Cartelised and restrictive transport options at Bandaranaike International Airport come under fire from UNP MP Dr. Harsha de Silva
UNP MP and its Chief Spokesman on the economy Dr. Harsha de Silva yesterday deplored the overall transport facilities available for tourists and incoming local passengers at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).
He said that Sri Lanka was perhaps the only place in the world where incoming air passengers don’t have a freely available and comfortable taxi service. “Even Chennai is better,” he added.
He alleged that the current cartelised-type operations powered by a mafia and influenced by politicians was an eyesore and put off any independent traveller in addition to causing a bad first impression of the country.
At present a visiting tourist has to depend on the services operated by authorised agents who maintain a counter within the airport. If a Sri Lankan wants to get to Colombo or anywhere, only a van service, often involving old vehicles, is available via a chit system. In most other airports there is an efficient and comfortable taxi service freely operated where a person only has to wait in a queue.
Dr. de Silva to emphasise his recommendations recalled an incident prior to becoming an MP when he wanted to hire a cab, where he was told to produce a passport as it was only available for foreigners. Another top professional had a nightmare when the driver of a van so offered under the BIA’s current arrangement dozed off twice during the drive and thereafter the passenger himself had got behind the wheel to reach home safely.
“If Sri Lanka is trying to attract larger numbers of up market tourists as well as independent travellers, transport options at BIA must see a paradigm change with free availability of better taxis devoid of the current arrangement,” Dr. de Silva opined, adding that competition would improve service.
“The whole experience of a traveller to Sri Lanka must change for the better,” he added.
Dr. de Silva also cast doubts on the country being able to attract 2.6 million tourists by 2016 as there wasn’t a concerted plan of action. “In the first place I don’t know how they came up with this number,” he added.
He also said that the real tourists, especially from Western Europe, weren’t coming here in numbers and that the high growth percentages claimed recently were likely to have been fuelled by the influx of Indian couriers visiting Sri Lanka for duty free shopping.
The UNP MP also raised concerns on possible over-selling pricewise on the part of Sri Lankan hotels. “We may have out-priced ourselves due to the implementation of minimum room rates.
The reason is that there is no corresponding improvement in value, service and standards enjoyed by guests by hotels,” Dr. De Silva reasoned.
He also added that high rates at city hotels had forced some segments of regular Indian and Maldivian inbound traveller markets to opt for other accommodations such as guest houses.