Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga
- With mounting criticism on moves to come up with new legislation, Minister hopes to gather insights from all related associations and trade unions in batches
- Ministry Secy. says no draft done yet, awaits legal draftsman’s advice
By Charumini de Silva
The first-ever formal discussion on the proposed and controversial new Tourism Act will be held tomorrow.
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has summoned a meeting with the leading tourism-related associations to discuss the proposed new legislation as well as the way forward.
The Ministry hopes to gather insights from all related associations and trade unions in batches given the COVID-19 spike in the country.
The tourism organisations invited for tomorrow’s discussion include: Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Travel Operators (SLAITO), The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), Association for Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET), and Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka (TAASL).
The objective of these preliminary discussions will be to seek industry insights, concerns and suggestions on the proposed new Act.
The move comes after written protests by two leading industry bodies – SLAITO and THASL – and other associations.
On 6 April, Cabinet gave approval to repeal the existing Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 and to draft a new bill to ensure sustainable development of the tourism industry, which will consolidate three existing institutions that currently oversee the sector and provide more support to the overall industry.
The new legislation will amalgamate the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB).
Tourism Minister said the decision was taken to deal with coordination issues and resource wastage due to the divisions and promote Government support extended to the tourism industry.
Issuing a joint statement, both SLAITO and THASL said they were of the view that the focus should be to resurrect the ailing tourism industry.
“The changing of the current Act, which has served its purpose in challenging times, is not the answer for the future development of the tourism industry,” they said, adding that the tourism industry is private sector-driven, and that the SLTDA plays the role of regulator-cum-facilitator.
It further pointed out that the four institutions that have been setup by the current Act – SLTDA, SLTPB, SLCB and Sri Lanka Institution of Hotel Management (SLITHM) – cater to the different sectors, segments and different needs of the tourism industry.
The only area where a change can be considered according to THASL and SLAITO is to look at the possibility of merging the back-office functions such as finance, HR, IT, legal departments which will result in a cost saving for the institution.
The two associations together have a membership of over 500 and are largely responsible for sustaining the tourism industry of Sri Lanka.
“THASL and SLAITO members are the main investors in the tourism industry, and they are responsible for generating the majority of tourist arrivals to the country. In addition, they also pay the highest amount of taxes to the Government of Sri Lanka,” the statement added.
Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi said there is still no draft done on the proposed Act and they were awaiting advice from the Legal Draftsman.
However, SLAITO President Thilak Weerasinghe said that they have seen a leaked draft of the proposed Act, but not officially.
“The unofficial draft has been doing the rounds and many claims that it is not the absolute version. We have now made a written submission requesting the Ministry Secretary to provide us the draft Act, but we are yet to receive it,” he added.
THASL President Sanath Ukwatte said they were open for changes in certain areas which can be done through discussions, but hoped that the Government will first attend to the burning issues in the industry during these unprecedented times.