The Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM) may well be the only seat of higher educational learning in Sri Lanka with two significant milestones in its 50 year existence.
First, that it has not had to shut down a single day due to student unrest and secondly, that every individual who has passed out has found employment with the unemployment rate remaining frozen at zero.
This was revealed by SLITHM Chairman Sunil Dissanayake during the 38th graduation ceremony of the institution which was held at the BMICH recently.
A total of 77 students passed out as full-fledged graduates at the ceremony which was held under the patronage of Chief Guest, Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga and other dignitaries. Dissanayake speaking during the event said he was happy to note that all of the 77 new graduates had already found employment.
Inaugurated in 1966 as the Ceylon Hotel School, SLITHM is the pioneer education institute in the field of tourism and hospitality training in the country.
The graduation is the culmination of the three and four year management courses and it is a much anticipated event by the hospitality industry which is growing at a rapid pace with hundreds of new openings for hospitality professionals.
Speaking during the event Amaratunga reminded the new graduates about their responsibilities. “The new graduates have a big responsibility to ensure that they protect the good name of SLITHM as well as that of the country as their services will more often be directed towards foreigners. As such, they will be the country’s tourism ambassadors and their actions, talents, knowledge and skills acquired through training at SLITHM will define the success of the industry in the years to come.”
Amaratunga made a passionate appeal to the new graduates to serve their motherland first. “I request all of the 77 graduates to first serve their motherland before seeking overseas exposure as Sri Lanka needs their services at this defining moment in its tourism industry,” he said.
He also drew attention to the power of social media. “Sri Lanka is well known the world over as a very hospitable nation with a very hospitable people who are always smiling. However in the recent past we have seen some adverse reports in the media where tourists have been exploited. Today social media is a very powerful tool and one bad experience can instantly influence thousands of others,” Amaratunga cautioned.
The SLITHM main campus in Colombo is South Asia’s first purpose designed training facility offering students a holistic education experience in the different aspects of tourism and hospitality.
SLITHM has developed an extensive network of satellite schools across the country in order to attract and train youth in the fine art of hospitality. In addition to the existing satellite schools in Kandy, Anuradhapura, Koggala, Bandarawela, Ratnapura and Kurunegala, new schools have opened in Hambantota, Passikuda, Polonnaruwa and Negombo in the recent past. “Rather than waiting for students to come to us, we are going to their doorstep,” explained Amaratunga who has taken a personal interest in raising Sri Lanka’s service standards.
With dozens of new hotels coming up across the country, the industry requires thousands of new workers. In order to cater to the demand SLITHM has doubled its output of trained students from 3000 per year to nearly 7000 per year.
“Today we have a serious issue with regard to manpower in the tourism and hospitality sectors. The demand is more than the supply. This is because of the continuing expansion of the hotel sector while the youth continue to focus on the more traditional career paths. The result is that many lucrative job opportunities go a begging,” said Amaratunga.
He noted that females still hesitated to join the industry due to ill-conceived notions. “There is a misconception among our youth especially the females that the hospitality trade is not suitable for them. This is a baseless, ill-informed and outdated theory. Today an entry level job in the hotel industry pays twice as much as any other field as a hotel employee is entitled to two monthly payments, namely the basic salary and service charge. When these two are combined and factored with other benefits such as free meals, accommodation, medical benefits and more, the income is much higher than other fields,” said Amaratunga.
In his address, SLITHM Chairman Sunil Dissanayake reminisced about the rich history of the institution. “SLITHM has a history of innovation, growth and change. Inaugurated in 1966, today we have earned local and global recognition as the premier institute for hospitality and tourism management education in Sri Lanka and the region. We have been the backbone of the hospitality industry of Sri Lanka from its infancy, producing the required professional human resources for the hospitality industry,” he said.
“With the industry estimating nearly 150,000 new direct employees by 2020 to serve Sri Lanka’s growing visitor base, last year alone 5300 students passed out of SLITHM, of whom 88 were graduates. This year the planned output is 6,900. As a primary goal we aim to provide high quality, affordable and practically relevant education for the industry and in doing so we aim to achieve degree awarding status for an academic (Hons.) Degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management whilst focusing on achieving National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) levels for our professional courses.”
“With the facilitation of Chartered Management Accountants (CMA) ‘finance for hotel accounting’ courses were introduced, primarily catering to finance professionals in the hotel and catering industry and those aspiring for a career in hotel finance,” said Dissanayake, adding that “SLITHM is in the process of reviewing and amending its curricula to align it with current industry requirements by seeking the views and closely working with the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka.”