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Lanka provides lifeline to tourism

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Tourism have announced new strategies to provide relief to the dwindling hospitality industry, reports PK Balachandran.
Hindustan Times | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON JUL 06, 2007 04:37 PM IST

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Tourism and the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) have announced a slew of measures to rescue the tourist industry from the dire straits in which it is because of dwindling arrivals (due to the war) and a financial crunch generated by massive post-tsunami reconstruction.

Responding to the fervent pleas of the industry, the Tourism Ministry has announced financial relief. And the SLTB has come up with a variety of schemes to breathe life into the industry.

The Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) had recently written to the Minister of Tourism Milinda Moragoda, seeking interest free loans to help pay the salaries of staff; a two-year moratorium on repayment of loans; and a temporary exemption from the payment of VAT.

On Wednesday, the government announced a temporary moratorium on repayment of post-tsunami loans if the interest was paid regularly. There would also be a temporary deferment of VAT payable on tourism operations for a period of one year.

"I would not panic. We will be able to recover," SLTB Chairman Renton de Alwis told Hindustan Times.

"The industry has seen ups and downs since 1983, when the ethnic strife began to disrupt tourism. So what is happening is not new for us, except the tsunami. The present period (from May to July) is usually low ebb for tourism in the West and South West Coasts. This period used to be good for the North-East. But alas, the North-East is out of bounds to tourists now because of the war. Arrivals in the West and South West Coasts pick up in August and go into the next year till April," Alwis explained.

"We have a number of schemes to stimulate tourist arrivals this year. Bring a Friend and Tell a Friend about Sri Lanka are schemes for Sri Lankans living overseas. We have designed special packages for people using these schemes."

"Come September, World Tourism Day would be celebrated. And this year, the focus is going to be Sri Lanka. As part of the celebrations, SLTB has designed packages for women. There would be awards for Women Tourism Leaders. In September-October there would be packages for women professionals - artistes, writers, doctors, and so on. And the slogan for this is "Men Don't Get it! The choice of tourists in these categories will be left to the various professional associations," Alwis said.

And to attract young women, there will be the Faces of the millennium Contest.

Putting cricket to use

Since cricket has a huge following in the English-speaking West and the Indian sub-continent, the SLTB hopes to attract overseas fans to watch the forthcoming international matches in the island, most of which will be held in well known tourist destinations.

In October, there would be a 50-overs series involving Sri Lanka and England. Three of the matches will be played in Dambulla (a picturesque place in the Cultural Triangle area in North Central Sri Lanka) and two in Colombo.

In November, there will be a Sri Lanka-England Test series. The boisterous Barmy Army from Britain is expected to be here and give a bit of the English touch to the proceedings and make the British tourists feel at home. The Tests will be in played in Colombo, Kandy and Galle, all major tourist centres.

"We'll soon be having road shows in India, the Middle East and Europe," Alwis said.

Sri Lanka is trying to look beyond UK and Germany, its traditional markets, and make itself appealing to India, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar also. India is already at the top of the pile in terms of arrivals, regardless of the war. But India can send more because the Indian middle class has been bitten by the international travel bug.

The Middle East is also an emerging market. The growing anti-Muslim feelings in Europe and America may prevent Middle Easterners from going to these areas for their holidays. They may look towards Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Economists say that with the rise in oil prices, the Middle Eastern middle class is not only expanding but is becoming richer. And this burgeoning new rich class may well consider a holiday in Sri Lanka.

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