Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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SL Tourism sector still grapples with previous land issues  

Sri Lanka Government plans to double tourist arrivals to 1.5 million next year and bring in in US$ 5 billion in vital foreign exchange, the Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said, as the island nation seeks ways to tackle its worst financial crisis in seven decades.

Sri Lanka tourism always had the potential but never got it right – there’s always someone pushing it down when it tries to swim and come up for air.

But a positive message comes through each time from each crisis,” he said adding that “Sri Lanka has that armory.”

The task of resurrecting the iourim industry from its down turn in the Easter Sunday bomb attack, covid-19 pandemic, youth struggle against the Rajapaksa regime and the ongoing economic crisis has become a challenge at present.

The tourism infrastructure issues and irregularities of previous administrations of the tourism authority are still haunting at its corridors. Non-commencement of operations on leased lands was among them, official sources said.

Although the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority had leased 35 acres to 5 companies in 2014 and 16.8 acres to 2 more companies in 2019 and 2020, in the Yala Palatupana Tourism Development Zone, only 2 companies had started operations by the end of the year 2021/2022 under review, recent auditor general’s department report revealed.

Out of the 510.086 acres of land acquired for tourism development projects in Kuchchaveli in 2011 and 2014,only 49 acres of land were leased to 3 companies, but only one of those 3 companies was engaged in operational activities.

Although, the authority had received 2055.87 acres of land in 12 islands of Kalpitiya as free grants in the years 2010 and 2012, only 206.58 acres of land belonging to 05 islands out of those 12 islands had been leased to 03 companies in the years 2010, 2011 and 2020.

However, none of these companies had commenced operations by the end of the year under review. Out of the leased companies, 2 companies have Rs. 43million and Rs. 9 million in rent arrears for3 to 5 years respectively.

Out of the 37 rest houses owned by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, 9 rest houses were not leased for a period of 01 to 13 years and the said property remained underutilized.

The number of places registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority as places providing accommodation and tourism facilities was 5378 in the year 2020 and in the year 2021/2022 under review was 5872.

Accordingly, the number of newly registered places was 494. However, the number of places that  renewed their registration was only 783 during the year under review, so out of the 5378 places registered in the previous year, 4595 places had not renewed their registration, auditor general’s report indicated.

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