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Hospitality and Exclusion: a Political Economy Analysis of the Tourism Industry in Post-war Sri Lanka

The findings of a study on the tourism industry in Passikudah was presented at a CEPA Café event on 26th January 2017. The study was funded by the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) and carried out by CEPA. The study examined the political, economic, social and cultural factors in Passikudah, their changes, continuities from war time to the post-war period, their influence, as well as the role of state and non-state actors in Passikudah’s tourism industry.

The findings were presented by Senior Researchers, Vagisha Gunasekera and Vijay Nagaraj and the event was facilitated by K. Romeshun, Team Leader of RAP 1 at CEPA. The presentation highlighted the context in which the study was undertaken by problematising the push for economic development in the immediate aftermath of the war. Passikudah, it was argued, had become a crucible of development, where economic development is framed as a panacea for reconciliation. The presenters also spoke about the role played by the State and the people’s perspectives in Passikudah which underscored issues of marginalisation and exclusion. Other issues highlighted included precariousness of the employment opportunities generated within the tourism sector in Passikudah, effects on fishing communities, skills gap, women’s engagement and the social stigma attached to women working in the tourism industry, supply chains within the sector, inequity and the lack of a level playing field and the tension between the “bigger players” and smaller informal establishments within Passikudah’s tourism sector.

There was a high level of audience engagement and the discussion resulting from the presentation called to attention some important issues. These included discussions on non- inclusive, top down decision making and the political pressure for the big resort owners to enter Passikudha’s tourism industry; the inability of the resort owners to find skilled staff; issues relating to women’s participation; and how the Vision 2025 for the tourism industry needs to be translated to a work plan for on-ground impacts. Other significant points were also raised such as existence/non-existence of resistance from communities on the ground, the development within the sector and the model of capital that creates this tension, the possibility of moving forward by strategising on a win/win solution and the need to take into account market drivers allowing the private sector to lead the industry, and where the government role should be minimal, focusing mostly on regulatory matters.