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Tourism stakeholders delighted over dedicated ministry

16 January 2015 04:24 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Tourism i ndustry experts have responded positively to the new regime’s decision to create a dedicated ministry for tourism under Minister Navin Dissanayake, and are hoping it would swiftly address issues and support the third highest exchange earner of the country.“I am very happy that there is a dedicated ministry. We haven’t met the Minister as of yet, but we’ll hopefully meet him early next week. He is a young, dynamic personality and we look forward to working with him,” Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) President Mahen Kariyawasan said.


Tourism previously came under the purview of the Ministry of Economic Development, headed by Basil Rajapaksa, a brother of previous President.
Kariyawasan, along with several other top industry stakeholders had met the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe last month in their capacities as private business owners to convey their need for a separate tourism ministry.SLAITO members had been lobbying for low tax or tax exempted importation of touring vehicles, and Kariyawasan said that it would be interesting see if the policy is established.


He also said that abolishing minimum rates on accommodation at Colombo city hotels and adopting a supply and demand based model was high on the list of issues discussed.“We were getting hit hard in the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions) segment and the Indian market with the minimum rate,” he said.Aitken Spence Hotels PLC director Susith Jayawickrama said that the minimum rate for a Colombo city hotel was US$159 (after tax), and that doubts existed within the industry of its effectiveness.



“I think generally market forces have to be in effect. We’ll have to wait and see about the Minister’s new policies, but a dedicated ministry is always good to concentrate on the issues of the industry,” he said.Jayawickrama said that any moves by the new ministry to bring the country’s informal accommodation sector within regulations would have a positive effect on the country’s image around the world.The informal sector operates outside approval and standards of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Board. It claims over 30 percent of the accommodation in tourism, and does not pay crucial government revenue.


According to the Prime Minister, an airport will be constructed in the eastern coast of the island for tourism purposes, while greater transparency would be brought to state purchases, especially in airline ticketing.He also envisioned Sri Lanka catering to more higher-end tourists.“Higher end tourists are good, and we need them. But we have to attract all segments to fill up low category hotels too,” Kariyawasan stressed.He hoped that destination promotions overseas would go ahead uninterrupted in the future, and that the industry is now aiming at attracting visitors from Eastern Europe and Asia.


In 2014, 1.53 million tourists visited the country, with 479,007 arrivals from Western Europe, 370,299 arrivals from South Asia, 280,511 arrivals from East Asia and 154,153 arrivals from Eastern Europe.Under the previous regime, the Central Bank estimated that the country earned US$2.3 billion in revenue from tourism for 2014, which was expected to rise to US$ 6 billion by 2020, with projected visitors to the country reaching 4.5 million.


President Maithripala Sirisena has pledged to improve the country’s foreign policy, which could have a positive impact on any new inbound tourism target set.
Tourist Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), the other apex body of the tourism industry is expected to hold a special meeting next week to discuss issues pertinent to the regime change.THASL Chairman Hiran Cooray was not available for comment.
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