Seeing red

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 00:27 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Red tape must serve a purpose but what it does more often is disrupt smooth flowing of activities. When red tape is coupled with inconsistent policy making, people stuck in it often see red. Sadly, this same set of events seems to have transpired in connection to Sri Lanka’s lucrative tourism wedding industry, opening up the possibility that the post-war honeymoon period for the sector may be coming to an end. For several years Sri Lanka has been the most recommended wedding destination for couples by world’s leading tour operator Kuoni, bringing high-end tourists and valuable foreign exchange earnings for the tourism sector.  However, Sri Lanka appears to have stopped playing the cupid’s role, threatening the future of this important segment of tourism. The travel and leisure industry is reportedly furious over new rules imposed for foreign couples wanting to get married in Sri Lanka. For example, couples in the UK (the most popular source market for weddings and honeymoons in Sri Lanka) are required to obtain business visa instead of tourist as previously followed. There is more documentation in addition to validation requirement as well. Sources said documents such as unmarried/free to marry certificate has to be certified by the UK Foreign Office and legalised by the Sri Lanka High Commission in UK. Earlier if the documents were certified by a Solicitor it was sufficient. Obviously the extra pieces of paper and signatures mean delays and hassles, which make Sri Lanka less competitive as a wedding destination. Another is after marriage; the certificate and translation has to be certified by the Ministry of External Affairs. Earlier the requirement was only a certification by a Registrar. It is a mystery as to why this is necessary unless it is to give political appointees drafted in by the Government ahead of elections within the ministry work. Industry analysts said that following worldwide publicity by Kuoni that Sri Lanka is the best wedding destination, there has been demand by couples to make their once-in-a-lifetime vows in Sri Lanka. This in turn saw not only the couple but immediate families and friends accompanying them and local community and those who are usually associated with a wedding ceremony benefitting, such as traditional drummers dancers, craftsmen and even elephant mahouts. Unfortunately, excessive red tape means that these people will now think twice about spending their pounds on a ceremony in Sri Lanka. What is mystifying is why the industry was not consulted when imposing these limits. If there are security reasons for the red tape the most logical step would have been to discuss with the industry, especially since the Government is blue in the face from insisting that tourism is their foremost “thrust industry”. With Sri Lanka still limping in terms of attracting large scale, transparent and taxpaying Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) despite the war being over for four years, it is clear that the income from tourism and remittance remain central to the economy. Jeopardising such a lucrative source of income makes no sense and the Economic Development Ministry together with Sri Lanka Tourism have to take immediate steps to correct this oversight and say “I do” to practical policies before their brides and grooms are snatched by dozens of competing destinations such as Hawaii, Maldives, Mauritius, Bali and the Caribbean.