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Restaurant industry, tourism SMEs urge speedy solutions to grievances

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Rohan Abeywickarama, Immediate Past President, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET) addressing media. Picture by Saliya Rupasinghe
Rohan Abeywickarama, Immediate Past President, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET) addressing media. Picture by Saliya Rupasinghe

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) and its current management headed by Kimarli Fernando had totally failed in their duties and they should take the responsibility of the current plight the tourism industry faced, said Rohan Abeywickarama, Immediate Past President, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism Sri Lanka (ASMET).

He made these observation at a joint press briefing held by ASMET and Colombo City Restaurant Collective (CCRC) under the theme “One Industry One Voice” on Tuesday in Colombo.

“Negative foreign travel advisories of our significant source market countries have been weighing heavily on the negative impact made on the tourism industry. Despite such dire circumstances that require urgent attention and actions to repair and restore what’s being lost, the regulator’s attention is sadly displaced, as they are more worried about changing the Tourism Act, rather than addressing these burning issues the tourism industry is forced to face in the aftermath of a global pandemic. The repealing of the current Tourism Act will not result in generating a single tourist more to the country,” Abeywickarama said.

Meanwhile the CCRC said that the restaurant industry is currently at a near standstill with the new challenges the industry had to face with continuous power cuts, shortage and unavailability of gas, restrictions placed on import of specified essential items has an adverse impact, They also expressed their concerns on the import restrictions placed on important items such as, salmon, imported steaks, lamb, cheese, wine and spirits to name a few. The CCRA therefore appealed to the authorities to allow the industry to import direct as these items were not available locally either.

The members also questioned whether changing the Tourism Act were more important than current issues of the industry? They also said that the moratorium granted for the tourism sector is set to expire on June 30, 2022, while the tourism industry continues its efforts to survive in the post-COVID era and the authorities have failed to provide proper solutions towards the extension of this facility beyond this time frame.

The CCRC said they were still recovering from the Easter Sunday attacks while were harbouring expectations of considerable growth and stability in the sector in 2022. (MFJ)

Being a highly labour intensive industry, the restaurant industry directly employs upwards of 30,000 people, and the CCRS said they were extremely concerned about the impact on the current situation, with them unable to operate their day to day business.

“Despite various challenges faced by the restaurant sector, this current crisis is, by far the most difficult and unfortunate period our industry has had to endure, similar to the other business communities that rely on the leisure and tourism industry in general,” the CCRS members said.

Tourism stakeholders, especially the formal SMEs, face many difficulties, the ASMET representative said. He said founded in 2005, the association represents a diverse array of small and medium sectors in the Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. This includes destination management companies, hotels and numerous other service providers. ASMET is legally registered and licensed by SLTDA and boasts a membership exceeding 100 members. The CCRS and ASMET members alleged that the visible lack of tourism promotions is one of the main issues the industry, including the formal SMEs, continue to face as the regulatory bodies focus more on consumer based marketing than the business-to-business promotional activities such as trade fairs, road shows and promotions etc. It is indeed noteworthy that Destinations Management Companies in Sri Lanka are responsible for nearly 65% of the total tourist arrivals, accounting to nearly 55% of the total revenue generated by tourism to Sri Lanka. DMCs spend approximately. Rs. 1.5 billion of their own funds to promote Sri Lanka as a lucrative holiday, meeting, incentive, wedding, honeymoon destination in numerous overseas markets with the trade fairs and road shows organized by SLTPB.

Unlike the wealthy hotel chains and boutique resorts, formal SMEs are not able to participate in foreign trade fairs without the assistance of the regulatory bodies. It was mentioned by regulator that there are several SME associations struggling under the current dire economic circumstances of the country. Many of the members in these associations are not registered with SLTDA; the associations themselves are mostly recently formed and have registered by the regulator who is clearly driving a division within the tourism sector. Almost all members of these associations are suppliers of the DMCs who are licensed and registered with the SLTDA. “We strongly feel that priority should be given to those members who are registered with the SLTDA, who are in fact, the establishments paying the Tourism Development Levy.”

There are more important and burning issues on which the regulator should focus the attention, which has not happened. Unfortunately opinions are not sought from the generators of business neither they engaged in any discussion to get over the challenging times together. In a crisis regulator should unify the industry, instead divisions are created among the tourism related associations, which is detrimental to the revival of the battered tourism industry, the ASMET representative said.

“We ASMET and CCRC stand strong and united against the repealing of the Current Tourism ACT No. 38 of 2005. We remain steadfast in our opinion that the majority of the new proposals brought forward by the regulator can certainly be implemented within the current Act, hence eliminating any necessity to change the Act completely, they said.

Thursday, March 24, 2022 – 01:00

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