- Committed to achieving key objectives of Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan 2017–2020
- SLTDA says focusing on high-yielding tourists and sustainable tourism
- President absent at Sri Lanka Tourism Awards held after 6 years
By Nishel Fernando
Officials at the Tourism and Wildlife Ministry is committed to achieving key objectives of the Sri Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan 2017–2020 despite the present challenges, said Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, S. Hettiarachchi.
He made these remarks addressing the Sri Lanka Tourism Awards 2018 held at Shangri La Colombo last Thursday. The event that recognized the key contributors to Sri Lanka tourism was held after a lapse of 6 years.
Sri Lanka’s travel and tourism industry has become a key victim of the ongoing political crisis in the country. The industry stakeholders last week said they were witnessing a 20 percent cancellation in the region. Tourism makes up about 5 percent of Sri Lanka’s US $ 87 billion economy.
Meanwhile, speaking at the occasion, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Director General Upali Ratnayake stressed that SLTDA would focus on attracting high-yielding tourists to the Island while promoting sustainable tourism.
He noted that earrings from tourism have grown faster than tourist arrivals during 2010 to 2017 period. Sri Lanka recorded 654,476 tourist arrivals with US $ 576 million in tourism earnings in 2010.
Last year, tourist arrivals reached 2.1 million and tourist earnings hit a record US $ 3.9 billion.
“This is what the industry needs and the country needs. We also have to bear in mind how we are responsible in protecting our resource base—environment, culture, heritage and society. Continuing tourism while protecting these aspects is our responsibility,” he stressed.
Given the challenges faced by Sri Lanka, Ratnayake emphasised that the increased contribution from the tourism sector by the way of foreign exchange is crucial to the national economy, specially in the backdrop of fluctuating contributions from worker remittances and apparel to the economy.
Further, he noted that tourism industry is playing a key role for regional development and prosperity of the nation.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who was to grace the award ceremony as the chief guest, did not attend the event. Instead Sirisena’s Chief of Staff H.M. Hitisekara was present at the award ceremony representing him.
Former Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga attended the event and took part in the presentation of awards on the invitation of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
The Tourism and Wildlife Ministry officials said they invited Amaratunga and former SLTDA Chairman Kavan Ratnayake for the award ceremony as they played a key role in re-launching the Tourism Awards following a six-year hiatus.
Meanwhile, the head of Sri Lanka Tourism Awards judging panel, Kishu Gomes stressed that the participation in the travel and tourism industry award events should be encouraged as this year’s award ceremony was marred by a low participation.
Tourism boom busted by political crisis
Former Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga in a statement said the plans to make Sri Lanka a tourism hub in the region and the country’s highest foreign exchange earner had suffered a major setback due to the current political impasses.
“As a former Minister of Tourism Development, I am disappointed and disheartened that plans and strategies envisaged by my ministry for the development of tourism to reach the vision of making Sri Lanka the tourism hub of the region and the highest foreign exchange earner had undeservedly suffered a major setback due to the current political impasses,” Amaratunga said in his statement.
He emphasised that Sri Lanka tourism gained momentum and was on track to become the top foreign exchange earner despite the several challenges due to various activities launched by the authorities since 2015.
“Despite politically-coloured setbacks in the form of regular strikes and street protests to upset civilian life and natural disasters experienced, tourism resiliently recorded a steady rise of tourist arrivals reaching set arrival targets, an outcome of major promotions campaigns worldwide by Sri Lanka Tourism,” he noted.
However, he pointed out that several plans initiated by the ministry are on hold including the annual ‘Christmas Fest’.
“The ‘Christmas Fest’ annually organized by Sri Lanka Tourism to light up the Colombo City with a festive atmosphere centered around the Colombo Arcade as a tourism attraction will be sadly missed due to the present crisis,” he said.
Elaborating on the adverse impacts of the political impasse, which triggered several Western nations to issue travel advisories, Amaratunga stated that a substantial number of tourist bookings have been cancelled during the peak tourist season (from November 2018 to March 2019).
Further, he stated that the informal sector, which accounts for almost half of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, is facing a severe setback due to massive cancellations of on-line bookings.
Amaratunga stressed that maintenance of law and order is vital for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry growth, and called for a swift end to the prevailing political impasse.
“I sincerely hope that the present political impasse will come to an end sooner than later, so that tourism will take ‘the box seat’ once again in our economy,” Amaratunga said.