Towards a Resilient Ecotourism Destination: Assessment of the Ella Urban Development Plan 2021-2030
Ella, with its environmental and ecological attributes and highest room occupancy rate (75.24%),
attracted 120,000 (6%) of the total tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka in 2019, also projects 2 million visits
by 2030. Due to topographical features and climate change implications, Ella is prone to natural
disasters, especially the main access road of Ella-Wellawaya and surrounding areas of Ella town.
99% of occupants in Ella are self-employed in the tourism industry. The Ella urban development plan
2021-2030 (the plan) was formulated with the goal of developing the area as the most attractive and
safest tourism destination in the hills. Tourism resilience improves capacities to recover the tourism
sector from disasters and reduces tourism-induced stress on the society and environment through
integration of disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies. In this context, the objective of the study was
to assess the extent to which the Plan considered DRR strategies towards a disaster resilient tourism
industry. A qualitative methodology was adopted where hazard identification and vulnerability
reduction, being key elements in DRR, were chosen to assess components of the Plan-Scope (1),
Background Study (2), Need of the Plan (3), Goal and Objectives (4), SWOT Analysis (5), and the
Plan (6). Relevant secondary data were obtained from official sources and reviewed journal articles.
Despite Ella being identified as a multi-hazard area by the Disaster Management Centre, hazard
identification of the plan was limited to landslides; not considering high winds, cyclones, and
lightning in 2, 5 components. Being the main objective, consideration towards reducing ecological
vulnerability was visible in all components. The unauthorized constructions in protected areas, which
may have an underlying relationship with economical vulnerability, were neither identified nor,
vulnerability reduction measures proposed. Social vulnerability reduction measures were also absent
despite 18% of female-headed households and 17% of female involvement in the tourism industry in
various capacities. The tourism infrastructure and beautification projects were prioritized over
projects aimed at physical vulnerability reduction of existing tourism infrastructure and stakeholders.
It was found that the resilience of the tourism industry to natural disasters was compromised as DRR
in the aspect of hazard identification, and reduction of social, physical, and economical vulnerability
were inadequate. Therefore, the study recommends amending the Plan, or to pass a separate by-law
by the local government authority to integrate comprehensive hazard identification, and integrate
intervention for reduction of social, economic, and physical vulnerabilities for a resilient tourism
destination, while conserving the natural environment in Ella.
Keywords: Resilient ecotourism, Ella tourism destination, Urban development plan, Conservation of nature