Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policy for the tourism industry and the Budget’s proposal to make SriLankan Airlines into a regional airline seem to be at odds with each other, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka President Hiran Cooray noted.
“The national carrier should rethink its decision to pull out from Paris, Frankfurt and Rome,” he said.
The Prime Minister had been highlighting the need to attract the high-spending Western tourists since December 2014, which Cooray reinforced.
“The Prime Minister has also been talking of, and encouraging us to promote more and more to the European traveller, and our product is predominantly geared for the European traveller,” he said.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake had justified the Budget proposal, saying that the regional routes will be profitable.
He had also said that SriLankan has accumulated losses of Rs.158 billion under the corruption and mismanagement of the previous regime. Karunanayake recently also said that Sri Lanka has an open skies policy to let more foreign airlines operate in the country.
“Now is not the time to give that space to someone else,” Cooray said.
He asked Tourism and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga to lobby on behalf of the industry to maintain the daily European routes.
“We encourage you and your deputy to lobby the Cabinet and to see how they can be profitable routes as well,” he requested.
The national carrier is placed under the Public Enterprise Development Ministry in the hopes of better management, while many long-haul foreign carriers, which were making losses, are now making profits due to cheaper oil prices.
While Cooray said that since Sri Lanka’s tourist products are geared to Westerners and therefore the country cannot do without the routes, the country’s largest leisure operator John Keells is tweeking its products to cater to the booming economies of Asia.
International tourism experts visiting Sri Lanka have also emphasised that the high-spending tourists in modern times are from China and India.
While Sri Lanka has attracted the high-spending Indian, the country has only been able to serve the Chinese mass market so far.
The Prime Minister had said that attracting high-spending Westerners would automatically attract their peers in China, as Chinese tend to follow Western trends.
Meanwhile, Cooray said that Sri Lanka must transition to a completely sustainable destination, selling green tourism, eco-tourism and nature tourism. (CW)