Chinese Spring festival will energize SL tourist trade – by Prof. Samitha Hettige

January, 23, 2023

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (99 years) was a key figure building bilateral bonds between USA & China during Nixon administration in the early 1970s. That was a win-win as US gained access to China’s mega markets & China got the opportunity to expand its international presence. Addressing the annual New Year gala of the China General Chamber of Commerce - USA (CGCC-USA) in New York, veteran diplomat has recognized the cultural differences between the two states & stated that “USA & China must understand each other "more fully" and cultivate a relationship more compatible with peace & progress in the world”.

China & Sri Lanka however, have many cultural similarities. Buddhism is a corner stone in that understanding. For centuries Sri Lankans celebrate the new-year (Nawa Vasara) in April after harvesting their rice. In the Middle East similar celebrations are held with roots dating back to the Persian Empire referred to as “Naw - ruz” (literary meaning new day). In China the spring festival is a similar event and the Chinese (approx. one fifth of the world population) celebrate it with many similar rituals as in SL bonding with their families, preparing special dishes & sweets, fireworks &, homage to the dead etc.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week inspected the combat readiness of the armed forces ahead of the spring festival as it is the world’s biggest human movement as millions of Chinese travel inland & overseas. While extending festive greetings to personnel of the People's Liberation Army, People's Armed Police Force, members of militia & reserve forces, he got a situation update from the field on emergency preparedness, air defense readiness & special warfare skills training. The President urged the forces to ensure all Chinese people have a happy, peaceful and safe Spring Festival (Ref Media).

Tourism is a sector which SL has the potential to fast develop to get out of the financial crisis. Historically SL is a well known tourist destination which has attracted tourists from all directions including the Buddha himself (Ref. Buddhist archives). Few years ago some in the finance sector were critical about President MR getting low budget Chinese tourists. Practically the high spenders would prefer high quality destinations & Sri Lankans should work hard to make SL attractive to all. Singapore is a good example which plans their future. They used smart people to build a smart country. One such was respected Sri Lankan professional Renton De Alwis. During CBK rule he proposed many new initiatives including clean & hygienic toilets at tourist locations. Some in the industry protested against him with slogans such as “We don’t want the chairman who builds toilets”. When the southern expressway was opened one said that it’s a waste of money & only an “Ambulthiyal Truck” would use it once a week. Can SL develop tourism with such views? Chinese authorities have eased travel restrictions on Chinese people in the COVID aftermath. With the Belt & Road network Chinese have more places to visit. SL should be grateful to China for encouraging Chinese people to visit SL. It’s not necessary to explain the impact it will have on SL tourism & national economy. Sri Lankans should start thinking like a tourist visiting SL to make SL attractive. The next generation should not get mislead & use the opportunities coming with the Belt & Road which will connect SL with the east & the west.

If you don't know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere - Henry Kissinger

(Views expressed are personal)