Tourist and City Hotels associations give thumbs up for financial support
Request moratorium for staff loans and leases as well
SLAITO commends Govt. and military for assuring tourists’ safety, requesting foreign countries to lift adverse travel advisories
By Charumini de Silva
The private sector yesterday hailed the Government›s financial assistance package to revive the Easter Sunday terror attacks-hit tourism industry, but asked that relief be extended to hotel employees as well.
In principle three industry bodies, the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), the City Hotels Association (CHA), and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) welcomed the relief package announced on Tuesday by the Finance Ministry as critical support. “We are grateful to the Government for accommodating our requests and granting relief for the tourism sector at this time of need,” THASL President Sanath Ukwatte, CHA President M. Shanthikumar, and SLAITO President Harith Perera told the Daily FT.
Terror attacks in 3 churches and an equal number of five star hotels in the city on Easter Sunday killed over 250 people including 44 tourists and injured over 500.
Ukwatte and Shanthikumar, however, pointed out that there had been no official communication passed from the Tourism Development Ministry to the industry thus far.
“We haven’t got any official statement from the Tourism Development Ministry on the relief package approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday. Although we inquired yesterday, the Ministry was not in a position to provide any official statement on the detailed measures,” they added.
THASL and CCHA were also concerned as there was no mention about the moratoriums on hotel staff loans obtained via companies.
“Reading all the newspapers, we gathered that our request to waive off all personal loan interests, and reschedule the loans obtained by hotel employees for a period of two years, is missing. This was one of the top requests, as we cannot operate without our staff,” Ukwatte stressed.
He noted that they made the request for a moratorium on employee loans, because many of the staffers were getting a higher service charge than their fixed salary, and post-Easter Sunday attack, many companies are unable to offer the same rate of service charge, and employees were facing difficulties in repaying those loans.
“Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a patient hearing to all our woes at this hour of need. However, we find that the Government had missed on the employee’s relief package. Therefore, we earnestly urge the authorities to reconsider our plea and not to forget our employees, as they are the lifeline of our industry,” Ukwatte added.
According to him, the hotel sector has over 175,000 direct employees, while the tourism industry has a total of over 500,000 employees, which translates into two million people getting affected throughout the country, considering a dependency of four family members per employee.
Shanthikumar also said relief for employees who not only have loans but also leases to repay is equally important, as a proper recovery will take longer. «At present, foreign guest occupancies in the city hotels are below 5%, and locals too are not patronising food and beverage outlets within hotels, though we hope the situation will improve soon,» he added.
SLAITO President said they welcome the positive statements from the President, Prime Minister and the military hierarchy on assuring safety and security of all foreign tourists, and requesting the foreign ambassadors to soften the travel advisories.
“With the impending PR blitz to be approved by the Cabinet, and the security audit by an international security establishment, I am sure Sri Lanka Tourism will bounce back sooner than expected,” Perera stressed.
Hotels and airlines to meet today to firm up offers to lure tourists
Hotels and airlines will have their second meeting today to firm up respective special offers they could introduce in a bid to lure tourists who have avoided Sri Lanka post-Easter Sunday terror attacks.
Today’s meeting is a follow up to their inaugural discussions held last week.
“We will discuss what each other can offer in terms of special deals and agree on what is most attractive,” an industry source told the Daily FT.
Apart from national carrier SriLankan Airlines, at present, four other airlines have come forward to participate in the special effort to revive inbound tourist traffic. They are Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Air India.
Members of the Tourist Hotels Association, City Hotels Association, Board of Airline Representatives, and officials from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau will attend today’s meeting.
Since the Easter Sunday terror attacks on three churches and equal number of city five star hotels which killed over 250 including 44 tourists and injured over 500, tourist arrivals have declined by 50-70% to 1,700 daily and hotel occupancy has plunged to below 10% from 75% prior to 21 April.