Challenging times for tourism industry | Daily News

Challenging times for tourism industry

Majestic tuskers at Perahera
Majestic tuskers at Perahera

The global tourism industry plunged in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The sector’s demise has had far-reaching effects, particularly for small states, which depend on it almost exclusively for foreign exchange inflows and a large proportion of their gross national income. Of the economic, social and environmental impacts, the most severe have been in employment where an estimated 100–120 million direct tourism and hospitality jobs have been threatened by the crisis (UNWTO 2020). Tourism is a major economic sector and has a particular socio-economic importance, as it employs many women and young people and provides a livelihood to many informal workers in developing countries.

President THASL
M. Shanthikumar
Chairman Chefs Guild Sri Lanka  
Gerard Mendis

Sri Lanka is a nation heavily dependent on tourism. We are blessed with bountiful natural resources, historic places of religious importance, a diverse cultural heritage augmented with succulent cuisine. All stakeholders in tourism, especially the hoteliers and travel agents have been extremely resilient and positive during challenging times. Sri Lanka faced dark chapters such as the 1983 ethnic riots, airport attack, 2004 Tsunami and the Easter Sunday attacks. All these incidents impacted tourism with the latter being the worst. The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Sri Lanka too.


Boosting domestic tourism

During the past it was the Sri Lankans who patronized hotels in the absence of foreign tourists. This was mainly via weekend stays on promotional packages and consistent use of restaurants and outdoor catering. Increasing marketing at national level for domestic tourism could provide the quick gains needed to keep the tourism sector afloat, as domestic tourism is more likely to rebound than international tourism, when the situation becomes stable especially when the fuel crisis is sorted, alongside the power cuts. Those small and medium operators engaged in tourism within the Northern Province feel that this destination needs more focused marketing, within the overall promotion of Sri Lanka.

Tourism presents numerous backward and forward linkages for many sectors through restaurants, cafés, cultural centers, banquet halls and sports facilities including adventure tourism. Tourism also provides opportunities for entrepreneurship through the participation of local tour guides and travel agencies and promotes domestic retail services. For more than a year tour guides have been severely affected. Obviously the impact reaches their families. This includes the park guides at our Wildlife Parks. The ripple effect also falls on “unregistered” guides in the form of those who accost tourists on beaches, mainly in the South of Sri Lanka.

Tourism also stimulates infrastructural improvements by promoting the installation of good road and rail networks, which enhance connectivity and bring in further economic development. Tourists travelling on trains have decreased and the Railway Department will surely incur some loss. Lots of domestic and foreign travellers on the Northern line to Jaffna are complaining about the price increase on the intercity train. The price rocketed from 1,700 rupees to 2,800 rupees. Some months ago the Railway Department launched a train called Ella Odyssey - which gave tourists a chance to take scenic photos by stopping the train (ie- Nine Arch Bridge). This brilliant train ride has now been stopped. These are the innovative rides that tourists desire.

Nallur Kovi l- Jaffna

Decreased demand for tourism facilities has led to business closures and job losses, stripping away vital sources of income for many formal and informal workers reliant on tourism in Sri Lanka. This includes hotel employees, independent tour guides and sellers of arts and crafts. The worst affected are the humble rural folk who lived by selling fruits and offering bullock cart rides to tourists.

Agriculture, transport, food and natural resource extraction have backward linkages to the tourism industry, as they supply its critical inputs. With the slump in demand for international and domestic tourism, sectors that provided inputs into tourism are now facing decreased demand themselves, leading to systemic weakened demand across multiple sectors. Stakeholders in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry need to make strategic and pragmatic decisions regarding the future of tourism. Some tourism businesses will not survive even when things hopefully become stable at some point in the future. Government needs to decide which ones to support and for how long.


