Revival of the tourism industry is indispensable | Sunday Observer

Revival of the tourism industry is indispensable

12 September, 2021

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has affected all sectors of the economy in almost every country, the travel and tourism sector are one of the most suffered industries throughout the world. Due to the restrictions of the free movements of the people, the tourism industry has been disrupted to almost zero capacity in many countries including in Sri Lanka.

In the South Asian region, tourism in the pre-pandemic Sri Lanka was one of the fastest-growing sectors that have provided a huge amount of foreign revenue to the country. However, the global pandemic has delivered an immensely powerful blow with restrictions imposed locally and also with various travel restrictions inflicted in other countries as well.

The last active year was 2018 where the industry collectively provided nearly US$4.5 billion contributing nearly 5% of revenue to the economy. It was reported that the tourists arrivals were nearly 2.3 million persons in 2018.

Third largest revenue

Tourism was the third largest revenue generator for the country after foreign employment and apparel sectors. According to the predictions of the industry experts, everyone who makes a living through tourism will suffer further if the Government does not fearlessly make decisions to provide immediate solutions.

The first sucker punch delivered was the Easter Sunday debacle in April 2019 where the second season has affected the industry with a huge drop in tourist arrivals for several months since the incident. However, the industry was recovering slowly when Covid-19 emerged and destroyed the entire year 2020 and seemingly 2021 as well.

The prevailing crash of travel and tourism is not merely a matter of foreign exchange revenue for Sri Lanka. The direct and indirect dependents of the industry are approximately three million people collectively.

The majority of the workforce related to the tourism and leisure industry consists of people of lower tiers such as tour guides, drivers, three-wheel owners, small-time vendors, suppliers of food items to hotels, and other minor stakeholders who make a living by engaging with tourists. They are the most affected by the crash.

The industry stalwarts reveal that at least 70% of the revenue is generated through the effort of Destination Management Companies (DMCs). The entire cost of promotion expenditure is borne by these companies through self-funded campaigns. The DMCs promote tourism in the country through their foreign partners. They collectively spend a staggering amount of 1.5 billion rupees annually from their own funds to promote tourism worldwide.

Direct job losses

The registered DMCs before 2019 numbering 2,400 is now reduced to less than five-hundred and the direct job losses only in DMCs during the past two years was over 8,000 according to the information available. This is in addition to the job losses of over 70% in the leisure sector workers due to the drawback. These job losses that have deprived the living of hundreds of thousands of workers and their dependents have caused a considerable amount of psycho-social issues around the country.

According to the industry sources, key stakeholders of the industry have been in constant discussions with the Ministry of Tourism, Tourism Promotion Bureau, and other relevant institutions to formulate plans to revive the travel and tourism sector immediately. The discussions were also held with health authorities to obtain effective guidelines on the prevention of the spread of the virus. The Government and the health authorities have also responded extremely positively and laid down policies, restrictions, and health guidelines.

Foreign tourists are allowed to the country only after undergoing a PCR test and only if the report is negative. With the results, they have to obtain permission from the Tourism Promotion Bureau for VISA. If the VISA was granted, they have to go through meticulous medical check-ups including a PCR test conducted as soon as they arrive in Sri Lanka. If the PCR test is negative once again, they are permitted to travel within Sri Lanka in a ‘bio-bubble’, adhering to stringent health guidelines laid down by Sri Lankan health authorities.

However, if the PCR test of the arrived tourist is positive, they are confined to the special section of the Hotel they have chosen before arrival to undergo a full fourteen-day quarantine procedure. The tourist is permitted to travel again only after the second PCR test is conducted in ten days and if the test is negative. This process seems to be an effective, efficient and foolproof process that does not pose any danger to the Sri Lankan public.

However, the biggest hindrance for the tourism and travel industry revival is caused by opportunistic and power-hungry politicians with sinister intentions. They seem to be having two objectives Firstly, to discredit the Government, and secondly, to achieve political mileage sneakily. They do not realise that they betray over 300,000 people living in the industry by unacceptable moves.

Every one of these politicians knows that even if they are in power or if they ever come to power, tourism is one of the most important sectors to protect. Nevertheless, they disrupt all attempts of the Government and the industry stakeholders in order to gain cheap political benefits.

The irony is that some of the members of the main opposition oppose the attempts of the travel and businesses to revive when the tourism industry was one of the main focuses when they were in power from 2015 to 2019. They even have formulated plans to promote tourism as one of their top priorities during that period with ambitious intentions.

Pretending to be common people

Nevertheless, regrettably, some of their members attempt to upset the apple cart by spreading misinformation through various television talk shows, print, and social media. They pretend that they are speaking for common people when, in truth, they are trying to gain political advantage. Helping them to spread misinformation is the purported leftist party the general public has cruelly discarded many times over.

The general opinion of the tourism industry fraternity is that more Government intervention must be extended to the businesses by way of liquidity and policy support before the other countries in the region grab a share of Sri Lankan tourism business. Seemingly, the financial assistance offered to the industry is not adequate to revive the troubled business entities, both small and large scale.

Also, the new standards of health and hygiene entail higher costs, increasing the financial commitments substantially. Therefore, the Government must have a plan to incentivise investments in tourism infrastructure. Besides, the prevailing procedural hassles must be reduced to a reasonable level of convenience to the incoming tourists within health guidelines.

Except for the United Kingdom which has placed Sri Lanka on the ‘red list’, other European countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and some others have not imposed travel bans on their tourists. the demand for holiday travel is increasing after a lapse of almost two years and Sri Lanka historically is a top destination for European tourists where they enjoy the best hospitality while on holiday.

In addition, tourists from China and India where the country gets the highest volume of arrivals in numbers also should be promoted with renewed dynamism. Similar to the European tourists, these two sectors are also waiting to visit Sri Lanka at the first given opportunity.

Speedy vaccinations

The Sri Lankan ongoing and exceedingly successful vaccination drive will be a blessing for the industry to cater to the guests during the oncoming season. Already the Government has given over 22 million doses to the over thirty-year citizens including over 8 million with both doses.

The goal of the Government is to complete the vaccination of the entire over 30-year population in the country by the end of September. The medical experts predict that by mid-October, active cases of Covid-19 will start the decline gradually. This is consoling news to the tourism industry that looks forward to the next season.

The responsibility of every citizen of the country is to unite to defeat the prevailing unprecedented financial crisis. Particularly, the opposition that criticises tourism by citing that the foreign tourists spread the virus must realise the consequence even for them if the country’s economy goes down further. Specifically, Sri Lanka has no alternative to cover the US$ 4.5 billion foreign revenue through any other source other than tourism itself.