A group of Southeast Asian tourists seen in Colombo this week. Owing to COVID-19 concerns and mitigation measures including partial shutdown of the airport industry fears tourism numbers will come to zero next week – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Says COVID-19 by far biggest crisis for industry following Easter Sunday terror attacks
Warns of mass scale unemployment leading to multiplier effect on rest of economy
Urges Government to act now to protect jobs
The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) yesterday made a fresh appeal for urgent support from the Government to prevent what it called “unprecedented levels of closures and job losses” from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 crisis.
Whilst welcoming the Government’s six-month moratorium granted for all businesses as a step in the right direction, THASL said the twice-battered tourism industry needs an immediate and far-reaching fiscal recovery package.
Its main suggestions are:
1) Moratorium for capital repayment of all loans and overdrafts taken by tourism businesses from banks and leasing companies to be extended for a period of two years with effect from 1 April;
2) Complete waiver of interest on loans and overdrafts for a period of two years; and
3) In order to retain employees and maintain hotel plants while having zero revenue, the industry is requesting interest-free loans with lengthy repayment periods to meet the working capital needs of tourism businesses to fund their salaries and maintain hotel plants for at least the next six months.
“This is by far the biggest crisis we have ever seen in our sector. Closure of airports and worldwide travel restrictions have effectively shut down the tourism industry. The impending collapse of the industry, especially after these two major setbacks including the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, will likely lead to mass scale unemployment and have a multiplier effect on the rest of the economy. As the biggest investor in the tourism industry and with the largest employee base, THASL is gravely concerned about the present situation and urges the Government to act now to protect people’s jobs,” the statement noted.
It said that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a major contraction in both supply and consumer demand, pointing out that the fall in oil prices, together with the decline in consumer goods imports, should create less pressure on Sri Lanka’s balance of payments.
“This is likely to create a deflationary environment in the economy and open up space for a more flexible monetary policy. We therefore request the Government to encourage the Monetary Board to further reduce interest rates to create a greater stimulus for growth and investment. This will greatly assist the tourism industry which accounts for 6% of GDP, to emerge from this crisis.”
THASL pointed out that in 2018, prior to the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels, the tourism industry earned $ 4.5 b for the country and in 2019 the industry was well on the path of recovery and earned $ 3.5 b. Irrespective of geographical regions, this pandemic has affected the entire world and the tourism industry is the worst hit, it added.
According to a recent statement put out by The World Travel and Tourism Council, “The tourism industry which accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP and jobs is severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Asia is expected to be the worst affected.”
THASL emphasised on the urgency of these measures which it said would help to significantly curtail the negative consequences of the current crisis. “Any delay will be fraught with peril for the employment situation in particular and for the economy in all aspects,” it warned.
First partial shutdown of BIA in 19 years takes effect from today
The first-ever partial shutdown of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in 19 years will come in to force today for a week, with authorities stating they have made all arrangements for a smooth transition.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday (17) decided to ban the entry of visitors from today for one week in a partial shutdown of the airport as a drastic measure to contain the spread of new coronavirus (COVID-19).
The previous partial shutdown was on 24 July 2001 when the LTTE attacked the BIA which killed around 20 people and destroyed three Airbus aircraft of the National Carrier apart from other damages.
“Directions have been made to all online and offline carriers regarding the partial closure of the BIA from today for a week,” Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) Director General and Chief Executive Officer H.M.C. Nimalsiri told Daily FT.
The one week until 25 March however is subject to review by the Sri Lankan authorities. The entry of any national including Sri Lankans will be banned whilst the BIA will continue to service transit passengers and cargo as well as remain open for departures. Emergency diversions to BIA, technical landings at BIA and inbound ferry flights without passengers to BIA will be allowed.
Nimalsiri also said that six hours was the maximum transit time at BIA. “We have instructed all online and offline carriers that the maximum permitted transit time at the BIA for any passenger should strictly be not more than six hours.”
In addition, the CAASL requires that the passengers must strictly have a confirmed onward connection out of BIA to an onward destination.
Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd. Chairman Major General (Rtd.) G.A.Chandrasiri said all arrangements had been made to ensure the partial shutdown of the BIA will be hassle free.
He noted that the partial shutdown of the BIA was a step taken in the right direction to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19.
During the COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Tuesday, President Rajapaksa also pointed out that Sri Lanka did not have the capacity nor the capability to quarantine all arriving passengers, hence as a temporary yet critical move the partial shutdown of the BIA was necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19.
President Rajapaksa’s decision to ban the entry of visitors comes amidst existing restrictions placed on arrivals from 17 countries worst impacted by COVID-19. They are Italy, Iran, South Korea, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Canada, Qatar and Bahrain. (CdeS)
SriLankan cancels flights to 31 destinations
- Retains services to London, Melbourne, Chennai, Delhi and Narita
SriLankan Airlines has temporarily suspended services to 31 destinations worldwide on account of a week-long partial shutdown of BIA whilst retaining select flights to London, Melbourne, Chennai, New Delhi and Narita.
The National Carrier also said it has got special approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to bring back stranded Sri Lankan passengers from UK on 19 March, hours after the partial shutdown of the airport commences.
It said as per the directive from CAASL/AASL, no passenger will be accepted at the arrival terminal to enter the country from 4 a.m. 19 March until further notice. All transit and departures to be operated including cargo flights will be accommodated at BIA.
See Page 2 for the list of destinations to which SriLankan Airlines flights have been cancelled and retained