Nalaka’s move a fallout with Treasury Secy?
Last week’s resignation of Dr. Nalaka Godahewa from three tourism entities whilst remaining Tourism Development Authority Chairman as exclusively reported by the Daily FT is being linked by industry circles as a direct fallout with Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera.
The strained relationship between the Tourism Chief and subject Ministry Secretary (Treasury Chief Dr. Jayasundera is also the Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Development), is well known and surprisingly it had dragged on since Godahewa’s appointment in June 2010. Both parties deny it officially but the industry is well aware of the friction between the two.
The Tourism Chief’s act of throwing the towel is attributed to frustration reaching the tipping point, though the industry had previously expected Godahewa to quit much earlier. Some also queried the rationale in holding on to the chairmanship of the Tourism Development Authority and continuing to remain under the supervision of the same Ministry.The contentious issue has been the poor level of destination marketing ever since the war ended in May 2009. The industry has been a victim of allegations that the Treasury was not supportive of the marketing plans of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, one of the entities which Godahewa headed.
Furthermore, there had been restrictions placed on SLTPB as well, such as sponsorships of major events, attendance at major global tourism fairs and media advertising.
For example, due to prevailing restrictions imposed, SLTPB hadn’t utilised 80% of the funds available for promotions in 2011 and the same was likely this year as well. Furthermore, Rs. 2.2 billion allocated through a World Bank project for promotion in 2009 has allegedly been stuck at the Treasury for three years as the latter has been meddling with the scope of the project.
The Treasury has maintained the view that the private sector, which dominates the tourism industry, must steer destination marketing rather than relying on Government funds.
The final paragraph in the statement Godahewa made after quitting as Chairman of SLTPB, Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau and Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management was emphatic.
“I am sure that the (Economic Development) Ministry will make use of this opportunity to do the best for the industry. It is the responsibility of all those who are genuinely interested in the development of the Motherland to put aside personal interests and make use of every opportunity to help achieve the development goals of this country, supporting the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I have done just that.”
He also said: “In 2010 a decision was made to initiate a process of amalgamating all four tourism institutes govern by Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 and I was made Chairman of all four. But these are independent institutes with independent boards and separate staff. The amalgamation requires passing new legislation and probably due to some unavoidable circumstances this amalgamation process seems to have got delayed. I feel in this context I should give the Ministry in charge of Tourism, an opportunity to revisit the idea of having one chairman for all four institutes. Maybe there is a possibility of greater focus in each of these institutes under a completely independent leadership and structure.
“In order to allow the Ministry the flexibility of revisiting the original thought process I have decided to resign from the Chairmanship of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, Sri Lanka Tourism Convention Bureau and Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and hotel Management. I will remain as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority where I will continue our work in implementing the agreed tourism development strategy.”
Godahewa said that tourism was one of the best performing industries in the country and “since the five-year Sri Lanka Tourism Development master plan was launched under the clear leadership of Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, we have been continuously achieving our intended objectives and targets”.
He added: “Over the last two years we have almost doubled tourism arrivals to the country reaching 855,975 arrivals in 2011 compared to 447,890 in 2009. We have improved infrastructure and the investment climate, reduced bureaucracy and red tape hindering development, addressed policy and regularly concerns and also introduced a very clear country branding and positioning strategy. Now we need to take tourism to a new height. For that we need to constantly challenge the way we work and improve our products, services, structures and processes.”
The industry does credit Godahewa with some key achievements despite the alleged restrictions.
Though there have been some reservations over its actual content, Godahewa was instrumental in preparing the Tourism Development Strategy for 2011 to 2016, including the development of a clear positioning strategy, highlighting eight product categories under the theme ‘Refreshingly Sri Lanka, Wonder of Asia’.
A highly qualified marketer, Godahewa had the view that Sri Lanka tourism’s focus must be the development of infrastructure, policy and guidelines during the first two years, followed by an aggressive global marketing campaign from late 2012. One of Godahewa’s key achievements is the setting up of a one-stop-shop for investment facilitation, cutting through bureaucracy for approval of new hotel projects. He fought for a customer-friendly approach, urging the removal of restrictions as well as taxes, etc. His suggestions also led to a smoother transition to the new visa regime.