“Tourism industry will regain lost ground”

Sunday Observer

05/05/2019

“Tourism industry will regain lost ground”

The tourism industry which suffered economic losses due to the Easter Sunday attacks, looks forward to regain its lost position sooner than expected with the support of the Government.

“We will work hard to attract more tourists to the country to meet set targets in terms of the number of arrivals and revenue for this year, despite the unfortunate incidents the country was faced with,” Director and Head of Marketing and Sales, Amaya Resorts and Spa, Denesh Silva said. He is also the Chairman, Sri Lanka Chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

“We look forward to achieve quick progress though the terror attacks have hit the tourism industry. There will be a new approach to attract more tourists and better marketing strategies. Ensuring national security is of paramount importance,” he said in an interview with Business Observer.

He said that the Government should take all precautionary measures to ensure national security to enable a speedy recovery of the economy and in particular the tourism industry.

Excerpts:

Q. How woul you explain the tourism industry’s position after the Easter Sunday attacks?

A. Never in the recent history of Sri Lanka, were tourist hotels and foreigners targeted in terrorist attacks. The Easter Sunday attacks targeted hotels and foreigners injuring and killing them. This is a big blow to the industry which was beginning to blossom in to a key economic driver of the country. This is a direct hit on the industry. Hence, there should be a new approach in all the areas which need to be looked into, including marketing and security aspects. In short, a holistic view is necessary to put back the industry back on track.

Q. Were there any contingency plans in place?

A. We never expected an incident of this nature. However, general security was in place as usual. But, that was not sufficient to handle a disaster of this magnitude. We never dreamt of this kind of calamity and the overall environment was very relaxing. We had the advantage of Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka as the best destination to travel in 2019 and were working hard to reach the set targets in terms of revenue and the number of arrivals. Unfortunately, the Easter Sunday attack has made travellers think twice. Though we had the normal security in place, the attack came 10 years after the LTTE terrorist war ended and we were not prepared to face it. The hotels were not equipped to handle terror attacks. The attack was totally unexpected.

Q. What is the loss you suffered following the attacks?

A. At the Kingsbury, we have lost considerably by way of revenue and room bookings. However, we opened the banquet hall within two days of the attack. In terms of accommodation, the total loss at Kingsbury stands at Rs. 22 million as of now and the Amaya Group has recorded a loss of Rs. 55 million due to cancellation of reservations. The figure could be much higher as future bookings have not been taken in to account. But there is the possibility of getting back to business as usual. The question is the timeframe. Getting the industry on track, will enable a speedy recovery.

We aggressively promoted Sri Lanka at the Arabian Travel Mart and will engage in other promotional activities to attract tourists. The industry is not resilient to this kind of external shocks and building the confidence of travellers especially foreigners is the need of the hour. It will take time, but with promotion and tight national security, we will achieve positive results.

Q. What is the response of international stakeholders?

A. The response we get from them is quite positive. Many of these countries are also fighting the same problem and they understand our situation. They are concerned about this situation and they have shown considerable interest which will help us revive the industry.

Global terrorism is an international problem and it has become a big menace to most countries. Fighting organised terrorism needs new strategies and capabilities that were not essential in the past. Our industry which is sensitive to incidents of this nature needs the government’s re-assurance of national security to rebuild the international community’s confidence. This re-assurance is critical as the international community will seriously look at this aspect and it will have a direct bearing with the travel instructions these countries issue to its citizens.

Q. What plans do you have for developing and reviving the industry?

A. We need a different strategy to revive and re-build the industry with more emphasis on security. First, there needs to be a proper communication mechanism to ensure accurate information is disseminated. It is necessary to go ahead with the marketing plan and the global campaign to attract more tourists to the country. However, we need to establish high security in the country and ensure safety for all before embarking on programs to attract visitors. All precautionary measures should be in place to avoid possible attacks similar to the Easter Sunday incident.

Q. Security is the number one priority for tourism. Will you urge the government to ensure national security?

A. Security is the main concern and national security of the country will be the deciding factor in many instances. The government has realised this and will work to re-establish national security to facilitate socio-economic development in the country.

Q. As an industry, what precautions would be taken?

A. As an industry, we would follow the instructions and recommendations that the government issues. We will abide by the decisions taken at the Security Council meetings to ensure the safety of our guests. We will go that extra mile to protect our travellers by providing adequate security measures and will look forward to revive the industry sooner than expected.

There will be scanner machines and metal detectors and the baggage will go through security checks to ensure safety. This will be an attempt to re-introduce security measures in a more friendly manner to meet the need of the hour.

Q. What sort of support have you received from the government so far?

A. The government is positive that the industry will bounce back soon and has given encouragement to move forward. The immediate economic impact of the Easter Sunday attacks is likely to be felt by the tourism sector.

Even though we are entering the off-season, there will nonetheless be an impact on the economy. Typically, the countries that suffer isolated ISIS style attacks see tourism recovering within one to two years (Belgium and France). The root causes must be addressed and the security measures should be clearly communicated. The tourism industry which resulted in external earnings of US $ 4.4 billion in 2018 is projected to reach US $ 5 billion in 2019.

The government has taken steps to support the industry in the Budget. Considering the impact of the Easter Sunday attacks, the Government will consult industry members to discuss further measures to support tourism during this challenging period. Sri Lanka’s tourist industry has a track record of resilience, withstanding 30 years of war by deploying measures to protect visitors and ensure a good experience. The industry will no doubt step up again.

Q. What re-organisation and promotional programs do you plan in the near future?

A. The hotels will feel the downside of the attack significantly as their income will be lower than expected. Therefore, the operational process including the payment of staff salaries will have to be streamlined to meet reduced earning capacities. The service charge component will have to be reviewed and adjusted.

We need to take certain stringent measures to ensure that the operational aspect is effectively been looked at till the industry bounces back. We will have to cut down expenses and the staff structure which also comprises casual workers will have to be re-think to ensure optimal use of productive staff strength.

We also need the support of the funding organisations to enable us to repay our borrowings and get additional funding. The loan facilities will need to be re-structured and enable relaxed repayment conditions to provide the tourism sector certain financial benefits.

Providing flexible loan repayment terms will be a boost to the industry. The three hotels that were damaged should be compensated with Rs. 100 million each.For the promotion of the tourist industry, various promotional efforts have been carried out with other related partners, including the airlines to give attractive packages. These will go a long way in reviving the industry and fuelling the growth.

Q. Local tourists have come forward to support the tourism industry during difficult times in the past. Do you plan to attract local tourists to patronise tourist hotels in the future?

A. Certainly. We have not phased out the Sri Lankan market. We will offer benefits with credit cards to maintain and promote the domestic market.

The Sri Lankan market is a key contributor in our progress and we seek their support to move the industry forward.

Source at: Sunday Observer