- From a group expected to arrive with 22 tourists on April 24, only 11 turned up
- 97% of the guides I know are at home, unemployed
From having continuous bookings, that had made the usual off-season a non-entity, to a crumbling loss of its major markets, the knock-back of the approximately six hundred thousand- person involving- industry has left its scar. From tourist guides to hotel security personnel, the range of professions and income-sources depending on the country’s recovery from its present aftermath is substantial.
Freelance National tour guide Heshan Wickramathilake said, “prior to the attacks our schedule was filled with tours. But after the attacks, that all changed. The Dutch market and parts of the Asian, European markets were lost. We were expecting things to pick up by July, but my colleagues have not even received bookings for September/October”.
He added, “from a group expected to arrive with 22 tourists on April 24, only 11 turned up. This downward trend seems like continuing till December. We were initially expecting 16 packs, but now only 5 people will be coming to Sri Lanka.”
Tharaka Kumarasinghe, from Explore My Lanka, said, “we are not promoting tours at the moment owing to the situation in the country. We will only resume tours in two or three months.”
Viranthi Kumarage, Director of Inbound travel company, ‘Trabana Tours (Pvt) Ltd’ shared a similar reality.
“Immediate tours were of course cancelled. Tours that were booked for the latter part of the year have also been cancelled or are unconfirmed. Business has dropped drastically. Currently we don’t have anyone on tour. This is the same for other travel companies we work with too,” she shared.
In a day and age where unfortunately, bombings and attacks are nothing new in the world, many clients have expressed that the main reason for their fear to travel to Sri Lanka lies in an inability to trust the authorities. While promotion within the trade is at maximum, a strong enough message is not being communicated by the authorities to assure travellers that their safety is ascertained.
The absolute struggle to draw governmental concern toward their unemployment issues has been unimaginable and is one reason for their frustration with the Government
Performing a noble yet unfairly underrated service, the national tour guides of Sri Lanka have ensured that the best possible impressions of Sri Lanka have been created and the highest recommendation spread. However, during this difficult time, their own concerns have been met with neglect and inattention.
“Right now, 97% of the guides I know are at home, unemployed. Licensed guides and tour drivers don’t have a fixed salary, so given this situation we have no income at all…from scooter taxi drivers and hotel security guards to top management positions, so many people are depending on tourism to support families, multiple children and/or sick family members,” Wickramathilake expressed regretfully.
The absolute struggle to draw governmental concern toward their unemployment issues has been unimaginable and is one reason for their frustration with the Government. The loan schemes and relief systems proposed by the Ministry of Finance have made little or no progress.
“We are disappointed because when we were expecting something effective, the Government took time to even propose this idea. Furthermore, implementation may take another 2-3 months due to practicality issues. In addition, there is supposedly an interest rate, and requirements to open several accounts in the relevant banks and even so we have no guarantee of receiving any money to our hands,” shared Shanaka Bopearatchy, National Tourist Guide Lecturer – SLINTGL Director Publication.
A common opinion expressed is that bankers are still unclear about the moratorium issued by CBSL, owing to the unfamiliarity of the circumstance. Moreover, it was noted that the moratorium facilitated by the Regional Development Bank (RDB) under the name ‘Sancharaka Poddo’ has, as of today, not benefited a single formal or informal employee.
In addition, there is also the problem of unlicensed tourist guides wrongfully denying already scarce opportunities that exist for licensed guides.
“Here again we look to the SLTDA which is the governing regulatory body in the tourism sector. Steps should be taken, to not only execute a national plan to take care of the profession of guides by implementing a pension or provident fund, but to also open doors to educate young people about the industry. University students should be targeted mainly. The SLTDA could appoint some universities to encourage their students to obtain the relevant qualifications and pursue the trade. After passing out, those interested should enroll themselves with the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management and then obtain a valid licence from SLTDA,” explained Prashan Barnes Abeywardena, Assistant secretary and Director Legal to SLINTGL.
The SLTDA must use the advantage out of the disadvantage to train and guide the people and stakeholders in tourism for the sustainability of tourism in Sri Lanka and benefit of the tourists
As easy as it is to play the blame game, there are lessons to be learned and caution to be taken by everyone as the country moves forward. Barnes broke it down as follows:
“The ministry of tourism, the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of defence should get together and find a solution for the future sustainability of tourism in Sri Lanka. First, they should build confidence with diplomats in Sri Lanka because it’s the ambassadors who take the correct or incorrect information to their countries.
Secondly, with Government to Government involvement, propaganda should be carried out at state level.
Thirdly, the SLTDA must use the advantage out of the disadvantage to train and guide the people and stakeholders in tourism for the sustainability of tourism in Sri Lanka and benefit of the tourists.
Fourthly, all domestic management companies (DMC) should go through a process of rescheduling to look after their service providers if any situation arises in the future. Finally, Hotels must implement security luggage scanners, body scanners and recruit a team to respond when needed during any emergency situation.”
Another aspect of importance is the general attitude towards foreigners. While tourists who visit Sri Lanka during this period should especially be given a taste of authentic Sri Lankan hospitality, Wickrmathilake pointed out that no guests should be labelled as mere financial opportunities. “This is a crucial time to put our best foot forward,” he opined.
Promoting peace and security as compelling features is key in turning this setback into an opportunity
Gearing up for the surge
Within the industry, hotels have reduced prices and offered attractive packages, but while locals are flocking to these locations, inbound tourism remains hesitant and unsure.
“As National tourist guide lecturers we have done our part. We have communicated with the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations. (WFTGA) and updated them on our safety status, but the bigger part needs to be played by the Government…We have to highlight the fact that while serious security measures are in place, even after the bombing incident, there were travellers who had already flown in or flew in later and safely completed their itinerary,” Bopearatchy said.
Promoting peace and security as compelling features is key in turning this setback into an opportunity.
Optimism expects the December season to be busier; a matter of 6 months may start to reveal an escalation of 10-20%, but at least 2 years would be needed for a total recovery. Yet as we walk a gradual journey of recovery, another challenge looms before us. The global recognition the country gained during the plight, through international media and news outlets, by the Lion flag across landmarks and the name ‘Sri Lanka’, suddenly plastered on screens, is fresh tourism opportunity waiting to be tapped into.
“The tourism ministry and DMCs should focus on high-end markets and there must be a minimum amount a tourist should spend in a day during their holiday in Sri Lanka,” Barnes quipped.
When these new waves of travelers start coming in, they would undoubtedly be in great numbers. How are we going to cater to these new markets? How well would we employ the calm before the storm?
- Reality, relief and redemption for the tourism industry
- National tour guides have ensured that the best possible impressions of SL have been created
- Tours that were booked for the latter part of the year have also been cancelled
- This downward trend seems like continuing till December