Significant blow

Because of decreased demand for travel and tourism, cultural centres have lost business

Sigiriya Rock

and the entertainment industry has suffered a significant blow. Most of the historic ruins are out of Colombo and in places like Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Galle, Sigiriya and Jaffna. Whilst these areas are safe and not disturbed by public protests, the transport crisis has severely hindered both domestic and foreign tourist travel. The entertainment industry dependent on tourism has been brought to its knees. These include bands, individual singers, DJs and dancing groups. Cost of wedding and special events menus have increased and the host will have to think twice before hiring these artistes. All local entertainers were already out of business during the COVID pandemic. Some hairdressers, beauticians and photographers also depend on tourism (destination weddings) and are facing financial issues. Non-executive level hotel staff are impacted the most as they heavily depend on the monthly service charge. New hotels built on loans will find it extremely difficult to pay back to the banks. With this uncertain period Sri Lanka cannot expect foreign investment in the tourism industry at least for the next one year. Sri Lankan hotel staff who left during past periods of crisis, are now living and working in Europe, able to enjoy better benefits and exposure.

Chairman of the Chefs Guild of Sri Lanka, Master Chef Gerard Mendis said “Restaurants are impacted by the prolonged power cuts. We have many expensive perishable items in our cool rooms.

We are very concerned about keeping our high quality in the production process using good ingredients. People dine out to enjoy both the cuisine and the enhanced ambience. Restaurants that were once “happening hubs” have closed down or only operate one meal service (ie- lunch or dinner).The inconsistent supply of gas has rubbed salt into this bleeding wound. Restaurants can’t serve their full menus. Restaurant staffs encounter transport issues. Senior skilled chefs are migrating to Europe and junior chefs going to the Middle East. This is a great worry for the Chefs Guild as we need our senior chefs to pass on their skills to aspiring young chefs in Sri Lanka. The cost of ingredients has doubled and we are forced to increase our selling prices. We are facing a lack of some specialized ingredients for international class desserts. We also need to improve our local dairy production; actually this should have been done in the past. Look at India they have top quality local dairy brands proudly used by their hotels and restaurants. Sri Lanka must strive to draw high end tourists”. Master Chef Mendis just returned from Dubai where he was awarded the Honorary Lifetime Membership by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS). He is the first Sri Lankan chef to be thus recognized globally. Even during this time of crisis the Chefs Guild is engaged in skills training for all their members.

M. Shanthikumar (FHCIMA), President, The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), who has nearly four decades of experience in the industry said “In the past few weeks, we have noted a record number of cancellations which continues to decline due to the ongoing political and economic crisis in the country. The industry is facing numerous challenges and has called on the relevant authorities to act with a sense of urgency as tourism is on the brink of suffocating. Travel advisories from key markets have had a detrimental impact on bookings and needs to be addressed without delay. The industry has very positively taken care of all tourists and ensured that their safety and all needs pertaining to their holiday are not compromised due to the prevailing shortages and challenges. This key element needs to be highlighted to ensure that agents and tour operators globally are aware of the ground situation and continue to support the destination”.

Tourist Police on duty

M. Shanthikumar also noted almost 80% cancellations, while highlighting the TUI charter cancellation as well. The industry stakeholders continue to persuade visitors that it

Sri Lankans in Europe

is safe to visit the island but if stability remains uncertain, the challenge will be enormous. The cancellations from key source markets such as the UK, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand urging against non-essential travel to Sri Lanka due to the ongoing fuel and gas crisis have affected most of the hotels. Even locals are not in a position to travel anywhere due to the shortage of fuel. Due to loss of revenue the hotel staff earnings -service charge also has dropped 50%. Travel advisories pave the way for a hike in travel insurance which is yet another deterrent for aspiring travellers. This coupled with the negative publicity broadcasts on international news channels has resulted in the downward spiral of arrivals. Tourism stakeholders continue to affirm that the government has taken adequate steps to maintain a steady flow of essentials to ensure hotels run smoothly to take care of visitors who are in Sri Lanka. However, this is merely not adequate assurance for travellers to make plans”.

The President of THASL also added “We won’t allow any inconveniences to tourists, so they can come and spend their holidays here and go home safely. With the ongoing FOREX crisis, the country desperately needs tourism to bring in the much-required currency. Hence, the industry needs to maintain a sense of balance to ensure that this flow of funds is not diminished. In 2018, tourism generated US$ 4 billion. The first quarter of 2022 saw a fairly sustainable growth which has yet again plunged due to the political and economic conditions”. All stakeholders in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry remain resilient with hope for better days. We must overcome this period and regain our glory as a paradise destination in Asia.

An elusive Leopard
Destination wedding



Add new comment