By Leon Berenger
The travel and hotel industry yesterday slammed the authorities for failing to stem the ‘Beach Boy’ menace in the country’s tourist hot spots, adding that it was one attributing factor to the recent assault on foreigners at a location in Mirissa.
“The Government is locking the door after the horses have bolted and this should never have been the case”, Trevor Rajaratnam, President of The Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) said.
He added that all Governments both present and past, had never addressed this issue in a … meaningful manner but instead it had allowed this problem to grow into a full blown capacity.
He added that the Government must use all its mechanisms to arrest the issue at the very earliest and not just target Mirissa after that incident.
“There are hundreds of unlicensed budget motels and guest houses on the beaches starting from Dehiwala into the Deep South and very soon the menace will spread to the East Coast and even elsewhere.
“These ‘Beach Boy’ operators are well established and are known to be supported by regional officials that include the Police and even local politicians.
“Throwing extra Police personnel to patrol the beaches will not solve the problem. These Policemen would have to be provided with a special training before they are allowed to deal with foreign visitors.
Does the Government have the proper resources towards this end”, he asked.
The tourism industry is a large foreign exchange earner and has to be protected before it is allowed to end up in the doldrums, Rajaratnam warned.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Provincial Councils, Local Government and Sports, Faiszer Musthapha, condemned statements that called for the removal of all unauthorized small-scale businesses along the Mirissa coast.
Musthapha said that removing all these ventures would have a negative impact on the local livelihood and lifestyle. He added that the presence of the local ventures is itself an added attraction that reinforces tourism in the area.
Harith Perera, President of the Sri Lanka Inbound Travellers Organization (SLITO) said that the entire incident had drawn in negative publicity and urged the authorities to tear down the illegal constructions.
However, he also said that these persons should be provided with the opportunity for fresh constructions within a legal frame and therefore the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) should work towards this end.
A group of tourists were assaulted and some females sexually abused by a gang of beach goons at a sea side resort in Mirissa on 8 April.
Nine persons are currently in remand custody in connection with the incident and their next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday (26)