With the third wave of the COVID pandemic severely affecting the industry, tourism authorities have requested new relief from the Central Bank in addition to the extended debt moratorium from banks and finance companies and the concessionary working capital arranged for the industry in 2020/2021.
In order to extend this support, Sri Lanka Tourism said yesterday it was further requesting the Central Bank write off outstanding debts or waive interest so as to sustain stakeholders who would otherwise be forced to shut down operations in the absence of tourists.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) said that, with the tourism sector being one of the most severely impacted industries in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Tourism has continued to support industry stakeholders through a host of measures to help tide over the crisis.
In its latest initiative, tourism authorities have extended the validity period of licenses of all tourism establishments registered with the SLTDA until 31 December with the hope that it would decrease the burden facing tourism establishments presently. The validity of tourist guides’ licenses has also been extended until later on this year.
SLTDA said that when the borders initially opened in January 2021, in order to ensure both large and small tourism establishments and stakeholders were supported, Sri Lanka Tourism introduced the ‘Safe and Secure’ certification, in adherence to health protocols after an audit by KPMG and Ernst & Young. This certification, which was offered as a complimentary service to the industry, helped even smaller establishments and travel guides benefit from tourism activities conducted under the bio bubble concept.
SLTDA also said it secured: VAT exemptions for the tourism industry by lobbying for tourism to be classified as an export industry; a 12-month instalment facility for utility payments; a six-month grace period for vehicle lease rentals; and provisional registration to support the informal sector. Loan and refinancing schemes to the value of Rs. 150 billion for affected industries, which included tourism, were also provided, while a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) to provide islandwide training for tourist drivers was facilitated.
The authorities additionally provided the opportunity to convert existing accommodations to ‘Safe and Secure’ Level 1 and Level 2 hotels and intermediary care centres, while the liquor license fee was waived off for 2021.
With the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, Sri Lanka Tourism took the initiative to expand support provided to stakeholders that had been previously overlooked, and reached out to tour guides, including national guides, chauffer guides, area guides and site guides, trained and registered with the SLTDA, and provided relief totalling Rs. 40.52 million.
Additionally, as COVID-19 support Sri Lanka Tourism recognised that there were many unregistered guides who were not able to garner the support extended during a time of crisis. Hence, steps were taken to register provincial guides and grant them a one-off payment of Rs. 15,000. Further, provincial licenses were issued to the accommodation providers for the first time.
“Sri Lanka Tourism will continue to assist all stakeholders who have been gravely affected by the onset of the pandemic by liaising with relevant line agencies while continuing to explore new markets and promotional channels to attract the ‘new normal’ traveller to ensure the revival and sustainability of the industry,” SLTDA said.
“Concurrently, the tourism authorities are taking measures to ensure that all tourism industry employees are vaccinated by October as part of the concentrated and systemic vaccination drive carried out by the Government.”