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New Sri Lanka Tourism Authority on the cards

The silent scuffle between travel industry stakeholders and Sri Lanka Tourism erupted and came into the open with Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga last week obtaining Cabinet approval to repeal the Tourism Act of 2005 and to draft a bill for a new Tourism Act.

The Minister said that the entire tourism sector is divided into four institutions: Tourism Development Authority, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka Federation Bureau, and the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management which was a wastage of resources .

The new Act will look at establishing a new authority as “The Sri Lanka Tourism Authority” by merging the four bodies.

Russian Tourists in Sigiriya last year

However Tourist Hotels Association (THA), The Hotels Association Sri Lanka (THASL) and Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and many other stakeholders said that priorities at this hour was not a new act but work towards the development of Tourism in one voice.

“It is shocking to note that there was no consultative process done with the major stakeholders of the private sector or has the authorities obtained the approval of the respective Boards in this decision making process. We are baffled to understand as to why the private sector was not consulted and not engaged in such a serious and important area of change which impacts the entire industry,” these representatives said.

“Why is this done in such a hurry whilst we have other important burning issues facing the industry?” they asked. “This is not a time to change the Tourism Act unless otherwise there is a hidden agenda behind it.”

Meanwhile, SLAITO President Thilak Weerasinghe said: “We have gone through many natural and manmade calamities like tsunami, LTTE and JVP terror, Black July and Easter Sunday attacks and have come out of them since we all worked in one direction in one voice,”

“We need the authorities to push for a debt restructuring for the industry, bring about a model to support the livelihoods of our employees, fiscal support for the industry and a cash flow support for the sector and not new acts.”

“The authorities should focus on the critical issues which impact almost 3 million people dependent on Tourism. Changing the Act is not going to increase even one foreign visitor to the country!!”

Another former SLAITO President said that for the past one year not much was done by tourism authorities to bring down tourists. It was only the former Ambassador Udayanga Weeratunge, Aitkin Spence Travels and Lanka Sportreizen which brought some CIS based tourists to Sri Lanka and the Ministry or the Board can’t take credit for it.

Chairman THASL Sanath Ukwatte, said that it’s the Tourism Development fund (TDL) contributed by the industry which even helps the Rs.2 billion tourism promotion budget. The 2018 TDL contribution from the private sector alone was over Rs. 1.3 billion. “The very same people contribute 1% of their turnover to the authorities used to promote and develop Tourism governed by the 4 boards.”

He also pointed out that the total investment from the private sector with hotels and travel agents exceeds over Rs. 3,000 billion.

“There seems to be a move to amalgamate the four boards citing excess expenditure. This can be done by the back office and administrative areas working on shared services but we see no reason for the Boards to be amalgamated nor the need to keep the private sector out of it,” said President Colombo Hotels Association, Shanthi Kumar.

“Though there is an official document of a draft in circulation, the authorities are for some reason keeping away officially sending the private sector a draft of the proposed new Tourism Act though it has been requested in writing.”

Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando has stated that new thinking is needed to move the industry forward and a new Act was needed. She also did not respond to Daily News Buisiness calls, SMS or Whatsapp requests for further comments.

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