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Most governments of the South and South East Asian countries have adopted tourism as a strategy for development. In the face of ever-declining terms of trade, international lending agencies with short-term interests have been urging these governments to diversify their economies to bring in much-needed foreign exchange. So, despite tourism's adverse long term socio-cultural effects, its over-estimated economic benefits seem to override all policy and planning decisions.
Tourism in its modern form developed only after the 's in Sri Lanka then Ceylon , although there have been many travellers to the island throughout ancient and colonial times. The growth of tourism since then has been very rapid, although there were clear setbacks from onwards due to the separatist war that has gripped the country for over 17 years.
The majority of the tourists to Sri Lanka come from Western Europe with Asia following in second place. While the Sri Lankan government planned tourist resorts and hotels with elite tourists in mind, the sixties brought in the low-budget or the "hippie" tourist who wandered along the coast seeking quieter and cheaper places. They succeeded in persuading villagers to give them lodging for a few rupees, attempted to adopt the local lifestyle, and ate the local food.
This was the beginning of the tourist experience of most resorts today - among them Bentota, Panadura, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna in the south coast, and Negombo, a town near the Colombo international airport. Lavinia, a suburb of Colombo, is popular, especially with gay tourists. I will be mentioning resorts primarily in the southern and western coastal areas of the country where tourism is most developed, although inland areas have not been completely spared.
The eastern and northern areas have been inaccessible to tourists since the 's due to the ongoing separatist war in these regions. When tourism was first imposed on villages, rich outsiders bought up the beachfront land for a pittance and put up hotels before the villagers could realize the value of the land.