ECONOMYNEXT – A new home-stay project in Sri Lanka’s remote southeast coast with Australian support is offering employment opportunities for women while diversifying the region’s tourism product, usually limited to surfing and safaris.
The Australian High Commission said in a statement the homestays in Pamana, an 8-hour drive from Colombo, add local flavour to a naturally appealing destination that is slowly gaining fame.
The project is supported by the Australian Government’s Market Development Facility (MDF) programme, which is working to diversify tourism in Sri Lanka.
It has signed up Safari Panama, one of the few tourism operators in the area, having built up a reputation for wildlife safari at Kumana National Park and beach camping among tourists looking for something more than catching the waves.
Panama is a small town about 14km from Arugam Bay, a famed surfing destination.
“We have many homestays in Panama,” explained Priyantha Pushpakumara, Safari Panama owner and the chief entrepreneur of the area’s tourism scene.
“Most of them are run by the women of the household, whose husbands work as day labourers and sometimes fishers,” the statement quoted him as saying. “Tourists enjoy staying in these because they love the ‘homely’ experience, and especially the home-cooked food.”
Pushpakumara acts as tour guide cum travel agent for the Panama tourism scene, encouraging his wildlife and camping tourists to board at the homestays.
Supported by MDF, Pushpakumara has been working to formalise his role, and just signed agreements with 7 female homestay owners who will be officially promoted by Safari Panama, with standardised rates and a more streamlined service offering.
In addition, Safari Panama is creating a network of individual safari jeeps and tuk-tuks to offer safe and reliable transport for tourists interested in visiting the beach or Kumana.
Speaking at the event, Australian High Commissioner Bryce Hutchesson applauded the project for drawing the community into tourism gains: “For Panama, this is an excellent way to join Sri Lanka’s growing tourism market, and for women a way to join an industry in which they often face many barriers to entry.”
The statement said tourism is notoriously low on female employment numbers, for a number of reasons including social perceptions relating to women working with foreign tourists and difficulties in managing household obligations with non-traditional work hours.
“Operating a homestay removes the mobility barrier, and having a group of women in the village running similar establishments has increased community buy-in in Panama, and reduced stigma,” it said.
MDF’s model is to identify businesses like Pushpakumara’s which are embedded into the community and have the potential to have a large impact on people who would not otherwise have the chance to connect with, or benefit from, tourism.
(COLOMBO, July 19, 2018)