in Queensland. They visited tourism landmarks such as Cairns, Port Douglas, Maroochydore and attractions on the Gold Coast.

Many of the participants implemented projects inspired by their Short Course experience and learnings when they returned to Sri Lanka. Some of these successful projects are highlighted below. The Australia Awards alumni have credited what they learned in the Short Course and the experiences and connections they made in Australia as the key contributing factors to the success of their projects.

Everesting in Sri Lanka

Alumna Amila Gunawardana has more than 15 years of experience in the travel industry. In 2016, she launched her own travel company, Go Ceilão Pvt Limited (“Your Travel Expert”), in collaboration with a group of companies with Australian ties. This partnership was established to promote travel and tourism between Australia and Sri Lanka, and focuses mainly on sports tourism.

Following the Short Course, Go Ceilão organised ‘Everesting in Sri Lanka’, the very first international cycling event to be held in Sri Lanka. ’Everesting’, a concept developed by Australians, is a rapidly growing phenomenon in the cycling world in which cyclists choose a hill and ride repeatedly until they climb 8,848m (equivalent to the height of Mount Everest). The successful Everesting event organised by Amila took place in April 2019 with 23 international and local participants in Radella, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. Through this event, Amila built a relationship with Tourism Malaysia and established a partnership to take the concept to Malaysia.

Using the knowledge she gained from the Short Course, Amila also worked with Seva Lanka Foundation to implement a community-based tourism project in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. The project focused on developing Batticaloa as a tourist destination, focusing on site visits and tourism-based activities.

She is also currently working with Trincomalee District Youth Development AHAM to develop key performance indicators, product definitions, a marketing plan, and training and coaching plans for community-based tour products to promote Trincomalee district as a prime tourist destination in Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, via relationships established through the High Commission, Amila connected with Australian rugby player Ms Louise Burrows. Go Ceilão organised for Ms Burrows to deliver an inspirational talk to the rugby fraternity of Colombo. The aim of this event was to promote sports tourism and encourage more female rugby players to engage in the game in Sri Lanka, citing the importance of how Australia promotes gender equality.

As a Short Course recipient, Amila was able to follow her passion and dream to helm her own travel business. The program gave her the courage to share knowledge and contribute towards sustainable tourism.

Alumna Amila Gunawardana receiving her Australia Awards Short Course certificate. Featured here with Professor Noel Scott from Griffith University (left) and Tom Davis, First Secretary (Development Cooperation), Sri Lanka and Maldives, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Enhancing the skills of entrepreneurs in the tourism industry

Alumnus Kanishka Jayatunga is the Principal and a lecturer at the Ratnapura campus of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), in Sabaragamuwa Province.

Previously, the food, beverage and accommodation services available to tourists in Sabaragamuwa Province were inconsistent and lacked formal standardisation.

Following the Short Course, Kanishka provided food safety and tourism training through SLITHM to small-scale entrepreneurs in the province. For this, he developed tailor-made short training modules at different levels for homestay units, small food vendors and estate keepers, among others. This enabled entrepreneurs in the province to provide better products and standardised services to their customers to generate a regular income. The training also helped create new jobs and avenues of income for the community.

Kanishka credits the Short Course for equipping him with the knowledge and skills needed to train people and, in turn, help them to generate a sustainable income.

Alumnus Kanishka Jayatunga presenting at an event for Sri Lanka’s Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management. Photo credit: Travel Voice

Making a ‘contreebution’

Alumnus Kavishan Dissanayake is employed at Serendib Leisure Management Limited and is an avid nature lover, who since his childhood has celebrated each milestone in his life by planting a tree. Kavishan says that the Australia Awards experience inspired him to create a positive change by developing tourism initiatives that benefit the environment and the local community.

Kavishan’s idea soon developed to become “RETREEIT” (www.retreeit.com), an initiative whereby any individual can ‘contreebute’. A tree is planted every time a customer has any engagement with the RETREEIT brand. For example, each time a traveller books a holiday through a partner website, the RETREEIT team plants a tree on behalf of the person and waives the booking fee. Since its inception, RETREEIT has connected with online travel agencies such as Agoda, Booking.com and Expedia.

The “Green Read” blog section of the RETREEIT website shares knowledge on global best practices in environmental conservation and provides tips and articles related to how travellers can be more environmentally friendly in their travels.

The RETREEIT team has also initiated a platform on the website for guests to purchase environmentally friendly products and local handicrafts. RETREEIT pledges to plant a tree for each sale.

Alumnus Kavishan Dissanayake participating in one of his tree planting initiatives

Coral propagation in the Maldives

Alumnus Sanjeeva Perera has been using the knowledge gained from the Short Course to start a coral propagation program in the Maldives, where he serves as the General Manager of a hotel.

During the course, participants learned about regenerating new coral and coral reef management practices in Australia. Sanjeeva learned the importance of restoring coral reefs through sustainable regrowth from the lectures on ‘Effective Management Systems’ of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. He then initiated an environmental research program in the Maldives.

Sanjeeva’s project focuses on pre-emptive restoration and rejuvenation of reefs affected by coral bleaching. The project uses ‘reef balls’ as artificial reef structures using corals that are maricultured in nurseries. The ‘reef balls’ are then transplanted onto the bare substrate to grow reef—a technique inspired by what Sanjeeva learned in Australia.

Sanjeeva and his team are committed to making their artificial coral reef propagation project highly successful in the Maldives. He also aims to set up a Marine Discovery Centre (emulating the centre located at the Great Barrier Reef) to educate visiting youth and children in coral reef propagation, environmental awareness, and sea turtle rearing and rescue.

Alumnus Sanjeeva Perera receiving his Australia Awards Short Course certificate. Featured here with Professor Noel Scott, Griffith University (left) and Tom Davis, DFAT

Linkages with Savannah Guides

Alumnus Rahula Perera is an ecologist, nature-based tourism product developer and photographer. He runs a specialised tourism venture in Sri Lanka. With the opportunity to participate in the Short Course, Rahula was able to further boost his skills and knowledge in sustainable tourism. During the course, Rahula established close contacts with the two Australian universities that delivered the course, and the leading resource persons from the universities became his mentors. The course also helped him expand his contacts and potential customer base.

During the course, Rahula learnt about Australian tour guiding qualifications and developed contacts with Savannah Guides Ltd—Australia’s leading tour guide professional development and training organisation. This paved the way for him to complete the necessary requirements and become an EcoGuide certified by Ecotourism Australia and the first international Savannah Guide accredited by Savannah Guides Ltd.

“Rahula is a valued member of the Savannah Guides fraternity and returns to Australia at least once a year to build his tourism links and maintain contact with the Savannah Guides network. We will continue to support his efforts in Sri Lanka as best we can,” said Mr Russell Boswell of Savannah Guides Ltd.

Rahula’s ongoing partnership with Savannah Guides has led to multiple activities of tourism exchange between Sri Lanka and Australia. Rahula has also been involved in various Savannah Guides Field Schools in Australia and has hosted the President and partner of the organisation in Sri Lanka. Rahula’s efforts have led to plans for other Savannah Guides representatives to visit Sri Lanka and hold meetings with Sri Lankan tourism organisations and operators.

Alumnus Rahula Perera is an ecologist, nature-based tourism product developer and photographer

Based on the successful outcomes of the 2018 delivery of the Australia Awards Short Course on Sustainable Tourism Development, a second iteration of the same course is being delivered this year.