Reviving Tourism | Daily News


 

Reviving Tourism

Just as the tourism industry was making a rapid recovery after the tragic events of Easter 2019, another crisis manifested itself in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic. The only consolation is that this time, we are not alone. The entire world has been affected by the contagion, with global tourism coming to a virtual standstill.

But there are signs that tourism is picking up gradually around the world as many countries have controlled the pandemic to some extent. The European Union started this trend and other countries are joining in. Along with Vietnam, Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in Asia that has successfully contained the disease where no social transmission has been reported for many weeks. This will be very reassuring to potential tourists who wish to come here to enjoy the world famous traditional Sri Lankan hospitality.

Hence the Government’s decision to re-open the main international airports and re-start general tourism from August 1 will be welcomed by all stakeholders in the sector. This is broadly in line with the travel policies outlined by our source markets, for opening our borders will not serve any purpose if the source countries do not allow their citizens to travel.

It is also encouraging to note that several major airlines including Emirates and Etihad of the UAE have already started outbound flights from Colombo. Most other airlines have announced two-way flights from August 1 itself, a sign of their confidence in the Sri Lankan market. Some airlines new to our market are literally waiting in the wings to commence flights if the tourism industry takes off successfully.

There is a debate in tourism circles and the media on the US$ 100 fee that will be levied from tourists at least for an in initial period. On balance, this fee is justified due to the expenses incurred on multiple PCR tests and additional health precautions. If at any point of time the pandemic threat is fully eradicated (perhaps when a vaccine is made available), this can be waived off. It is always better to be safe than sorry and one cannot take a chance under the present circumstances.

It has been suggested that up to one million Sri Lankans are benefiting directly or indirectly from tourism related enterprises and activities, from waiters in hotels to souvenir sellers. While the big hotel chains can somehow survive a lockdown lasting nearly three months, one can imagine the fate of small-time tourism operators including small guest house/airbnb owners, drivers and guides and shop owners. For many of these individuals, tourism is their sole income avenue. One silver lining in this dark cloud is the fact that only a very few have lost employment per se, not counting those who are self-employed in the sector. Once tourism booms again, tourism jobs will very much be in demand.

The good news is that the Government has launched a concessions programme to assist nearly 144,000 individuals who were engaged in the tourism-based livelihoods and later affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Industrial Export, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, applications are now being called from them to provide relief as per the relevant Cabinet approval.

The Cabinet paper presented on the advice of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa says tour guides registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) will be given an allowance of Rs. 20,000 each and registered drivers an allowance of Rs. 15,000 each.

The applications are available on the SLTDA website. Apart from these allowances, the Government is expected to launch a programme to facilitate registered tourist hotels, tourist destination management institutions and the tourist agencies with low-interest loans through the Bank of Ceylon. These loans will be issued at four percent interest to settle six-month wages of their staff.

Moreover, a grace period will be introduced for the registered tourism institutions to settle their water and electricity bills. Any vehicles leased by tourism industry stakeholders will also be eligible for the six-month grace period declared for vehicle leasing. These are indeed welcome steps as the industry, one of the key foreign exchange earners for the country, strives to find its feet again in a post-COVID landscape.

There is an acute need for a tourism promotional campaign through traditional and social media globally to highlight our gains and achievements in facing the pandemic. This should reassure any “on the fence” tourists that Sri Lanka is a safe destination to visit, both security and health wise. For many discerning tourists, US$ 100 will be a small price to pay for that peace of mind.

This “reset” will also be a god opportunity for travel and tourism planners to analyse shortcomings in the inbound travel industry and take corrective steps. That will help the industry to realize the initial goal of 2.5 million tourists per year within the next few years, giving a new sense of purpose and direction to the industry.


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