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Agony and uncertainty loom over the hotel sector after 4/21

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By Amaranath Cumaraswamy

It is almost two months after the Easter Sunday massacre, Sri Lanka and its people have been jolted out of the peaceful environment they have been enjoying, by the brutal act of misguided individuals on a journey of mythical belief.

If any attack of this nature takes place the first direct hit comes on the tourism and hotel sector. The whole tourist industry is affected directly. Not only hotels but travel agents, guides, transport and excursions suppliers. The list is endless. Also indirectly is affects others such as fish, meat, fruit and vegetable suppliers who do business with hotels. Two months after the appalling bombings of hotels and churches the room occupancy in hotels are very low and most Sri Lankans are reluctant to walk in and go through the security hassle. 

The restaurants have fewer guests/customers. The waiting areas are empty except the staff and the occasional security guard on duty. Business is far from normal. In Europe, which has also suffered this type of terrorism, it is different: Security measures exit but they are not visible. Here the display of security measures might be deterrent to attacks but it has also become deterrent to guests and clients.

At present the hotels are at around 15% occupancy of maximum room capacity. The after effects still hunts the minds of the hotel sector and the question they ask is where do we go from here. 

Before the attack the hotel sector employees enjoyed the best working environment, facilities and other benefits and they had the best career development and training facilities. Their earnings compared to the Government and Private Sector is on a very high scale.

I have continuously worked in the hotel sector as a senior executive for the past 40 years and I know how important our service is to this sector; we demonstrated energy, passion and leadership to drive hotel business and it was a pride to call ourselves as hoteliers and the job satisfaction we got was tremendous. Because we all worked as a team to achieve our goals. Today I feel very concerned about the plight of the hotel sector employees. Their monthly earnings have dropped by 70% because they were dependant on monthly service charge. Before the Easter Sunday attack the average service charge in five-star hotels was between 35,000 to 55,000 with their basic salary. The lowest grade employee was earning take home salary of between 35,000 to 75,000 with all basic needs provided by the hotel. For executive grade it will exceed 120,000.

Today they have to depend on their basic salary which is very low. With their higher earnings most of them have taken housing, vehicle and other loans from banks and other financial institutions. And now with this unexpected situation they find it extremely difficult to meet their financial commitments and I am sure the Government will seriously consider giving them some long-term concessions in order to survive during these turbulent times.

Tourism has fast grown from less than 600,000 tourist arrivals before 2009 to 2.3 million arrivals last year with a target of reaching three million end of this year, tremendous growth not seen any sector and close to two million dependent on tourism income. 

The investments on new hotel projects are very high and some of these massive projects are nearing completion. In Colombo itself six new star class hotels with more than 2,500 rooms are scheduled to open for business within two to three years from now. We hope and pray that tourist arrivals and other businesses will be back to normal by this time. We cannot disappoint these investors since they came here with absolute faith in our country; their investment runs into billions of dollars and they expect return on their investments. 

Our country was the number one tourist destination before the Easter Sunday attack. Now we have to promote by showing the world that our country is safe. I am sure all hotel sector employees will overcome the pain, suffering and trauma and come out of this situation very fast.

“Never lose hope

Just when you think it’s over

God sends you a miracle”

(The writer is a Lecturer at Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management.)

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