The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara was recently requested to resign by Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga.
Nanayakkara has vacated his office but is refusing to resign.
The apex lobbying group for the hotels industry, the Hotels’ Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), called on Amaratunga to maintain Nanayakkara as SLTPB Chairman.
“We need continuity and stability. We would advise the minister to continue with the current chairman,” THASL President Sanath Ukwatte said.
He said that having three chairmen in three years was not good for continuity and had contributed towards delays in the much-needed tourism promotions campaigns, which showed progress during Nanayakkara’s tenure.
“We would like to see the good work done by the Promotions Bureau for planning and implementing the promotions campaigns to continue. We would like the promotions campaign to be rolled off immediately because the arrivals growth is decreasing every month and we need the campaign to bring more tourists,” Ukwatte added.
The leading association for the travel agents, the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Travel Operators (SLAITO), too said that Nanayakkara led the implementation of the promotional project and that the outcome was a result of widespread stakeholder participation.
“We hope that Nanayakkara’s successor will have the same or superior ability, knowledge and understanding of the tourism industry. What is critical is that the digital programme must be executed expeditiously and Nanayakkara’s departure does not result in any delays in the process,” SLAITO President Harith Perera said.
Following are excerpts from two telephone interviews Mirror Business conducted yesterday with Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara.
He has no position in the ministry
Could you give us your explanation on the current situation at the SLTPB?
Everything is progressing normally. There’s no situation at the Promotions Bureau.
But, you have asked the Promotions Bureau chairman to resign?
Not only the chairman at the Promotions Bureau but three chairmen were asked to resign as part of restructuring and now we have two new chairmen at the SLTDA and Conventions Bureau.
You yourself appointed Nanayakkara just six months ago. Why are you removing him now?
We looked at his performance and because of restructuring.
What are these restructuring plans?
I will inform of that to the media on a later date, after going through the plans with the prime minister.
Nanayakkara said that he managed to get the promotional campaigns processed within six months, which you and your team couldn’t do over the last two years.
He hasn’t been able to get anything going for six months after we appointed him. The industry wasn’t happy. That’s why the prime minister took over the digital campaign and gave it to a special committee to expedite it.
But both the THASL and SLAITO are calling for Nanayakkara to be retained as Chairman. Are you going to ignore them?
They can appoint him in their associations but not at the Promotions Bureau. Now we have appointed a new chairman, an acting chairman, Ministry Secretary Esala Weerakoon.
Nanayakkara said that the digital marketing campaign was taken out of his purview due to the interventions by people close to you. Any comment?
He has no position in the Tourism Ministry.
Will not do anything harmful to the industry
Why were you asked to resign?
You must ask about that from the minister.
From your point of view, what do you think led to this?
Because I would not do anything that is not in support of tourism, anything that doesn’t bring in tourists.
What was the progress of the tourism campaigns when you were asked to resign?
The digital tourism plan was on the drawing board for over two years. The minister and my predecessors all failed. This was the requirement of the industry. But then I was told to hand it over to the managing director and then the minister’s son-in-law also supported that.
The prime minister then took it off the committee that was appointed to do it and a new committee was formed for it. I was put in that committee and we were ready with most of the things. Advertisements were placed last Sunday to fill the CEO position for the digital and global marketing campaigns. We had done the terms of reference and we were going to advertise the request for proposals this coming Sunday.
Everything was fast-tracked and the digital campaign would have come into play in mid-February. The global campaign could have gone off firing in May. What could not be done in two years was done in the last six months.
The industry itself has issued statements that everything was expedited. The stakeholders are the beneficiaries and they are supportive. When the minister says that the industry was not happy with me, he is contradicting what the stakeholders are saying.
So there was no reason to remove you?
There may have been something hidden, which he may have wanted me to do but I won’t do anything that harms the industry.
You have said that it’s illegal to remove you during an election period but you’ve vacated the office. Will you return?
It’s illegal and it’s not conforming to the elections law to call for resignations in the run up to an election. He’s telling me to give my resignation and at the same time, he’s saying I’m not the Chairman effective from January 10. I’m failing to comprehend this. I don’t know who dictated this, whether he wrote it himself or someone else. I won’t give my resignation. I’ve vacated the office but I won’t give my resignation.
Then what will you do in the future?
I will let the industry, government, prime minister and president to decide.