Tourism at a standstill in the South-It’s not the candidate that matters say residents

30 October 2019 12:08 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Small businesses by the beachside awaiting customers

Following the Easter Sunday carnage, tourism was one of the main income generating sectors that experienced a thundering blow. Almost all tourists left the country while many bookings were cancelled. Although several tax concessions were given to hotels, particularly those registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, small scale hotels suffered badly. The picture seen in Colombo is quite different compared to other areas that depend on tourism. Aluthgama and Bentota are key destinations along the Southern coastal belt that have several industries which depend on tourism. But today, there’s hardly any tourist on the streets. Shops selling souvenirs including leather bags, gem and jewellery, masks and even those employed in fisheries and restaurant businesses have lost hope. Apart from that around 10 home-stays and luxury hotels were shut down. Although the Presidential Poll is a few days away, people in Aluthgama and Bentota aren’t satisfied with how successive governments have treated the tourism sector. 

Pseudo tour guides

A pseudo tour guide following a group of tourists

During a recent visit to Aluthgama and Bentota, the Daily Mirror spotted deserted election offices apart from other deserted shops on the roadside. There were barely any tourist on the streets apart from an occasional group that dropped off from a hotel vehicle to go window shopping. The Daily Mirror also witnessed how people appearing as tour guides followed tourists and attempted to refer them to shops to earn a few bucks. Shop owners claim that due to this menace they are being pestered to pay them a commission for bringing a tourist to their shop, although in reality it wasn’t really the case. In some instances these pseudo tour guides chase tourists all the way long and if they don’t succeed to convince them, they would pass it on to another onlooker in the group, standing somewhere nearby. Many of them looked the ‘druggie’ type as one may put it and it was quite evident with their uncivilized approach to trouble tourists.  Hence, we spoke to several individuals employed in various industries and here’s what they had to say. 


Upcoming election may not do any good :Titus 

There are many areas that need to be improved


“The season just commenced, but we don’t have business,”said T. Titus while mounting some leather bags on display. “We have been in this business for six years and this time we are heavily affected. The upcoming elections may not do any good if the candidate doesn’t focus on the tourism industry. There are many areas that need to be improved, especially when it comes to tourism-related activities in these areas.”

Temporary tour guides have become a menace : Hemantha

This has in fact become a menace and we are ashamed

“Foreigners are going through a struggle when they visit Bentota and nearby areas,” said Pramith Hemantha, an area resident. “People who appear as guides keep following them and try to find money by referring them to shops, spas and hotels. This has in fact become a menace and we are ashamed. Once they come behind a tourist they ask for a commission. There’s no regulatory body to issue them with a license. They don’t want to do a course and get a certificate either.” 


Future govt. should ensure that tourism is improved : Lalith

Because of the election we don’t see many tourists


Lalith Priyantha, a local money exchanger, has observed a decline in tourists after the Easter Sunday carnage. “We are expecting a higher number at least by December. Because of the election we don’t see many tourists. Irrespective of who comes to power they will have to ensure that the industry is improved.” 


Political parties shouldn’t neglect tourism : Hameed

They may have to take necessary steps to restore the industry


“The gem and jewellery industry has been severely affected,” said M.I.A Hameed, Manager at AIDA Gems and Jewellery. “We have been in the industry for four decades and after the attacks we haven’t got many customers. Political parties shouldn’t neglect tourism as it generates a lot of foreign income. They may have to take necessary steps to restore the industry.”


We will continue to come here : Jameel and Tanya 

We don’t care about bombs or other issues


“Ever since October 2015 we have been coming here,” said Jameel and Tanya from Palestine and Ukraine respectively. “We don’t care about bombs or other issues. We love Sri Lanka and will continue to come here.”


I don’t have money to pay staff salaries : Mohan

My business suffered major losses after the Easter Sunday incident 


“My business suffered major losses after the Easter Sunday incident,” said Mohan, a restaurant owner at the Aluthgama town. “It was around Rs. 1-1.5 lakhs. I even wanted to start a kottu station after the New Year, but it has been permanently closed since I don’t have money to pay the staff either. On the other hand, temporary tour guides have also become a major issue.”


From five shops I now operate only one : Priyantha

After the incident the business dropped


We then walked into a deserted tea sales Centre and met with its owner Manoj Priyantha. “Politics is not necessary for tourism,” he opined. “After the incident the business dropped. I started this business in 2011 and back then I had three shops, but today I only have one of them. We don’t have any mode of income and now we have to sell our property and spend for our survival. Initially I had five employees and now I only have one. It’s difficult to have staff because I have to pay workers’ fees and in addition to that pay electricity bills, rent etc and when business drops all these become challenges. People in Moragalla, Beruwala and Kaluwamodara are severely affected.”


Sri Lanka is a highly tax-paying destination :Manik and Indaka

During the first three months occupancy was very low


Deserted shops

“It would have been better if the Government continued to give us tax concessions until we fully recover,” opined Manik Rodrigo, Chairman of Barberyn Ayurveda Resorts and General Manager of Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort Indaka De Silva. “My concern is that most other hotels weren’t able to be involved in these schemes due to certain regulations. During the first three months occupancy was very low and we were helpless and it was a task to operate hotels as well. We were careful not to terminate any of our staff members.”

Speaking on the political interventions, he said that the Government should invest on tourism as well as operating existing industries. “In implementing new properties we see that there are lot of government authorities which are not connected to each other. So every authority will want us to go through different procedures. Most investments get diverted to other countries because there are restrictions here. Sri Lanka is a highly tax-paying destination. We have to keep around 20% for taxes and 10% for service charge. The VAT itself will come around 20% because the NBT isn’t collected at one time. But as part of the concessions we received NBT is free now and VAT came down to 7%. We requested to keep it for the next five years and the loans and moratorium for one more year. Marketing expenses, taxation and even prices of products are high.”


Didn’t receive any tax concessions from this Govt. :Kumara

It’s not difficult to attract tourists to Sri Lanka 


“National security is key to strengthen the tourism industry in any country,” said Riverdale Hotel Manager Asanka Kumara. “Right now Sri Lanka is not properly promoted through the Government. This is done only by the private sector, but only one segment of the industry gets promoted that way. It’s not difficult to attract tourists to Sri Lanka when considering its attractions. After the Easter Sunday incident all bookings got cancelled. It’s difficult to get bookings because other star-class hotels in the area have reduced their room rates. We can’t coverup costs and we don’t even have any locals coming in now. The tourism industry operates in an ad hoc manner, but it should be a responsibility of the Government. We didn’t receive any tax concessions from this Government, but hope a future Government would think about us and the industry.”


We request next Govt. to issue us an with an international navigation licence: Devapriya 

There’s no space to dock boats at the Beruwala harbour


 

“During the Rajapaksa regime small scale fishermen had various benefits, but during this Government we didn’t receive much,” said Sajith Devapriya who has been working in the fisheries sector for the past 15 years. “We request that the Government issues us with an international navigation licence because there’s no fish in our waters. 

If not the Navy would catch us and the Government would impose fines. We are not allowed to use fishing nets and they have brought down 5500 fishing boats instead. Now there are methods such as light course which affects the way traditional fishermen used to catch fish. There’s no space to dock boats at the Beruwala harbour and we have made a request to expand the jetty. The costs of fuel and equipment used in fishing is also very high. So we hope that Gotabaya Rajapaksa would assume power and give us more benefits.”

Pics by Samantha Perera

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