Say Finance Minister kept them in the dark on budget proposal
The apex body for the country’s hotel sector, Tourism Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), called on the government to reverse the budget 2016 proposal to abolish the Tourism Development Levy (TDL) and allow the industry to use its rightfully collected Rs.2 billion for promotional purposes.
The Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake removed TDL citing that it would help simplify the tax system in the country. The hotels in the country had lobbied for, and paid TDL since 2003, and the funds had been collected at the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), to be utilized for the running of SLTDA, the Hotel School, Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.
“We have had a very good run over the past 6-7 years. The monies that we collected, along with one third of the departure tax, used to come to tourism. This is what helped us to get through difficult times, and we now have enough money to carry out a proper campaign,” THASL President Hiran Cooray said.
Speaking at the association’s 50th anniversary celebrations, he said that the industry will have to go to the Treasury with a begging bowl in the future if the proposal is not reversed. Cooray expressed that the industry is worried that the Rs. 2 billion which was saved for promotional purposes—after accounting for the operational expenses of the tourism board over the past few years—would be absorbed into the Treasury’s consolidated fund.
“We ask the government to look after the funds we rightly paid, and rightly deserve. The money up to now has come very properly and timely to the SLTDA, so I hope Paddy Withana (SLTDA Chairman) and others work diligently to ensure the money remains with us,” Cooray further said. He said that now is the ideal period to start destination branding and promotion, and if the industry has to ask the Treasury for funds for each and every expense, the entire process will be delayed.
Tourism and Christian Affairs Minister, John Amaratunga this week requested THASL and the Tourist Board to start promotional campaigns immediately.
Amaratunga, who was also in attendance at the THASL event, said that he would inform the cabinet and the Finance Minister of the obstacle faced. However, his words hinted that the TDL funds would inevitably be absorbed into the consolidated fund.
“We will be looking into the matter and making representations to the Finance Minister for alternate funding. If there are good suggestions, we will amend the budget,” Amaratunga assured.
Cooray said that Karunanayake had met with THASL four times in the month leading up to the budget, and Karunanayake and Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s attention to the industry was commendable.
“But all those times he didn’t tell us anything about the TDL. It took us completely by surprise,” Cooray added. “We ask the government to look after the funds we rightly paid, and rightly deserve. The money up to now has come very properly and timely to the SLTDA, so I hope Paddy Withana (SLTDA Chairman) and others work diligently to ensure the money remains with us,” Cooray further said.