ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is bracing for a year long downturn with the Coronavirus crisis coming on top of a hit from Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019, but there were tentative bookings for next year already, officials said.
Sri Lanka Hotel Association, Chairman, Sanath Ukwatte said two crises coming on top of each other had hit the industry but it had gone trough bad times earlier and somehow recovered.
The government and banks had also given debt moratorium.
“Recovery seems 6, 8 month or maybe a year.” Ukwatte told an online forum organized by Advocata Institute, a Colombo-based think tank.
“We are thankful to the government for coming to our rescue when we asked. They have introduced moratoriums and working capital loans for our industry”
“We need to revive the industry as soon as it is safe to do so. So we need to engage the government and health sector to compromise on how to bring tourist without being a threat to the health of the country.”
Sri Lanka’s tourism development authority said a raft of new regulations to cut risks of tourists and protect staff were being made.
Sri Lanka’s tourism arrivals fell 70 percent in March. On March 19, all arrivals were closed. At the time about 20,000 foreigners were in the country. An estimated 10,000 were still in the country by March.
Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators said their employees had taken a salary cut and were finding it difficult to pay value-added taxes, with the deadline coming shortly.
Ukwatte said with the current situation faced by the global tourism industry will take another year to recover.
However, Ukwatte said there were some tentative bookings for 2020.
“We are receiving inquires and attentive bookings from January onwards” Ukwatte said. “Industry is adapting a very flexible policy where a tourist can cancel a booking without any penalty before the arrival.”
Ukwatte said in order to recover from the crisis Sri Lanka Hotel Association will join with the Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau.
“We are planning to work with the SLTB, perhaps plan some early bird offers. We can match our offers with the bank offers. We have to induce the market and people to travel again.”
Ukwatte said even the industry promote offers it should not lower its prices due to the higher operation cost in the country.
“We should not down our prices, we should be very careful with our prices. Because hotels can’t survive with cheap tourism. Our operation cost is higher than in Thailand”.
Ukwatte hoped a vaccine would be found soon to end the pandemic.
“We are hopeful and optimistic. Tourism faced some severe hits in the past years but it has always come back,” Ukwatte said.
Several respiratory pandemics had including SARS ended without any vaccine or so-called herd immunity.
Vietnam was the first country to be declared free of SARS. Both Sri Lanka and Vietnam also completely killed Wave I COVID-19 infections from China and did not contribute to the global pandemic. (Colombo/ April 21/2020-sb)