7th October 2001
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Hotels woo local tourists

By Akhry Ameer
Sri Lanka's star-class hotels, struggling to survive after tourism took a dip from the airport attacks in July, are banking heavily on local tourists by offering super packages to counter the drop in regular tourist arrivals.

Industry sources said an increasing number of local tourists were taking advantage of these never-before-in-the-history-of-the-industry weekend offers from hotels.

Some of the hotels have also packaged various benefits into specific 'day out' packages and are offering these at rates as low as Rs. 600/- per person. Additional benefits in these packages apart from lunch include breakfast, generous discounts for children, evening tea/coffee, etc.

Some of the bigger hotel chains are targeting specific segments like offices, associations and groups with the aim of further increasing the local tourist base. Two of the biggest hotel chains, Aitken Spence and John Keells Hotels have tied up with HSBC and are offering their credit card holders special discounts of up to 40% at certain hotels as special promotions.

"These packages were quite successful last year. This was planned prior to the incidents. Our aim is to induce an additional weekday into these weekend packages," said one senior hotel official.

Another official said that his group has been marketing in the local sector at all times as the local tourists account for 20% to 30% of their market.

Tourist arrivals for August are said to have dropped by as much as 50%.

Industry sources said last week's sharp reduction in insurance surcharges on airfares is unlikely to improve tourism as air travel as a whole has dropped dramatically after the terrorist attacks in the US.

Emirates and Sri Lankan Airlines last week cut their insurance surcharge to US$ 5 per ticket from an original range of US$ 60 to US$ 120 per return ticket after the war risk cover relating to Colombo was withdrawn by re-insurers.

Wanted: New CEO for BOI 

The Sri Lankan government is looking for a new CEO for the Board of Investment (BOI) and plans to advertise the job here and abroad, says Trade and Industrial Development Minister, Ronnie de Mel.

He said the government wanted to make the BOI a vibrant and more efficient body, adding that the board of the institution would also be reconstituted. Lalith de Mel is presently Chairman/Director-General of the BOI.

The minister told the business community at a meeting last week that the state no longer acts as a catalyst for growth since the private sector is the engine of growth. He stressed the need for an effective plan to eliminate bottlenecks and red tape in the case of investment approvals.

Free market destroying soul of footwear industry

Unrestricted imports of shoes are hurting the Sri Lankan footwear industry so much that 50 percent of large scale producers have disappeared while others are barely managing to survive, says D.K. Rajapakse, President of the Sri Lanka Footwear Association.

"Because of this situation a industry which existed for more than 50 years with tremendous success will be in the doldrums. If corrective action is not taken immediately we see a complete shutdown of the footwear industry in Sri Lanka by 2004," warned the association chief whose members have been struggling to stay afloat amidst cheap imports which are killing the local industry.

In a statement, Mr. Rajapakse said:

"A leading footwear multinational is in the red from last year. This is because of unrestricted imports. There are many illegal importers (through airline baggage) of footwear to Sri Lanka especially from Bangkok. These illegal imports exceed legal imports by a large margin."

"Available statistics show a sharp growth in imports this year, reaching an unprecedented 3.5 million pairs upto July and is expected to exceed 6.5 million pairs by end 2001."

"Most of these imports come from China, Indonesia and Thailand. These countries offer very attractive incentives for exporting complete shoes instead of shoe components."

"We feel the only counter to imports is to reduce the existing rate of duty for shoe components. At least this will stop the closure of existing shoe factories.

"We have proposed, as an anti-dumping measure, the 25 percent existing duty on footwear to continue and to fix minimum FOB/CIF price limits for imported shoes.

"The price limits for each category should be fixed annually and this can be done by obtaining international floor prices. With this change we are confident the footwear industry which has (almost) reached the end of its journey could be re-vitalised."

"A few large scale producers and a multinational company have given priority towards importing shoes rather than producing it in Sri Lanka. In the near future these shoe factories will definitely become shoe warehouses instead of shoe factories."

EDGE aims to improve skills of potential marketers

By Nilika de Silva
EDGE Academy of Professional Development, a new business school, is to be launched this month.

Focused on developing the total personality not just the theoretical aspects, this school will initially train students for the Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK, exams, Stage I and Stage II, followed by the diploma level next year.

Driven by the passion to be absolutely professional, the trio responsible for launching EDGE, Roshani Fernando, Sharmila Cassim and Charmaine Anthony said, "We are not looking at this totally from a business point of view. We are promoting marketing as a career and to give direction to people who have the skills to pursue a career in this field."

