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Sri Lanka launches tourism think tank

Sep 27, 2012 6:33:20 PM - www.ft.lk

By Cheranka Mendis
With the surge of tourism taking place in the country, particularly in the hotel sector, the industry must now focus on sustainable energy consumption not only for the environmental impact but also for reduced operational cost.

Pursuing the ambitious target set by the Government of 2.5 million by 2015, some 90 new hotel projects have already been approved which is expected to add 4,524 new rooms to the already available 20,000 room stock of hotels and other approved accommodation establishments, EU-Switch Asia Project Director Srilal Miththapala said yesterday.
Addressing a seminar titled ‘Tourism and Sustainable Energy’ yesterday organised to coincide World Tourism Day, Miththapala observed that the industry is facing a challenge in the paradox of sustaining the strong growth, while at the same time ensuring sustainable development, minimising environmental damage and managing energy usage.
“The fact that Sri Lanka is a pristine bio diverse country, blessed with numerous natural attractions, contained in a small area of 55,000 sqkm makes this a more daunting challenge.”
Even though the hotel industry is known as ‘energy guzzlers,’ the hotel industry accounts for only 4% of the national electricity consumption. However, from an individual operational aspect, this number is of great significance. Electricity and gas would account for about 20% of a conventional hotel’s turnover. “It makes business sense to explore ways and means of improving energy usage and efficiency.”
He noted that embracing sustainable and energy efficient methodology would give local hoteliers not only cost benefits but also give an competitive edge in the world market where more and more travellers are looking at environment conscious travel destinations to visit.
“In a study carried out recently by Kuoni, one of world’s largest tour operators, it was found that some 22% of tourists made their purchase decisions based on how well their choice of destination/hotel practices sustainability,” he said. “Hence in the future tourism service providers will have to embrace good sustainable consumption practices if they are to be competitive in the international market.”
He noted that the industry should look at alternative renewable energy sources such as solar, wind power, bio mass and mini hydro. Hoteliers could also explore the possibility of reducing energy consumption by adopting more sustainable consumption practices which by a no-cost or low-cost small interventions and changes to operational systems and procedures can bring in 10-20% savings in a very short period.
While industry heads and Government support are vital for the continuation of existing sustainable programs and the implementation of more programs both on a public and private sector perspective such as the Switch Asia project and the individual hotel programs, Miththapala noted that Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) is currently in the process of developing a National Green Accreditation scheme for all Sri Lanka hotels.“Done in conjunction with the SWITCH Asia Greening Hotel Project, it is expected that some incentives will be given to hotels who opt to get themselves accredited under this scheme,” he said.
There also needs to be a strong legislation to make such practices mandatory possibly over a given grace period. “Steps should be taken by the Environment Ministry such as the recent launch of the Greening Reporting scheme for all industries to ensure the continuation of programs.”
Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) has also implemented a bi-annual reporting scheme on energy consumption for large industrial establishments. “The next step would be to enforce industries to improve their consumption year on year. Failure to do so should result in penalties and fines.”
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa addressed the need to create a dialog in the industry about maintaining development and sustainability in parallel for growth.
“Sri Lanka some years back started several programs in this line. We must keep it going and ensure that our contribution for sustainability of the industry continues in the long run.”
Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Research Officer Kanchana Wickremasinghe, Sustainable Energy Authority Energy Efficiency Director Chamila Jayasekera and Aitken Spence Hotels Head of Engineering Rohitha Rajaratna also conducted presentations at the event.
 – Pix by Krishan Ranasinghe