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Local travel trade opposes move to sell airline tickets in US dollars

The local travel trade grouped together for the first time, to oppose a move by airlines to sell tickets in Sri Lanka in US dollars, bypassing the Sri Lanka Rupee. A section of airlines intends the move to come into force, on October 1. Travails of such a move will dispense of travel agent services and cut out traveller/agent companionship.

It will belittle the local rupee currency and mislead travellers, who will end up paying far more than the quoted airline fare, the media was told.

It is banana republics and inconspicuous economies which adopt the dollar as the headline currency for travel ticketing, president, The Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka (TAASL), Nihal Perera said. Grouped together, and vocalised to fight tooth and nail to the finish, are TAASL, Sri Lanka Association of Airline Representatives (SLAAR) and IATA Agents Association (IATAA).

The local travel agents have a staff of 6000, sell 73,000 tickets, with billings of Rs 2.4 billion per month, Perera said.

Airlines facing increasing competition with fares decreasing by 20 percent in five years, are trying to suck the blood of the travel trade for survival, president, SLAAR Gerard Amerasinghe charged. But, escalating fuel costs, are also bearing on the airlines industry.

While air fares fell 20 percent in five years, the Sri Lanka rupee had decreased by 7 percent. Why don't the airlines increase fares by 5 percent, Amerasinghe queried?

Airline advertisements carry basic airfares to various destinations from Colombo, to attract passengers, but, when fuel surcharges as per airline and country taxes are added, the total fares payable by passengers increase to over 50 percent of the advertised fee, president IATAA, Dino de Fonseka said.

This will cause immense confusion among travellers, while poor travellers, some seeking employment overseas, could be asked to pay the difference within 14 days, leading to indebtedness on their part. The poor traveller is most hit, being less educated and knowledgeable of such situations, Fonseka said.

Fares quoted in US dollars are subject to constant change, not represented in advertising.

The Board of Airlines Representatives (BAR) have made the move to use dollars instead of SLR to purchase tickets. It was alleged that some of their representatives spend just two years in Sri Lanka and do not care about the repercussions of such a move on the Lankan rupee.

The proposal has been submitted to government through the Department of Civil Aviation and Central Bank. The authority to defer such a proposal is in the hands of the Department of Civil Aviation, the media was told.

Travel agents sell the prospective traveller the choice of a few products, meaning holidays with entertainment and lodging. But, airlines are not travel agents and are not knowledged on extending services of the traveller.

Travel agents, with its staff of 600, are like a supermarket with a range of travel products, are not biased about the products they sell giving the client a choice, while 85-90 percent of the bill, go as revenue to airlines, it was claimed.

The use of credit cards on matters of travel, necessitates 2.5 percent interest, which airlines do not bear, but, ask the travel agent to compensate.

Answering queries, Perera said that e-ticketing was not a disadvantage for the travel trade, and from April next year, all ticketing will be e-ticketing.

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