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Overseas pilgrimage tour industry in trouble due to increasing taxes

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Buddhist Overseas Pilgrimage Organizers Association President Rohitha Siriwardena 

By Divya Thotawatte

With the appreciation of the dollar, the Buddhist pilgrimage tour industry is facing various difficulties due to the increase in taxes and high cost air fare.

“The industry has had to face many problems since the ticket prices have gone up with increase of the dollar value and we’re not able to keep the package rate at a specific level. This is an extremely unfortunate situation. Although we would like to travel with the National Airline of Sri Lanka because it’s a local company that brings profits to the country, when we compare its rates with other international airlines we have to spend a lot more when we travel through Sri Lankan Airlines,” said Buddhist Overseas Pilgrimage Tour Organizers Association President Rohitha Siriwardena. 

Siriwardena also added that the national airline does not refund tickets which is a major inconvenience since it was mostly older citizens that go on Dambadiva pilgrimage tours and they tend to get sick often and thus cancel flights a lot. 

Buddhist Overseas Pilgrimages Tour Organisers Association of Sri Lanka Secretary Ranganath Karunadasa noted that there are many organisers who take less amounts from Dambadiva pilgrims when, in reality, a pilgrimage would cost a lot more. “Usually the pilgrimage flights are directed to Madras or Delhi and the flight time will be about an hour. But, we see differences between the flight rates to Madras and Delhi and other flights that have similar flight times,” he pointed out adding that due to these reasons most pilgrims turn to other foreign airlines who will have much cheaper rates although they face a lot of communication and other problems when travelling with a foreign or private air company. 

“Even though it’s convenient for the pilgrims to travel with Sri Lankan Airlines, a large percentage of tax is added to the ticket price. The largest percentage is consisted by the Sri Lankan Airport tax and since February 2018, the tax has gone up to $ 50 and as the dollar appreciates, the airport tax on Sri Lankans (LK tax) has increased gradually. Currently, in addition to other taxes, a pilgrim has to pay the LK tax of Rs. 9,182. There is also an air ticket fuel surcharge of Rs. 4,400 and the overall surcharge amount on a ticket for Delhi is currently Rs. 14,903, while it is Rs. 10,096 for a ticket to Madras. Therefore the price of a ticket to Madras will be at least Rs. 28,000 and the travel agents will have to pay that amount to get the tickets while increasing the price of the tour package,” explained Karunadasa. 

While an actual Dambadiva tour package price would be around Rs. 100,000, there are illegitimate travel companies who offer cheaper packages while making the best of the situation leaving pilgrims in trouble with the flights generally directed to Chennai, and with food and accommodation of lesser quality. Moreover, the higher flight prices making pilgrims seek cheaper packages have become a threat to responsible agencies that have legitimate, but higher package prices, he said. 

Pic by Lasantha Kumara


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