Cabinet appoints five-Minister Sub-Committee to spearhead tourism recovery post-Easter Sunday extremist terror attacks
Smaller industry official teams also tasked with different responsibilities
Multiple uncoordinated overtures may hamper faster revival fears industry
Industry disappointed over apparent lack of sincere unity in political leadership
Notes had to meet President and Prime Minister separately for full discussions
Stresses President and PM should have jointly addressed the nation in worst crisis-post war to boost people’s morale, investor and biz confidence
By Nisthar Cassim
The tourism industry is calling for a single yet joint and urgent effort for the crucial revival, fearing multiple overtures by different parties in an uncoordinated way could aggravate the post-Easter Sunday extremist terror attack crisis.
The appeal comes hot on the heels of the Government deciding to set up a Cabinet Sub-Committee with five Ministers to spearhead the tourism revival on Tuesday. However, some industry sources fear the effort may fall short, given the daunting challenge of urgent and concerted efforts for revival.
“What we need is one powerful committee with the right people, who will work towards one goal on one single set of recovery and rebuilding strategy,” an industry expert told the Daily FT. “The military should be in that Committee too, as the biggest threat is security, and for the rebuilding process the foundation is safety. The Committee should be professionals, not politicians,” he stressed.
The Cabinet Sub-Committee approved by the Cabinet comprises of Tourism Minister John Amaratunga, Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Officials were not available or knowledgeable to comment on the full composition of the Sub-Committee.
However, industry leaders, who are pressing for a single all-encompassing Committee for a holistic and concerted approach, say such an arrangement must focus on:national security; security covering hotels and tourism attractions; travel advisories; airport management; airline management; PR campaign to disseminate the right messages to all global stakeholders for assurance;marketing and brand communication campaign to build more equity; and help investors/industry with financial support to manage their cash flow for sustainability.
The industry is also disappointed over the apparent lack of sincerity of unity on the part of the political leadership. This was made evident by tourism industry leaders meeting President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday separately,though the latter was briefly present at the earlier meeting.
“In a crisis time like this, it is frustrating to be having to repeat the same concerns at two different meetings to one Government,” lamented a senior industry leader. “Post-Easter Sunday terror attacks, which killed over 250 people (including nearly 50 tourists), and injured hundreds and damaged three star-class hotels, ideally the President and the Prime Minister should have come together and addressed the nation. This gesture in an hour of crisis would have boosted the morale of the people, and investor and business confidence,” he added.
Other industry sources, however, were less critical but satisfied with the outcomes of the two meetings. In the meeting with President Sirisena,the idea of a Cabinet Sub-Committee was mooted, whilst at the Premier Wickremesinghe’s meeting, smaller industry officials’ committees or teams were tasked with different responsibilities.
“A quicker revival of tourism entirely depends on how fast we make decisions and implement them. The international terror group-inspired threat and warnings remain, which makes the recovery process more challenging,” industry sources emphasised.
As a follow-up to meeting with the Prime Minister and President, the industry will have discussions with State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne, to finalise financial support for tourism industry, and separately receive a security situation update from Defence authorities. Several other follow-up meetings are in the offing as well, leading up to a final discussion with Prime Minister on Monday 6 May, the Daily FT learns.
Tourist arrivals plunge 50%-70% post-Easter Sunday terror attacks
Post-Easter Sunday extremist terror attacks, tourist arrivals are estimated to have plunged between 50-70%, triggering fresh concerns within the industry and calls for urgent revival measures.
In comparison to an average arrival of 5-6,000 plus tourists per day in the previous peaceful setting, post-Easter Sunday terror attacks, arrivals have dropped to below 2,000 per day. As per provisional data seen by the Daily FT, within a week since the Easter Sunday attack, arrivals had dropped by 70% to 1,800 on Saturday 27 April. The drop the day after the terror attacks was around 50% to 2,900.
Industry sources said that the drastic drop was owing to adverse travel advisories, and global media reporting on the post-Easter Sunday incidents. As a security measure, the Government introduced partial emergency, as well as imposed night time curfew.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera last week hinted that tourist arrivals this year could drop by 30%, whilst Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Kishu Gomes was quoted by Reuters on Monday, on the sidelines of Arabian Travel Mart in Dubai, that arrivals to Colombo will fall by 50% over the next two months, and by 30% outside the city following the Easter Sunday attacks, which killed over 250 including nearly 50 tourists.
SriLankan Airlines’ CEO Vipula Gunatilleka was also quoted by Reuters, saying that the carrier had a 10% increase in cancellations last week, and expects that number to rise.
Tourism was Sri Lanka’s third-largest and fastest-growing source of foreign earnings last year, after private remittances and textile and garment exports, accounting for almost $4.4 billion or 4.9% of GDP in 2018. Gomes told Reuters that Sri Lanka targeted 2.5 million visitors in 2019, up from 2.3 million last year.
“We will probably reach about 2 million,” Gomes told reporters. “We are looking at providing some concessions to the industry, for them to be able to maintain their viability for the next few months,” he told Reuters. Gomes said confidence could return if the military is able to give assurances on security.
Hotels to meet airlines today to lure tourists with special promotions
By Charumini de Silva
The hotels industry, along with tourism leaders, will meet representatives of leading airlines today, to discuss an immediate strategy to lure tourists to visit Sri Lanka via special promotions.
The meeting is a direct outcome of the discussions held between the tourism industry and Prime Minister on Tuesday.
Sources said that competing destinations such as Indonesia and Thailand, as well as others such as Tunisia had adopted a similar strategy, as part of revivals of tourism after being struck by extremist terror attacks targeting foreigners.
“At today’s meeting, we will request for the airlines to consider offering free tickets to accompanying persons or families, attractive discounts, or any other inducements, to visit Sri Lanka for their holidays. Whilst 21 April Easter Sunday terror attacks is the biggest setback for the country post-war, the security situation has improved considerably with no further incidents. We hope this to continue, and with other on-going or planned revival measures, we hope tourism can bounce back soon,” a senior hotelier said.
Last year, Sri Lanka attracted a record 2.3 million tourists, up 11% from 2017,and a foreign exchange earnings of $ 4.4 billion. Original forecasts was 2.8 million tourists for 2019.
However, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera last week said following the Easter Sunday mayhem, arrivals could dip by 30% this year with a foreign exchange loss of $ 1.5 billion.