Sri Lanka woos home tourists to prop up industry

Sri Lanka should aim to entice domestic tourists as it seeks to revive a cash-strapped hotel sector in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a leading hotelier in Sri Lanka has said.

In an interview with Xinhua, President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and Chairman and Managing Director of Mount Lavinia Hotel, Sanath Ukwatte said that domestic travelers are eager to go out after the recent easing of the curfew.

“People want to restart their lives and are quite eager to enjoy nature again. We also expect that locals are eager to patronize restaurants and hold events such as weddings, conferences, and seminars,” Ukwatte said.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health has formulated strict guidelines for the safe operation of hotels as Sri Lanka resumed economic activity earlier this month. Checks are being conducted to ensure that registered hotels are adhering to these regulations, Ukwatte said.

Ukwatte said that Sri Lanka’s hotel sector would also look to opening up to travelers from regional markets, as pandemic-related disruptions continue in European and North American markets.

Sri Lanka’s hotels have been one of the worst-affected sectors by the pandemic, with the country attracting merely 71,370 arrivals in March compared to 244,328 in the same month last year, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).

Arrivals in April and May have been brought to a virtual halt due to flight restrictions.

The government has stepped in to provide the cash-strapped hotel sector with concessional loans and discussions are underway for a temporary wage subsidy scheme for hotel employees, Ukwatte said.

Sri Lanka’s hotel sector directly employs around 150,000 people, with nearly 700,000 people indirectly dependent on it for wages, according to Ukwatte.