Tourism industry resilient: Will bounce back soon, says Tourism Institute chief | Sunday Observer

Tourism industry resilient: Will bounce back soon, says Tourism Institute chief

* Services of 1,500 trainees terminated

The tourism industry is taking damage control measures to make a quick comeback after the recent terrorist attacks. The industry is resilient and hopeful that it will bounce back soon to be a vibrant economic driver in the country, Chairman, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management, Dilip de Silva said.

“We are looking at alternative ways to absorb the trained students as the sector has been compelled to curtail the services of 1,500 trainees which is about 30 percent of the annual intake. We are considering the possibility of directing them towards the hospital catering service and other related job avenues to ensure they are gainfully employed,” he said in an interview with Business Observer.

However, he said that after the security issues are ironed out, the industry will have a bigger capacity to provide them with career paths, and they will be a resource pool for the industry way forward.

Excerpts:

Q. With regard to industrial training, in what areas do we need to pay more attention?

A. In the short term, we need to concentrate on job creation for school leavers through innovative programs rather than class room training.

The crash courses should include areas of basic hygiene and grooming. The method of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) should replace our traditional class room training where providing training and certifying people to give a career path which is accepted by Tertiary Vocational Education Centre.

Q. How do you plan to address the issue of imbalance in trained students and job availability?

A. We will conduct a talk show at the end of this month. It will outline industry prospects and career paths. A lot of people will look at going to the Middle East. Due to this, the industry will have another issue. With the current situation, once the occupancy comes down, the basic salary too will come down. People will have to find alternative income sources to maintain their life styles. However, if the industry bounces back soon it will mitigate this problem.

Q. How can the industry attract new blood in the backdrop of security concerns?

A. Immediately, there will be reluctance due to parents’ concern. But this would be short term. Once the industry starts to pick up the confidence of the parents, students will also pick up. With the establishing of security and stable environment, the tourism industry will have a better future.

Q. Is it possible to have joint ventures with foreign training providers to enhance the quality of trained students?

A. We are negotiating with a foreign university. The University of Victoria has expressed its willingness to collaborate, and we are finalising this matter. There are visits from Swiss based hotel school to set up business with us. This will offer double qualification within the country and internationally for our students with the option to study abroad.

There was a massive demand from the foreign trading institutions before the Easter Sunday attacks, and we expect this interest to will be shown again in the near future. Some institutions are still keen to go ahead with joint ventures. We will go forward with our plan once the country’s situation is back to normal. There is also a possibility of a tie-up with Taj brand to train students in India. The institution is looking to expand, and a building will be set up in Malambe to establish a campus within next 5 - 10 years.

We are also looking at expanding in to other areas with a branch network, including in Trincomalee and Jaffna. We need an awareness campaign to attract students with a systemic plan to have a steady supply side contribution. We are going ahead with our expansion plans hoping that good times will come soon.

Q. What action do you consider necessary to retain the professionally qualified within the country, preventing brain drain?

A. It is like a double edged sword. There are pros and cons. People like to serve the country and also they like to go out for experience. There are a lot of Sri Lankans who left many years ago who want to come back and contribute in this hour of need.

There is an organisation called International Tourism Volunteer Organisation comprised mostly with ex hotel school lecturers. Our first engagement was to hold the Rising Star Awards with the involvement of 40 judges selecting the winners. Within three months, we visited all the hotels.

The organisation contributes to the uplift of the industry, and to this end, has set up a steering committee. As measures are there to develop the industry, there is the issue of brain drain. We have to be positive. The tourism industry globally has ups and downs. It always has the ability to bounce back as it is resilient to shocks both internally and externally.

Q. What is the state of the country’s tourism industry at present?

A. We were shocked and saddened by the recent incident which also dealt a huge blow to the tourism industry. Most foreign guests left the country and the occupancy rate plummeted to 4 percent. However, there is a gradual pick up during the past two weeks which recorded an occupancy of 10 to 20 percent.

We have the support of countries, such as India and Russia where Taj Group and Russia have sent visitors as a gesture of good will.

The arrivals are on the rise this week, and we see an improvement in figures. The Tourist Board sends updated information on the country’s situation. However, the numbers are low as expected. We need to work on this.

The positive sign is the local market which is stable and has spending power. Hotels are depending on this market which brings revenue from weddings and functions. Due to lack of revenue generating activities through foreign tourists, the local market keeps the hotels afloat.

The Easter Sunday attacks which were targeted at the Catholic, have an impact on the Middle Eastern market as it has become vulnerable to the situation. Basically, the industry is after an initial shock and recovery stage building the confidence of the international missions. We see slow but gradual progress. There are still 1,700 visitors coming to the country on a daily basis mainly from the UK and Australia. However, as the bulk comes from travel agents, we need to encourage them to promote the country. We hope that things will turnaround when we enter our traditional winter season in October-November.

Q. What action do you propose to attract more tourists to the country?

A. The main thing is to give confidence to the tourists regarding the country’s safety and security situation. They should be convinced of the measures taken by the government and that it is taking all the action to provide security to all the visitors. Sri Lanka is supported by many countries by way of intelligence services of international security agencies.

Airlines and hotels are discussing the introduction of various packages to attract more visitors. Discussions are going ahead for concessions for the industry.

We need to come up with some innovative strategies, and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau is coming up with new marketing strategies.

Q. The government has given an assurance on national security. How will this positively impact the industry in terms of travel advisories?

A. Building the confidence of not only international community, but also of the locals is important. We have the full confidence of the forces to bring the situation under control and through that the foreign missions could be convinced.

Then the gradual lift of the travel advisories will take place. We are confident that the local business will continue. The government has offered concessions, such as interest waivers, moratorium and VAT reduction.

Q. The industry stakeholders are collectively working towards maintaining the growth momentum. What immediate measures should they take?

A. The immediate measures include seeking government’s support for a fast recovery of the industry. The support should be extended to the informal sector which comprised 80 percent of the industry.

The recent attacks have not only affected the tourism sector but also the back office operations and the whole supply chain. There for a holistic approach to build up the industry is necessary with a collective effort of all the stakeholders.

Q. Will the industry be able to stand on its own after the requested concessions from the government are in place? What more should the government do to drive growth?

A. The relief packages should be not only for short term, but also for mid to long term till the economy is back on track. The government should look at the progress of the first three months and then come up with a package to help the sector.

We will focus on human resources aspect. We will conduct a talk show on May 29 at our auditorium. The program will outline the opportunities presented by the industry. we are getting a steady flow of applications to join our institution.

Leading industry personalities will address the audience. This will be an eye opener for the aspiring students in selecting a career path. It will also provide a view on demand and supply side.

However, the major thing is to restore confidence in both local and international communities. This will result in the lifting of travel bans which give signals that Sri Lanka is open for business again. 

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