Relief measures for airlines, hotel facility upgrades : Fresh initiatives to lure tourists back to Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Relief measures for airlines, hotel facility upgrades : Fresh initiatives to lure tourists back to Sri Lanka

Facilities at all popular tourist locations across the country will be upgraded to woo local and foreign visitors to boost the tourism industry following the setback due to the Easter Sunday attacks, said Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs, S. Hettiarachchi on the sidelines of a media briefing to announce the reduction of various charges for airline operators last week.

“Sanitary and accommodation facilities at rest houses, lodges and circuit bungalows attached to nature, religious and heritage sites will be developed to attract more visitors to the locations,” he said, adding that sanitary facilities at Yala and many other popular locations need improvement.

Visitors to nature and heritage sites have been complaining that facilities at locations are not up to standard and face difficulties in finding proper accommodation. Touting and harassment have been reported in Ella.

“We will look into all these issues and take stern action on those tarnish the reputation of the country which is doing its best to revive the tourism industry,” the ministry secretary said.

Meanwhile, in a move to develop the domestic tourism sector, the Ministry of Tourism Development has obtained approval for domestic airlines to operate flights to all domestic airports after the airports are geared for such operations.

“The Palali airport will be ready by next month and we hope to facilitate 80-90 seat aircraft to operate flights to and from India. We are also looking at reviving the ferry service to South India soon,” Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs, John Amaratunga said.

Sri Lanka Tourism also announced a host of relief measures to support airlines to lure in foreign visitors to the country, which plummeted following the April 21 attacks. Cabinet approval had been sought to slash ground handling charges, prices of aviation fuel, and the embarkation levy at the BIA for six months to encourage airlines to reduce the cost of tickets that will entice more visitors to the country.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairman Johanne Jayaratne said the aviation fuel price will be reduced to match the Chennai airport price and the proposed increase of the embarkation levy by US$ 10 in the 2019 Budget will be temporarily halted leaving it at the current rate of US$ 50.“In all, there is about a 20-25 percent reduction in the price of airline tickets which is a timely move to attract travellers to the country. We will work closely with the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) and the Sri Lanka Association of Airline Representatives (SLAAR) to ensure that the reductions are reflected in the pricing of tickets,” he said.

Head of Worldwide Sales and Distribution, SriLankan Airlines, Dimuthu Tennakoon said all airlines will increase frequencies following the rate reductions in the aviation sector.

“Fuel and ground handling account for a major portion of the airlines operations. We will work with major tour operators to offer attractively priced air tickets to fly in more travellers to the country,” Tennekoon said.

Sri Lanka Tourism recorded 3,700 arrivals last Sunday, the highest for a day, after the April 21 debacle. The median in arrivals per day last year was 7,000.

With industry gradually gaining momentum, the Minister was upbeat about getting close to last year’s arrival figure of 2.3 million and a revenue of US$ 4.5 billion this year.

“With all these reductions in the aviation sector and a host of measures to develop hotspots of tourism, such as wind surfing at ArugamBay in the East coast and all wildlife sanctuaries and heritage sites, we are confident of surpassing two million arrivals this year,” the minister said, adding that there will be no changes to the campaigns that have been planned locally and internationally.

Chandana de Silva, a BAR representative, said it is positive to note that SriLankan Airlines is back on track with four flights a day to the country and added that there has not been a single cancellation in July.

However, following the Easter attacks, the number of flights per week came down to 239 with 41 flights being cancelled resulting in a loss of around 8,000 seats per week from China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Oman and Thailand.

“We hope to see China resuming flights soon,” a BAR official said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Tourism plans to issue free on-arrival visas to travellers from 39 countries from August 1.“We want to offer the same benefit given to travellers by Singapore where visitors could fill up the embarkation forms while on the flight and hand them over at the airport when they arrive,” the Minister said.

According to SLTDA by April last year, 29 airlines were operating flights to Sri Lanka with around 300 flights a week. International airlines account for over 98 percent of travellers flown to Sri Lanka.