By Nirmala Kannangara
The newly appointed President, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Serene Pavilions, Anura Lokuhetty, is of the view that unless the problems that have been faced by hoteliers over the past three decades are addressed immediately, it would be an uphill task to attract the targeted number of 2.5 million tourists to the country by year 2016.
According to Lokuhetty, tourism is one of the key industries that needs more attention to ensure rapid yet sustainable economic development in the country. “I have been in the industry for the past 32 years and as the President of THASL, I am ready to work hard towards achieving the government’s goal in attracting 2.5 million tourists to the country by year 2016. But we have to address the issues faced by the hoteliers and investors if we want to accomplish the task,” Lokuhetty told The Sunday Leader.
According to Lokuhetty, most of the hotels need to go in for refurbishment and the new Economic Development Minister has requested the hoteliers to come up with their views in order to grant duty-free concessions for the refurbishment process. “At the moment there are around 14,500 formal hotel rooms in the country, while an additional 7500 informal guest rooms too are available to cater to tourists. Still, the number of rooms is insufficient to achieve the said target and hence the number of rooms have to be doubled, which would cost approximately US$ 1.5 million.
“In addition, the unreasonable taxes imposed by the local government authorities too have caused difficulties for the industry. Different taxes have been imposed by different local government authorities. What is this distortion? If taxes have to be imposed then there should be uniformity in it. It is unfair by the hotels to pay taxes on the whims and fancies of local government authorities as we are already paying taxes to the Tourist Board in addition to the VAT.
“The local government authorities have meanwhile recently imposed a tax on liquor and soft drink purchases as well. Now we have to pay a 5% tax on all liquor purchases and another 1% tax on all soft drink purchases. This is absurd. The Tourism Ministry has to intervene immediately if they want the leisure industry to progress,” claimed Lokuhetty.
Lokuhetty further questioned as to why the government has increased the electricity tariff by 30% only to the hotel industry since May 2010, when other industries have not been affected.
“It is unfair to penalise only the tourism sector which has already struggled for so long. Why is the government imposing various taxes only on the leisure sector but not on the other industries? Our product is sold to the international market and we were the fourth largest foreign exchange earner for the country. Rather than helping them to rebuild the hotels in order to compete with other hotels in the region, penalising them would bring bad repercussions if steps are not taken to address the issue,” added Lokuhetty.
Lokuhetty further stressed on the need to promote health tourism which would help to bring more tourists to the country and added that there is a necessity to build more boutique and eco-friendly hotels in the country to attract the unexplored niche markets. “We have to target the niche markets by exploiting our astonishing natural beauty, the number of UNESCO sites and the cultural heritage that cannot be matched with any other country. More boutique and eco-friendly hotels should be set up in selected areas in the North and the East. When it comes to health tourism, Sri Lanka is famous for its eminent ayurvedic system and if we could improve the ayurvedic facilities, then we could be a popular destination for health tourism,” claimed Lokuhetty.