Private sector board members refute allegations made by Tourism Chairperson | Daily News

Private sector board members refute allegations made by Tourism Chairperson

Highlights significant role played by THASL/SLAITO

Two largest travel associations in Sri Lanka, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) came out strongly against the Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism, Kimarli Fernando who spelt her ideas on the proposed Tourism act with the Daily News Business last week.

Following is the joint statement..

The proposed change of the Tourism Act of 2005 was not discussed with the Apex bodies recognized by the current Tourism Act. There are many tourism related associations which are mainly regional or that cater to specific sectors or segments in tourism. However, the THASL and SLAITO have a membership of over 500 organizations. These two associations are the two Apex bodies that are recognized by the current Tourism Act.

The fundamental reason for this recognition is that the THASL and SLAITO member organizations are responsible for generating more than 60% of the tourist arrivals and they pay the highest amount of TDL in the tourism industry. The member organizations of these two associations have invested more than Rs. 3 billion in the tourism industry. In addition, the organizations in these two associations spend Rs. 2 billion in promoting the destination and the products and services which benefit the entire tourism industry of Sri Lanka.

It is unfortunate that the authority refuses to understand the significant and pivotal role played by the member organizations or these two associations to sustain and develop the tourism industry. It will be interesting if the authority can divulge the estimated number of tourists generated by the 52 associations that is often mentioned and the TDL paid by these associations put together.

The Chairperson has mentioned that there are 20,000 to 30,000 unregistered tourism service providers. This has a variance of 50% on the base figure. The current Act does not prevent any tourism service provider to register with the SLTDA. If the authority is efficient with the task entrusted, it would have been possible to get a large number of unregistered businesses to register with the SLTDA. The authority should train and motivate the staff of the 4 institutions under Tourism to perform to their optimum. In many forums the authority does not hesitate to criticize the staff of the Tourism institutions. On many occasions it has been mentioned that 95% of the staff are inefficient and incompetent.

These type of comments will never motivate the staff who have the capability to perform if they are given the right guidance and encouraged. The trend at the SLTDA is to get foreign funded so called experts to handle various tasks sidelining the local staff who are capable.

The Chairperson dares to criticize all the hard work that was done by the predecessors. When the conflict ended, Sri Lanka had 400,000 tourist arrivals in the year 2009. By 2018, the number increased to 2.3 million. Thereafter, the numbers declined due to the Easter attack and the prevailing COVID pandemic. During the period from 2009 to 2018, there were several Ministers and Chairpersons who were at the helm of the tourism industry. During the era when Basil Rajapaksa was responsible for tourism, Sri Lanka went into new and emerging markets such as China and Russia and carried out many marketing activities globally which resulted in a major growth from many source markets. One global campaign does not result in a boom or massive growth, it is a combination of marketing activities that resulted in remarkable growth in the tourism industry.

Participating at trade fairs was one of the methods of promoting the destination and it helped the small, medium and large enterprises in the industry to secure and grow the tourism business. The overwhelming majority of the SLAITO and ASMET member’s organizations belong to the small and medium category.

They will vouch that they were able to benefit by participating in the trade/travel fairs. The allegation of wasting Rs. 1 Billion is absolutely false and misleading as all the participants had to contribute to reserve the space at the trade fairs through SLTPB. The small enterprises were offered concessionary rates. It is also important to mention, that space was booked by the SLTPB by the TDL funds that were generated mainly by the members of the two associations THASL and SLAITO.

In social media, the authority has made allegations regarding the integrity of the Board members representing the Private Sector by stating that the Board Directors and their companies have benefited by serving on the Boards of the 4 tourism-related institutions. This is a blatant attempt to mislead the public. Whilst refuting these allegations, we challenge the authority to name the Directors who have benefited with evidence. If not, this allegation should be withdrawn as the general public is misled.

The Board members are proposed by the Associations which are recognized by the Tourism Act as Apex bodies. The Tourism Minister appoints the Board of Directors to the 4 institutions. The Private and Public Sector Board Directors are paid a fee for attending the monthly board meetings. The members nominated by THASL and SLAITO do not accept this payment; instead, they have given a standing instruction to make the payment to their respective associations. This money that is paid to the associations is generally used for CSR projects or association related expenditure.

For some, it is fashionable to talk about small and medium enterprises with heart and soul in the high end and upmarket.

We had to make a great effort to make it clear that there are different segments in the tourism industry and it is important to be fair to all without supporting one segment merely to score some brownie points. We have not come across another era where the authority has not engaged the main stakeholders in the tourism industry. Therefore, we urge the Tourism Minister to intervene in this matter to find a fair solution that will benefit all stakeholders.

The industry is negatively impacted due to the double blow of the Easter attack and the current Covid pandemic. We need a leader who will unify the industry and work together with all stakeholders to achieve the objectives stated in the President’s manifesto the ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’. Right now, we need to identify the priorities in the tourism industry. By changing the Act we will not be able to generate even ‘one’ more tourist and it will cater only to centralize all the powers under one authority without the participation of the private sector members who represent the key associations in the Sri Lanka tourism industry.

We are not averse to change, however, we are concerned as the authority has commenced the process without a proper discussion or indicating the purpose and the structure of the change.”