Reviving tourism industry : Will look at all options to woo visitors - Eran | Sunday Observer

Reviving tourism industry : Will look at all options to woo visitors - Eran

Security equipment could be imported duty free (except for NBT). Pic: Courtesy
Security equipment could be imported duty free (except for NBT). Pic: Courtesy

The restructuring and business plan of SriLankan Airlines will continue along with the special air fares that will be offered to lure in travellers to the country and help the tourism industry to bounce back from the Easter Sunday attacks, said State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne at a media briefing to announce measures to revive the industry last week.

He said priority will be given to strengthen security in the country and build confidence among foreign visitors that security has been restored and the country is safe for tourists.

“We will look at all options to woo in visitors to the country through special hotel tour packages. The Cabinet held discussions with the Asian Development Bank and many other multi lateral lending agencies and the government has been assured of their support to revive the tourism industry,” Wickramaratne said.

However, tourism industry experts said offering attractive tour packages alone will not be sufficient to entice visitors to the country. Foremost security has to be ensured by adopting state-of-the-art technology and deploying superior intelligence similar to the ‘Smart City’ concept of Singapore. “Our forces are capable and we are confident that safety of everyone will be assured soon,” Tourism Development and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said, adding that all hotels in the city have been provided the highest security and that there is no need for anyone to panic.

Regarding the targets set for this year, he said if not for the bomb explosions that shattered the plans of the tourism industry, arrivals would have surpassed three million and revenue over US$ 4 billion this year.

“We reached 2.3 million visitors last year and now with the recent developments we expect arrivals this year to be below last year’s figures. It is too early to predict the number of visitors and the revenue from the industry,” the minister said.

According to a senior official of Sri Lanka Tourism, the number of travellers to the country is expected to drop by around 50 percent in the coming months. Hotel occupancy rates across the country have declined by over 70 percent since the attacks on April 21.

However, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Kishu Gomes said the Public Relations campaign and all global tourism promotions campaigns will go on as scheduled to promote the destination for travel and tourism.

“We will spend around Rs. 464 million on the PR campaign that will go on for around one and half months. The campaign will be run by a reputed global PR company,” Gomes said adding that Sri Lanka Tourism will make its presence in all global promotional campaigns to build confidence among travellers first and then market the destination. The number of tourist arrivals declined by around 7.5 percent last month. However according to Sri Lanka Tourism statistics the number of arrivals in the first quarter this year as against the same period last year had increased by 2.2 percent. The number of arrivals during April this year was 166,975 and during the first four months this year, the number of visitors has been 907,575 compared to 888,353 in the corresponding period last year.

The concessions for the tourism industry comprise a moratorium on capital and interest payments from April 18, 2019 to March 31, 2020. Capital and interest falling due during the moratorium period should be converted into a term loan which should be recovered from July 2020 charging a concessionary rate.

State Minister Wickramaratne said Rs. 1,514 million has been provided under the Enterprise Sri Lanka loan scheme for the tourism sector. Tourism sector loans schemes, such as Jaya Isuru and Green loans will be considered on case by case basis for the moratorium.

The interest subsidy will be borne by the government on outstanding credit facilities (capital and interest) granted to the industry in the performing category as at April 18 2019.

The tourism sector can obtain fresh working capital under the ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ program with a repayment period of two years with a 75 percent interest subsidy borne by the government from the effective interest rate until March 31, 2020. The interest rate will be at 3.4 percent as the government will provide a 75 percent interest subsidy.

Value Added Tax (VAT) on the tourism sector will be slashed from 15 percent to 5 percent on hotels and tour operators registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.

Security equipment such as hand-held metal detectors, walk-through metal detectors, baggage x-ray inspection equipment and vehicle scanners could be imported duty free (except for NBT).