Following is the speech delivered by Minister of Tourism Development, Lands and Christian Religious Affairs, John Amaratunga at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Sri Lanka Tourism.
Today is a historic day when we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Sri Lanka Tourism. I am truly honoured and privileged to be the Minister in Charge of this important subject at this historic juncture. It is also a happy coincidence that we are celebrating this occasion at a time when tourism is booming in this country.
According to data Sri Lanka hosted 1.8 million tourists last year and earnings from tourism stood at US$ 3 billion, both all-time records.
As the Minister of Tourism, I’m very confident that this year, the Golden Jubilee of Sri Lanka Tourism will be a year that will be written in gold in the annals of the tourism history of this country for its transformation from a nascent industry to one that is an economic powerhouse.
Land of fascination and mystery
Tourism in Sri Lanka is by no means a recent phenomenon. This land has been known to travelers and explorers since ancient times as Taprobane, Serendib, Ceylan, Ceylon and finally Sri Lanka. This has been a land of fascination and mystery to both ancient and modern-day travelers. Sir Emerson Tenant, an English writer cum administrator famously said that”There is no island in the world that has attracted the attention of authors in so many distant ages and so many different countries as Ceylon.”
Today the world is rediscovering paradise here in Sri Lanka. With its beautiful beaches, 8 World Heritage Sites, culture, bio-diversity, various new adventure tourism offerings and world class hotels, Sri Lanka is emerging as one of the most sought after countries in the world. Many international publications and websites have voted Sri Lanka as the place to visit this year. My Ministry is working hard to capitalize on these positives and make Sri Lanka an icon in world tourism. We are very focused on our targetof making tourism the key driver of Sri Lanka’s economic growth.
Beginning of our journey
Today as we celebrate this golden jubilee let us look back at how this journey began.It was in the year 1966 that the government at the time decided to develop tourism in a planned and systematic manner.
I would like to describe the late President J.R. Jayewardene as the father of tourism in Sri Lanka for it was his foresight and efforts that led to the setting up of the institutional framework for tourism development through the Ceylon Tourist Board Act No. 10 of 1966 and Ceylon Hotels Corporation Act of 1966 thatresultedin the creation of the Ceylon Tourist Board and Ceylon Hotels Corporation.If there is a father there has to be a mother as well. And this mother was none other than the world’s first woman Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike who built on the foundation laid by President Jayewardene to develop the required infrastructure for tourism development in this country. Today we are reaping the rewards of the farsightedness of these great leaders.
The Tourist Development Act, enacted in 1968, allowed the Ceylon Tourist Board to obtain prime land for development purposes. The legislation also covered the establishment of a national holiday resort company. It included the setting up of an authority under the Tourist Board to manage and administer each resort. The Act conferred powers for the protection of highways and places of scenic beauty and vested authority in the Ceylon Tourist Board for the registration and classification of tourist hotels and all other tourist services including travel agencies.
Forty one years later, based on evolving trends and new requirements, Tourism Act No 38 of 2005 came into effect in October 2007.The new Act provided for the setting up of four separate autonomous bodies to replace the Ceylon Tourist Board. Thereby the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority took on the core duties of the Ceylon Tourist Board. Marketing and promotion was brought under a separate entity, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. Tourism HRD functions and the Hotel School operations were brought under the purview of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management. And the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau was also restructured as a statutory body to be managed by an independent Board of Management.
Fastest growing industry
Today, tourism is the fastest growing industry in this country. One of the first things I did on assuming office was to appoint a high profile advisory committee comprising of the captains of the travel and tourism industries to charter the way forward. This committee has been hard at work over the past few months advising the Ministry on what should be done.
Our targets are well defined. They include generating 4 million visitors by 2020, increasing revenue from tourism to over US$ 5 billion, increasing the national room inventory to 45,000, large scale employment generation and skills development to raise our service levels to international standards. My Ministry is very focused and relentless in the pursuit of these goals. We are also keen to see foreign investments coming in to the sector and we welcome the big players that have already entered the arena such as Anantara, Sheraton, Movenpick, Hyatt Regency, Shangri-La, Marriot, ITC etc.
