A CHAT WITH JOHN AMARATUNGA

Published : 8:24 am  July 5, 2016 | No comments so far |  |  (201) reads | 

 Minister of Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs

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Some of our readers I’m sure, will be very interested in getting to know the progress of the present government and the future plans of the Ministers. Daily Mirror Life caught up with some Ministers and asked them a few questions. Their answers will be carried in this weekly column.

?WHAT NEW STEPS HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO IMPROVE TOURISM IN SRI LANKA

The most important step has been to set up an advisory committee consisting of all the leaders in the industry from the travel as well as the hotel industry. We meet frequently and they advise us and give direction as to how we should proceed. This is apart from the normal operation of the Ministry.

We keep a track of the four boards that are operating under the Ministry to make sure they keep up to the objectives for which they have been created. We keep monitoring their progress and performance and see if they are keeping up with the government policies and if they have improved the numbers of tourists coming to Sri Lanka. We make sure that the Ministers, political heads as well as the key officials participate in all international conventions and fairs where there is discussion on developing tourism. That is an exposure I feel is very important, to get into new markets and to learn to showcase Sri Lanka.

?IF ONE VIEWS ANY OF THE INTERNATIONAL TV STATIONS I.E. CNN, BBC, ETC. ONE SEES COMPETITOR COUNTRIES I.E. MALAYSIA, THAILAND, INDONESIA ETC. ADVERTISING REGULARLY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN TERMS OF MARKETING SRI LANKA OTHER THAN AT THE TOURISM FAIRS

We have addressed this issue. During the previous regime there have been certain assignments as well as marketing and advertising campaigns and monies

“We are going to identify zones which are to be developed as tourism hot spots or centres. That classification and the strategic planning for tourism in Sri Lanka is now being discussed..”

have not been paid. As a result they don’t want to accept our advertising programmes. We are in the process of settling those debts Untitled-8and getting back to CNN, BBC etc., with our campaigns. Things are just falling into place and within the next three months we hope to be back on track in this regard.

?TOURISM IS CONSIDERED A MAJOR SOURCE OF FOREIGN INCOME AND THE GOVT WISHES TO INCREASE THE FUTURE ARRIVAL FIGURES IN A NEAR EXPONENTIAL MANNER. ASSUMING THE COUNTRY HAD THE ROOM COUNT TO ACCEPT THIS INCREASE, WHAT STEPS ARE YOU TAKING TO INCREASE THE HUMAN RESOURCES NEEDED

Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management which is a special institute under this Ministry offer several courses of specialised training for this purpose. There are branches in Polonnaruwa, Negombo, Koggala, Bandarawela and many other places. There are private institutions also doing this training. We will be supervising and standardising these private institutions to ensure proper training is carried out. Other than that, Hotels sometimes recruit untrained people and train them in-house also.

?WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS WHEN IT COMES TO TOUTS MAKING A NUISANCE OF THEMSELVES TO TOURISTS ON AND OFF THE BEACH

This menace is not all over. It’s only from Colombo to Galle areas. When you go to the Negombo area you don’t see this. We can’t throw them out. We have to control them. We are trying to provide stalls where they can have a livelihood to market handicrafts, food and beverages etc.

A survey was done in Beruwala and it was highlighted that some of the tourists ask for these beach boys as they arrive at the hotel and they would go sightseeing and are more friendly with them than with the hotel staff. So there is encouragement from some of the tourists also. We are trying to activate the tourist police and have police posts. When uniformed people are seen, this unruly behaviour will cease.

?THESE TOURIST POLICE POSTS, ARE THEY IN OPERATION

This operation had died down in the recent past and we are in the process of working out arrangements with the Police as this is necessary for the development of the Tourist industry. We have already set up these posts at places like Sigiriya.

?IN AREAS LIKE MIRISSA AND TANGALLE, SOME HOTELS HAVE FORMULATED AN ONLY FOR FOREIGNERS POLICY. WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT

Yes we are aware of it and we don’t encourage it. Those are not registered places. It’s a private sector operation. We are a democratic country so it’s up to them to decide who they want to take in and who they don’t.

?ARE THERE ANY PLANS TO MARKET DIFFERENT PARTS OF SRI LANKA – THE SOUTH GETS A LOT OF ATTENTION, BUT THE OTHERS NOT SO MUCH

We are going to identify zones which are to be developed as tourism hot spots or centres. That classification and the strategic planning for tourism in Sri Lanka is now being discussed by a cabinet sub-committee with experts in the field advising.

?ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT IMPOSING A MINIMUM ROOM RATE

There is a controversy regarding this matter. The Hoteliers’ Association has to come up with some decision and whether we are going to do away with the minimum room rate during the off season. At the moment there is a debate going on so one of these days we’ll announce the outcome.

?THERE IS A PRADESHIYA SABA TAX ON HOTELS IN ADDITION TO OTHER TAXES. WHY IS THAT

The Pradeshiya Sabhas are charging different rates in different places and it’s not fair on the hoteliers. There is no uniformity. The Hoteliers Association is coming up with a proposal which we will present to the cabinet sub-committee and get a ruling.

?WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN TERMS OF INFRASTRUCTURE TO BOOST TOURISM

The roads have been done well by the last regime and the road network is in good shape. Connectivity by air is very important and we are trying to get the maximum number of airlines to operate in Sri Lanka and increase flight frequencies.