Business Times

Harassment worse than terrorism for tourists to SL - new THASL president

Harassment of tourists and not terrorism has proven to be a greater deterrent to the development of tourism in Sri Lanka, according to newly-appointed Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Anura Lokuhetty.

Anura Lokuhetty

For example, in the southern coastal belt, tourists were continually bothered by heavy-handed locals selling "unregulated" services. He additionally noted that tourists walking on roads were also continuously "interrupted" by pedestrians, cyclists and three wheel drivers.

Mr. Lokuhetty also revealed that "local muscle men" had gone so far as to threaten bodily harm to hotel managers if they did not buy vegetables, fruits, fish, etc. offered at "exorbitant" prices. He also suggested that these "elements" were enabled by what he called "political insulation".

He made these comments at an evening event which followed the Annual General Meetings of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators and THASL held this week, where he was appointed as THASL President for the 2010/2011 period.

Another area of concern for the hotel industry, according to Mr. Lokuhetty, was the "sporadic" changing of legislation which had hindered government approved hotel projects which were under construction or recently opened; a scenario which he suggests would deter future investors. An example of this was the current legislation restricting the issuing of liquor licenses to establishments within 500 metres of schools and places of worship.

Tourists at the airport

He pointed out that this new rule had negatively impacted several new projects because, at the time of their approval by the government and subsequent construction, there was no such legislation and as such these projects were being penalised as a result. He also pointed out that while local hotels only consumed 3% of the national electricity output, the authorities charged them amounts equivalent to 30%; another hurdle for the industry.

Also highlighted by Mr. Lokuhetty was that, to reach the country's stated goal of 2.5 million tourists by 2016, investment would be needed for an addition 18,000 hotel rooms which would cost as much as US$ 1.5 billion. Sri Lanka already has 22,000 rooms in its formal and informal sectors. He also noted that, to meet 2016's goal, the nation would need better national infrastructure relating to roads, railways and domestic and international air traffic as well as building human resource capacity for the tourism industry. He also suggested building 18,000 additional rooms would necessitate a "major role" by the government, which would need to provide the required land for this undertaking.

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