In this the Golden Jubilee year we hope to achieve tourism revenue of US$ 3.5 billion by welcoming 2.5 million visitors. The SLTPB and SLCB are going all out to achieve these targets under the guidance of my Ministry and also the Tourism Advisory Council.
Towards this end the SLTPB and SLCB will be participating in all key international travel shows to promote Destination Sri Lanka while also adopting innovative methods of advertising to reach target audiences.
Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka is no longer marketed as a ‘sun, sea and sand’ destination. Instead the traditional offerings are incorporated in a proposition that also includes adventure based tourism such as surfing, kite surfing, ballooning, parachuting, sea safaris for whale and dolphin spotting, wild life safaris, health, wellness and medical tourism and sports tourism such as golf etc., adding both value and diversity to the established products.
The way forward
New attractions combined with the innovative approach of our hospitality industry are attracting niche markets and I believe this is the way forward. My team at the Ministry is working closely with the industry to ensure optimum utilization of resources so as to maximize benefits to the country
Meanwhile the entry of top international brands, the upgrading of existing hotels and the emergence of the luxury boutique segment has contributed to the changing profile of inbound tourists. While Sri Lanka remains a value-for-money proposition especially with the introduction of the home stay concept and air bnb, we are also becoming a significant player in the luxury segment. According to industry analysts, the luxury segment will continue to grow in to the foreseeable future. This will lead to increased spending which is good for the economy. Our target is to raise the per capita spend of each visitor from the present 165 US$ per night to 250 US$ per night.
I must also hasten to add that while we pursue these goals we have not forgotten our domestic tourists who kept the industry going during the most difficult days. Following cabinet approval we have begun implementing a promotional programme aimed at domestic tourists under the theme “see, feel and protect.” Our intention is to take tourism to the rural level so as to benefit the rural economies. The national holiday resorts that come under the purview of my Ministry are also being upgraded primarily for the benefit of local tourists.
Thousands of Sri Lankans have found a livelihood in providing goods and services to the tourism and hospitality industries. This is in addition to direct employment which currently stands at around 130,000.According to forecasts this number will have to be more than doubled by the year 2020 to service the targeted 4 million visitors. This is a huge challenge for my Ministry, but one which we have embraced very confidently.
Starting from this year, the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management has doubled its intake of students from 3,200 last year to 6,000 students this year. This has been done with the introduction of new courses and the setting up of new satellite hotel schools in key tourist locations. Rather than waiting for the youth to come to us, we are now going to the youth. I’m happy to inform you that the response has been very encouraging. In the past 9 months we have opened three new satellite hotel schools in Hambantota, Passikudah and Negombo. More of these schools will be opened wherever there is demand for it. These new generation hospitality campuses will groom our youth to take on the challenges of the modern tourism industry with confidence.
One of the key areas my Ministry is currently focusing on is MICE tourism. We see huge growth potential for this segment especially from India and China. In a very encouraging development, the leading French travel association, JEV - formally called SNAV - has decided to hold its annual congress for 2016 in Sri Lanka. This is a huge morale booster for the industry and one that will translate into considerable growth in the French market over the next few years. In addition the World Tourism Organization is conducting a global conference in Passikudah in July this year further highlighting the growth of this segment.
One area that was a drawback to developing this segment was connectivity. That problem is being solved with the airlines operating to Colombo increasing their frequencies and also the entry of new airlines to Colombo. We are very encouraged by the re-entry of KLM and our intention is to increase the number of daily flights which currently stands at around 75 to over 100 in the near future.
Sense of pride and achievement
In conclusion, I can say that Sri Lanka Tourism can look back at the past 50 years with a sense of pride and achievement. It is also an opportune time to recall with gratitude all those who have contributed to the growth of the tourism industry to what it is today. This is one industry that suffered the brunt of the three decade long war and also the devastating tsunami that dealt a heavy blow. But as history has shown, this has been one of the most resilient industries thanks to the commitment and dedication of its pioneers whom we salute today. I take this opportunity to thank each and every one of those individuals and also the organisers of this celebration for the splendid job that they have done.