With Sri Lanka’s plans to reopen its borders for international visitors and COVID-19 vaccine rollout happening in major tourism markets as early as next week, The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka
(THASL) is bullish of a rapid recovery of the industry beginning mid-2021, but insist on resolution of a few thorny issues.
“We are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” THASL President Sanath Ukwatte said in a statement yesterday, referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statement in relation to tourism on Tuesday as well as the breakthrough in vaccination for COVID-19.
However, the THASL Chief emphasised that the tourism industry was still awaiting greater clarity on six key burning issues. These include: 1) A wholesale restructuring program of tourism-related debt through Government-guaranteed debt mechanism; 2) A Government-mandated waiver of tourism debt-related interest for two years commencing April 2020 until the industry reaches pre-pandemic business volumes; 3) A complete waiver of past municipal and local Government levies and the introduction of a levy similar to all other industries; 4) A moratorium on electricity bill dues until September 2021; 5) The implementation of the Cabinet-approved wage support scheme for tourism employees for the next six months; and 6) Waiver of excise duties for 2020, as majority of the hotels have been shut down or partially operating due to health restrictions and lockdowns.
“As the worst affected industry since Easter bombings last year and now the pandemic, we greatly appreciate the support we have received from the Government so far. However, to ensure survival and stability of the $ 10 billion tourism industry, we appeal to the Government to consider these urgently-needed assistance measures to stay afloat,” Ukwatte said.
In its statement THASL hailed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s inaugural address delivered at the recently-concluded Sri Lanka Economic Summit organised by the Chamber of Commerce (CCC) to restart the tourism industry in a limited way as soon as possible, while adhering to strict health protocols.
Ukwatte commended the President’s statement as a step in the right direction to save jobs and restore millions of livelihoods in the hospitality industry which is completely paralysed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said President Rajapaksa’s vision for the industry to reposition the country to attract high value visitors was another point that industry stakeholders welcomed. “THASL is looking forward to working with Sri Lanka Tourism to finalise plans to rebrand the country in the post-COVID-19 period,” he added.
THASL also conveyed its appreciation to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for his understanding of the current state of the industry and thanked the Minister of Tourism, Secretary to the Tourism Ministry and Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson for incorporating THASL’s proposals in the recently-announced Budget 2021.
THASL Chief Ukwatte reiterated the tourism industry’s commitment to play its part to contribute towards the economic development of the country by creating employment opportunities for Sri Lanka’s diverse populations, especially women and young people from all backgrounds.