Friday, August 19, 2022

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Sri Lanka Tourism introduces ‘Emergency Unit’ to facilitate visitors

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has set up a special ‘Emergency Unit’ to facilitate uninterrupted services provided by the industry amidst the economic crisis, Chairman of  SLTDA disclosed. 

The new unit has been established under the direction of Tourism Minister Harin Fernando and Ministry Secretary Chulananda Perera, while the special Emergency Unit will be headed by SLTDA Director – Domestic Tourism and Community Relations Upali Rathnayake.

The unit will be facilitated for emergency requirements of the service providers including destination management companies (DMCs) and accommodation entities that handle the tourists currently in the country and new visitors expected till 10 July.

On 28 June, the Government declared that the remaining fuel stocks will only be distributed among essential services till 10 July. Subsequently, Minister Fernando taking to Twitter announced that tourism has been declared an essential service, and the new unit was set up to ensure transport for all tourists.

The Minister also noted that the unit can be reached via hotline 1912 or 112 437759 for assistance.

All registered DMCs are requested to provide the information of the tourists currently handled by them and expected visitors till 10 July. The tourism industry stakeholders could contact the Emergency Unit for the assistance required during this period, particularly for fuel requirements.

The unit will make necessary arrangements to ensure the supply of fuel required for tourist vehicles on the move on receipt of the requests, supported by authentic information.

It will be open 24-hours till today and thereafter operated from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.

A total of 18,305 tourists arrived during the first 19 days of the month, whilst pushing the cumulative figure to 396,826 so far. 

Meanwhiele Sri Lanka’s tourism industry stakeholders yesterday warned that the industry is likely to further crumble if relevant authorities continue to delay in extending the necessary intervention.

The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASMET) reiterated the need for the Central Bank to act on the Cabinet decision on providing breathing space for the industry’s loan repayments. 

The representatives asserted the longer the Central Bank takes to facilitate the extension of the loan moratorium, the more the sector will bleed.

“The next six months is crucial for us. To revive we need to sustain and for that it is imperative to have the moratorium extended. The sector players are struggling to pay salaries and suppliers to stay afloat due to the drop in tourist arrivals. The delay in providing the relief is hitting us hard,” said THASL Past President Hiran Cooray addressing a joint press conference yesterday.

He cautioned that hotels have already downsized operations and the increasing difficulties will compel a significant proportion of the formal tourism sector to close operations in the near future.

 Halting operations in the tourism sector would mean loss of foreign currency earnings which the economy is in dire need to come out of the current crisis situation.

Earlier this month (June 8), the Cabinet gave the nod to extend the moratorium given to the crisis-hit tourism industry until December 31 of this year. The approval was made after industry stakeholders repeatedly asserted the need for more time for loan paybacks.

However, it has been 20 days since the decision was made, but the Central Bank is yet to take the necessary steps to provide the relief.

The moratorium granted by private sector banks on loans taken by the tourism industry expired on March 31, and the moratorium granted by State banks on tourism industry loans will expire on June 30.

The industry’s estimated debt including the accumulated interest is estimated to be over Rs. 500 billion

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