By Priyangwada Perera
The moment you come up with a term like ‘Skills for Inclusive Growth’, it feels like a brand new three-month diploma course you follow at a fancy institute in Colombo 7. Among hundreds of courses advertised for school leavers or school-goers, the anticipatory ‘results or acceptance letter’ awaiting youth are what we think of. Most of these so called recognised courses are available either in Colombo or the suburbs. Is it a luxury available only to a privileged few in the cities? A luxury or not, we tend to wonder whether the importance is recognised at all. Luckily we have.
The ‘Skills for Inclusive Growth Programme’ supports sustainable job creation and business growth along the tourism value chain. This includes the informal sector in the Districts Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa in the Eastern Province and Polonnaruwa from the North Central Province. It is done by supporting provincial planning for the delivery of targeted skills and business development programmes.
Managing Director Technobrain International Private Limited, Krithika Thushyantha explained at length. “The project has two components. One is training. The other is development as a platform. The first component covers 20 girls who have initial or basic IT knowledge who are trained to become content providers or freelance content creators or entrepreneurs in digital marketing and content creation areas. They are taught about internet security and personal safety, leadership as well as what aspects to be considered when they enter business. With regard to going out to the field, what they should be doing when they go alone to the field, if they are running a Facebook page or a YouTube channel, the ethics behind that and how they can publish, how they can collect data, ethics behind this, how they can boost their posts or reach more target customers are taught,” Krithika said. She added, “Both safety and marketing aspects in terms of women’s perspective in the tourism industry are covered through this. Women freelancers in the tourism industry are the target. Not all these women are from the tourism industry. But they are trained to be working in the tourism industry targeting the ‘new normal’. After COVID-19, everybody thinks that tourism is almost dead. But that is not true.”
According to Kritika, everyone is trying to bring tourism back to life with a facelift. They are targeting online services, virtual experiences and everything that can bring people the same experience as much as possible. “In this, we have come up with what is most popular at present. That is content on destinations. Instead of just promoting single businesses, we have targeted promoting destinations. In doing so, we have managed to reach more people. Plus, it has engaged the economy through various different aspects.”
Kritika elaborated with an example. “If someone is promoting Kalladi Beach in Batticaloa, we try to think of all that is connected to the place. If somebody was to visit Kalladi Beach, what else is needed to make it a tourist destination? Transport to reach the place is one. A place to lodge, a place to eat and so on. So, a transport economy, a lodging economy all becomes a part of the Kalladi Beach as a destination. The target is to promote the destination and to bring in more people and give opportunities to be profitable for several businesses other than just one business.”
The second part of this programme takes the idea to a wider range. They are building a platform called, ‘Gateway to East’. That is the coming together of four districts; Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa , Ampara and Trincomalee. There is a cleverly- explored reason behind this launch. “If we study statistics on tourism, we see that the stayovers are very less beyond Minneriya. People visit from other countries and also from different districts of this country. However, statistics reveal that night-stays in Anuradhapura are four times more than Polonnaruwa. That is because we do not have enough activities available in Polonnaruwa, for tourists.”
Kritika said, “The Polonnaruwa ruins are right on the main road. You get down there, have a look and there is nothing to do. Or when people come to Batticaloa, they only know of Pasikuda. They stay there and move on. In Trinco the spot they know is Nilaveli and then they move on. If you ask the experts in the tourism industry, they say if someone wants to stay overnight, one should at least have five activities one can take part throughout the day. What we are doing now, is promoting local activities in the tourist economy.” She elaborated their master plan. “If a villager or someone from the rural community, for example, if a person from the Veddha community goes to collect honey from caves or trees, we transform it to an activity that visitors can take part in. Or they will get a chance to get into a muddy paddy field and get engaged in farming... Bird watching sites, surfing in Arugam Bay and so on. Apart from those, we have planned out some online activities as well. These will be launched in August. They will be online services for showing them places. A guide will carry a 360 camera and a 360 view. They will also have 3D models for four destinations in these districts. For Batticaloa we have selected Batticaloa Fort, for Ampara it is Muhudumaha Vihara, for Polonnaruwa Gal Vihara and for Trincomalee it is Koneswaram Temple. All these places will have artificially-built 3D models. They will be hosted through an app where people can walk through them and have a look at them. The intention is to make this available for people at this time where travelling is not possible,” she said.
This is not all. Kritika went on, “We also have women who are working as content creators. Where marketing is considered as an industry, women are quite reluctant to get into these areas. Business itself is a problem for them. There are a lot of cultural barriers. When women come forward to get involved or run a business in tourism, they are either looked at as doing something bad or something culturally not accepted. Bringing them out is a big task in itself but we have 20 survivors in that community. However, these women are doing very well. They are running their own pages, running their own YouTube channels and Instagram pages and so on.”
This was also about breaking stereotypes. It is not as easy as it sounds. The most important part of the programme is their contribution to provincial planning for the delivery of targeted and flexible skills as well as business programmes. The speciality is their prioritising of local communities and businesses. Thanks to this, the underemployed - specifically local women, youth and differently-abled get the first opportunity.
The programme supports the full value chain of the tourism sector. From food suppliers to hospitality trainers, the artisans, surf instructors, spa owners, accommodation providers, taxi drivers, District planners, park rangers, industry regulators and business chambers all become a part of this programme. ‘To finance and innovate’ can surely be called their key words. The overall goal of the programme is to transform financially challenged men and women into producers, workers and entrepreneurs who participate and benefit from the expanding tourism industry in these particular locations.