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Lankan SME, micro sector tourism to benefit from USD 135 Mn hybrid grant scheme

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Tourism SME stakeholders at a press conference yesterday. Picture by Sudath Malaweera

The tourism SME and Micro sector still owe banks, leasing companies over Rs. 300 billion and they have received a golden opportunity to pay back some of this through a hybrid grant scheme of Rs. 41 billion (USD 135 million) from ASUIA UK backed by re-insurer, Lloyds of London and HSBC.

President of Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism, Sri Lanka (ASMET), Bennet Jayarathna however said that tourism associations and big ‘boys’ in the industry are blocking this move by saying that the scheme would add USD 35 to each air ticket of a tourist and other lame excuses.

“However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is keen to implement this,” he said.

Jayaratna said though tourism insurance is not compulsory when visiting Sri Lanka many countries like Dubai, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Russia, Botswana, Cameron, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Aruba, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama and some other European countries have made it a visa requirement and this scheme is implemented.

“So Sri Lanka would not be the first country to make an insurance a ‘must’ for a tourist as this will also be similar to the EU travel requirements where the insurance will cover medical expenses, including all medical treatment, and repatriation if necessary. The grant is aimed at reviving the country’s tourism industry crisis after crisis and we owe around Rs. 300 billion in loans,” said Chairman, Waasala Leisure Anuradhapura, Preethi P. De Silva.

“These loans are due by around 800,000 mice and SME stakeholders and we have to now pay accumulated interest as well and under this scheme we can apply for a loan at around 6% interest.”

The proposed scheme is a unique self-funding one, since the government does not have to pay back since it would be deducted systematically in 10 years via the insurance the tourists pay. Another unique feature is that the insurance scheme is effective for 30 days and is valid anywhere in the world.

“Today most of the visitors to the county are uninsured. Under this scheme giving tourists can even call a helicopter for a rescue when a tourist is struck in a cliff or a mountain, as this provides a rescue option as well as there is sufficient funds for such a mission,” said former All Ceylon Tourism Service Providers Association, Director B. D. Bandaragoda.

“The tourist can also avail themselves of private medical and travel support at an international level via a proposed 24/7 calls centre assistance and online medical and claim support,” he said.

Chauffeur Tourists Guide Lecturers Association President Hirantha Perera said that the scheme also insures local stakeholders for USD 4,000 and they too get the much needed insurance protection. The SME Tourism sector is the most lucrative foreign income earner and the revival of the sector is essential to benefit the economy and this insurance scheme is the ideal ‘bail out’ for it.

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