In an effort to guide young school leavers through the maze of options available, EDGE will launch a Career Guidance Seminar titled, "With a difference" on October 13 and 20, primarily aimed at giving participants the opportunity to discover the talents, mental attitudes and aptitudes they have through interaction and carefully focused expertise so that they would be enlightened on a career best suited to their skills and potential. A highly experienced guest lecture panel with multi-national marketing backgrounds and foreign exposure will train EDGE students on how to handle real life situations.

"Since the present courses conducted elsewhere are geared mainly to coaching and churning out students to sit for an examination which is very academic and paper qualification oriented, we have identified a huge gap in the system and are moving to fill the void," Fernando said.

Fujifilm digital minilabs click in SL

In less than two years since it introduced digital minilabs to the country, Fujifilm has set up eight of these state-of-the-art machines in Sri Lanka, accounting for a significant share of such installations in the Asian region, a company press release said.

In Sri Lanka, the brand has completely dominated the digital photo processing business with its Frontier 350T and Frontier 370T digital minilabs, easily establishing itself as the technology leader and the preferred choice for digital printing and processing, a spokesman for Hayleys Photoprint Limited (HPL), the sole distributor for Fujifilm said.

The latest Fujifilm digital minilab to arrive in Sri Lanka, the Frontier 370, was installed recently at Seya Colour Lab in Kalubowila, and at Acme Foto in Colombo 6, which recently imported its third machine.

ADB helps Port

Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) last week approved a US$ 10 million loan to Sri Lanka for a project to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of its major port at Colombo.

The Colombo Port Efficiency and Expansion Project will also support the Sri Lankan government's efforts to attract private sector investment to the port and reform the ports sector, an ADB press release said.

Lankan embassy to aid domestics

The Sri Lankan embassy is taking steps to streamline the recruitment of domestic helpers in the UAE by compiling information about employers, the nature of the job and salaries.

Ambassador Janaka Nakkawita was quoted as saying in a Dubai-based newspaper that more emphasis would be placed on getting detailed information about households where Sri Lankan maids are employed.

"The mission does keep recorded information regarding domestic helpers, but they are basic," he said. "This is because the people who employ domestic helpers are often not providing us with detailed information. There are approximately 160,000 Sri Lankans in the UAE, of which 60 percent are employed as domestic helpers."

Ambassador Nakkawita said the nature of complaints generally received by the embassy and consulate in Dubai involve non-payment of salaries, physical and mental harassment and isolated cases of sexual abuse."Under the revised system anyone recruiting a Sri Lankan domestic helper will have to register at the consulate or the embassy," he said. "They have to furnish all the required details in a form, a copy of which will be sent by us to the Bureau of Foreign Employment in Colombo."

Ambassador Nakkawita said despite strict criteria being imposed on recruitment agencies, there still exists cases where individuals seeking overseas employment are charged a high recruitment fee.

"This fee is known as an agency fee and is charged by the recruitment agencies in Sri Lanka who take responsibility for getting the documents processed. A part of the agency fee is also given to the Bureau of Foreign Employment."

"For example, if the agency fee is Rs. 5,000 the bureau is given Rs. 2,000. But there are still recruitment agents who fleece people seeking overseas employment. We are really facing a lot of trouble in this area."

Nakkawita said there are cases where some individuals who have been promised jobs in the UAE find themselves stranded without a job.

"When such cases are brought to our attention, we get in touch with the recruitment agency in Sri Lanka and its counterpart over here. Evidence is collected and a report is sent to Colombo for further action." Nakkawita said the Sri Lankan Ministry of Labour, in co-ordination with the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Affairs, is currently working on creating a database of skilled and semi-skilled Sri Lankan manpower seeking employment in the Middle East.

First Asean's Asian headquarters in Colombo

First Asean, which held its first promotional seminar at the Colombo Hilton last month, plans to open its Asian headquarters in Colombo.

The company said in a statement that Sri Lanka would be the hub for the company's Asian operations (currently in Delhi, Bombay, Hyderabad, Singapore and Malaysia). The European operations and all the directors are based in the UK.

The Colombo seminar was organised through the World Trade Centre in Colombo and presented by a team of professionals from England. First Asean provided an alternative to the US market for Sri Lankan businesses with presenters saying the market in Europe is bigger than that of the US.

The focus for Sri Lanka is in the IT industry, travel and tourism, manufacturing and exports such as jewellery, textiles and products based on raw materials like coconut and rubber.

First Asean is a global alliance of international banks, e- commerce and trading companies, financial institutions and professional advisors (lawyers, accountants, trademark and patent agents and marketing professionals) based in Europe who will provide services to the Sri Lankan Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) using Internet and telecommunications technology, the statement noted.

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