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Sorabora Tourism Village: Alumni contribute to the recovery of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry

Posted: 6 September 2022

Sri Lanka, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact,

The combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent economic crisis in Sri Lanka has brought about significant challenges for the country’s tourism industry. To contribute to the industry’s recovery, a group of Australia Awards alumni have launched a tourism initiative in the Sorabora Grama Niladari Division, Mahiyanganaya, in Uva Province.

Funded by an Australia Awards small grant, Dr Madura Thivanka Pathirana, Dheera Hettiarachchi, Malinda Ekanayake, Nishanthi Kulathunga and Lalith Mapatuna have worked together to implement the ‘Sorabora Tourism Village’ initiative. This project has provided training to develop the capacity and knowledge of nine tourism operators in the Sorabora lake region whose employment and economic security were negatively affected by COVID-19 and the economic crisis.

The alumni involved were all participants in an Australia Awards Short Course in Sustainable Tourism Development delivered by Griffith University in 2020. In implementing their project, the group collaborated with stakeholders from Griffith University, University of the Sunshine Coast, Savannah Guides Ltd, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management, Uva Wellassa University and the Uva Tourism Promotion Board, as well as fellow Australia Awards alumni.

The participants in the initiative received training to develop their skills in guiding tourists at sites (covering tourist attractions, fauna and flora, and tour guiding techniques), sharing experiences (such as hiking, trekking, birdwatching and storytelling), developing homestay businesses and facilitating culinary tourism. This training will enable them to offer a range of authentic tourism experiences in the area.

Additionally, the trainers visited the tourist ventures owned by the participants and provided feedback on how to further improve the businesses to cater to both international and local tourists and how to enhance the scalability of the ventures. Through the training program, the participants also received the opportunity to network with tourism industry stakeholders.

Participants in the program from the Sorabora lake region

The initiative also launched the Sorabora Tourism Village website, provided participants with suitable attire and helped establish an association to work independently after the initial project concluded.

After completing their training, the participants were directed to the Uva Tourism Promotional Board to register as a tourism village, which will be coordinated through the Board and Uva Wellassa University.

The final award ceremony and handover of the website took place on 14 August 2022 at Kevans Casa, Mahiyanganaya. The ceremony was attended by Professor Ruwan Ranasinghe from the Tourism and Hospitality Department at Uva Wellassa University, Australia Awards alumni, and representatives from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Uva Tourism Promotion Board, and Australia Awards. Speaking at the event, Dilhari Pathirana, Senior Program Officer at the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka and Maldives, stated the importance of such projects for Sri Lanka’s development. She expressed appreciation for the alumni’s commitment in executing the initiative, which will support not only the participants but also the Sorabora village community, which aligns with the economic recovery element of DFAT’s COVID-19 Development Response Plan. She and Professor Ranasinghe then launched the Sorabora Tourism Village website.

Dilhari Pathirana, Senior Program Officer at the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka and Maldives distributing certificates to participants.

The project is a testament to the effectiveness of the Australia Awards program’s networks and linkages in supporting Sri Lanka’s development needs.

“Through the small grant scheme, we were able to share the skills and knowledge we gained from Australia with stakeholders from the Uva Province tourism sector, which will support the drive of the sustainable tourism industry in Uva,” Thivanka said on behalf of the alumni group. “We are all very grateful for this wonderful opportunity we received from Australia Awards.”