- After 16 Months Of Peace
Non availability of utility services such as water and garbage disposal were that which were holding back 13 hotel developers (except one) who had been allocated state land in Pasikudah from going ahead with their hotel projects despite a lapse of two years since those land allocations were finalised.
Hotelier Prema Cooray addressing a forum on tourism in Colombo on Tuesday said that these issues were brought before Treasury and Economic Development Ministry Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera at a recent meeting.
Jayasundera promised to resolve these matters for which the developers would have to pay for such services, which, however was not a problem.
Jayasundera had however refused to comply with a request for tax holidays due to fiscal considerations.
Another reason for the slowness in project implementation, the cost of building hotels.
Hiran Cooray, Chairman Jetwing Group, and the principal speaker at this event said that a drawback in tourism development was the 500 metre restriction placed in the opening of restaurants and hotels from places of religious worship.
In contrast Luang Prabang in Laos, famous for its ancient Buddhist temples, has bars, restaurants and hotels in the vicinity, he said.
The local industry has been grappling with this issue with the authorities for the past five years, to no avail.
Even Tintagel at Rosmead Place has been denied a liquor license because its in proximity to Musaeus College.
Cooray said that a distinction has to be drawn between taverns and restaurants when operating this rule.
A tourist visiting Sigiriya or Polonnaruwa allegedly has no place for recreation nearby because of these restrictions, he said.
In Anuradhapura however the tourist could find places for relaxation and enjoyment after a tour, said Cooray.
Touts, after terrorism was another pest, he said.
Lack of a knowledge of English among the lower grade hotel staff was also an issue.
How can the industry attract talent by offering a Rs. 8,000 monthly salary, whereas NGOs in the East pay a worker Rs. 1,000 a day? asked Cooray.
He further said that a lucrative market was the “silver” (ageing) market to which Sri Lanka is not geared to service.
Sri Lanka tourism is in need of a tagline, for which Cooray proposed, “Sri Lanka, Wonder of Asia.”
Another influx of Middle Eastern travel is expected after Ramazan.
One good thing that is happening is for the Sri Lanka Tourism Development authority to act as a one stop shop, without a hotel developer having to get a host of approvals as is the case at the present.
Both the Coorays were of the opinion that in the event the country was gripped by civil unrest because of the 18th amendment, but as long as it was non violent and didn’t target tourists, the industry would face no repercussions.
Hiran brought the example of Thailand, a country which was recently rocked by violent civil unrest, but which is now peaceful, with tourists once again flocking into that country.
Banks have restarted lending to the industry, he said.
Vasantha Leelananda of John Keells, another speaker at this event said that four weekly charter flights from Scandinavia with a capacity to carry 800 passengers will begin flying to the island this winter.
Rayhan Wanniappa of the Civil Aviation Authority said that restrictions on inland flights have been lifted.
The forum was organized by the Council for Business with Britain.