Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has appointed a 11-member Advisory Committee under the provisions of the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 section 32 (b) which comprises private sector stakeholders.
The members of the advisory committee are: Jetwing Symphony Chairman Hiran Cooray; Connaissance De Ceylan Chairman, Chandra Wickramasinghe; Shangri La Hotels Colombo Vice President, Timothy Wright; Santani Wellness Resort Founder, Vickum Nawagamuwa; SriLankan Airlines CEO, Vipula Gunatilleka; Ceylon Hotels School Graduates Association Past President and Executive Committee Member CHSGA, Trevine Gomez; Daily FT Editor and CEO, Nisthar Cassim; Expedia Area Manager, Savi Godakanda; Emarketing Eye CEO, Rajitha Dahanayake, Ranjit De Silva (Secretary) and Nimesh Herath (Coordinator).
The inaugural meeting of the newly appointed Tourism Advisory committee took place on October 28 at the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), where industry veteran Hiran Cooray was elected as Chairman, while Ranjit De Silva was appointed as Secretary to the Committee and Nimesh Herath as the Coordinator to the Minister and the Committee.
Tourism Ministry Secretary, S. Hettiarachchi; Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson, Kimarli Fernando; Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Director General, Dhammika Wijayasinghe were also present.
Mr. Herath said that in deciding the composition of the Advisory Committee the importance of getting the professionals from all key sectors of the industry was considered including travel industry, hoteliers and wellness tourism, digital marketing, online marketing and Online Travel agents. He said some of the sectors of the modern tourism industry had been previously overlooked in the composition of the Committee.
Addressing the inaugural meeting, Minister Ranatunga outlined the importance placed by the Government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the tourism sector to boost socio-economic development including enhancing foreign exchange earnings, income and jobs to local people. He said that tourism has been identified as a thrust sector in the President Rajapaksa’s national strategy document and vision ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor’ with a specific goal of achieving 7 million tourists and $ 10 billion in foreign exchange in the medium to long-term.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has extended major support for the survival and subsequent recovery of the tourism sector, Minister Ranatunga said.
Given the on-going challenges he also stressed the importance of identifying alternative income methods for the people who are affected by the pandemic.
Minister Ranatunga requested the newly appointed Committee to draw up a framework and come up with a proposal to open the country for travel again initially through a travel bubble or travel corridor as well as in the short term finding alternate means of livelihood for those dependent on the tourism sector.
With the assistance of the committee, Minister Ranatunga assured to use all the powers under the Ministry to revive the industry and to achieve President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision for the tourism sector.
Advisory Committee Chairman, Mr. Cooray outlined the complex structure of the tourism industry which comprises various segments and pointed out that with all diverse views and requirements, not all will have a united approach. However, he said that the areas where the industry stands united are promotions and development at national level.
Given the pandemic, he pointed out that tour operators are the most affected, adding that hotels had business till very recently with domestic market traveling and hotels were given for quarantine purposes.
In addition, he highlighted the financial difficulties the stakeholders experience at present with interest keeps accumulating as most are unable to pay with no income support, noting that there is a need for some form of Government assistance.
Mr. Cooray also stressed the importance of a proper campaign to position Sri Lanka as a tourist destination and developing tourist attractions while encouraging more sustainable tourism. He emphasised the need to have a proper plan under the Minister’s leadership with assistance of the advisory committee, as over one million people are dependent on this industry.