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    Tourism will reopen with strong safeguards

    pg09-TourismChairman Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Kimali Fernando said that the government was working closely with the army to create safeguards to when possible open up the country for tourism. Fernando was speaking on a panel discussion organized by Advocata on 21 April.

    Fernando said that they envisioned having health screening and tracking data collected at the point of passport control at the airport. The tourists would then be provided information detailing institutions that have been certified by the government as passing health safeguards. The system is looking to adopt best practices followed internationally.

    Fernando said that this was an opportune moment to restructure the associations linked to the tourism industry to create more clout. Accordingly, she expects associations to come together and form a larger association that would speak collectively on behalf of the industry to the government. She cited the associations linked to textile manufacturing as being models that effectively lobby for their industry.

    Fernando said that changes to the acts governing tourism development and promotion would continue and that provision had been made for greater representation of hotel operators and small and medium enterprises. Given the high wage bills and employment generation of the tourism sector, the government is looking at the possibility of providing wage relief to institutions.

    President Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, Sanath Ukwatte said that even before the COVID crisis the sector was recovering from the impact of the Easter bombings.

    Following the Easter bombings prices had fallen by 60 percent and occupancy by 40 percent. The sector was on the path to recovery but with the new crisis, it has limited reserves for survival.

    Hotels are the largest investor and employer in the tourism industry. The industry is currently operational at near-zero revenue and will face additional draws on cash when the hotels have to be reopened. The sector is also facing high degrees of competition with the room supply far exceeding demand. Given the low base, Ukwatte is confident that a well-planned promotional campaign could reduce the hardship currently faced.

    Sri Lankan airlines CEO Vipula Gunatilleka said that his organisation couldn’t service the leases on the fleet and that concessions had been sought. Gunatilleka felt that the Middle Eastern carriers would as soon as possible aggressively cut prices to fill their large built-up capacity making it very difficult for his organization. Sri Lankan airlines are running flights to regions like Australia and Ukraine when the opportunity presents itself.

    Industry workers will face considerable drops in income due to a loss of service charge and a reduction of wages to the base salary. Fernando cited the importance of the sector to historical banking profitability. Fernando hailed the governments efforts to limit the spread of the virus and said that would be a key national competence to attract tourists in the near future.

    Courtesy – Daily News

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