Point of View Sri Lanka’s tourism industry today is wrought with a number of issues with one of the most concerning being the recent high drama of arrests and summoning of key personalities related to investigations on the use of public funds under the previous government. In this respect a group of senior leisure industry [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan leisure caught up in a storm of regret

Arrests and public humiliation of top tourism sector officials

Point of View

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry today is wrought with a number of issues with one of the most concerning being the recent high drama of arrests and summoning of key personalities related to investigations on the use of public funds under the previous government.

In this respect a group of senior leisure industry individuals aired their concerns in a statement noting that “due to extremely bad governance and operational practices of the management hierarchy of these tourism entities, there has been misappropriation of funds, for which several of the non-executive board members, appointed by the private sector tourism organisations, are being called upon to account for.”

All these individuals serving on these boards, have always acted with the interest of the industry foremost in their hearts, and with the best of intentions, the group, which preferred to remain anonymous, said

Being non-executive directors they are not aware of how the day-to-day operations are executed in these organisations, it was noted.

The group of individuals explained that thus although they are well aware of the duties and responsibilities that they shoulder being members of the boards of these government Intuitions, they have always acted in good faith, and quite legitimately feel aggrieved and disappointed in the way they have been treated.

In spite of these boards having their own executive operational management hierarchy, who should be held directly responsible for such misdeeds, if any, it is intriguing as to why these independent non-executive board members are found fault with.

All these private sector nominees are senior tourism professionals, who are heading their own private companies. Their treatment as common criminals in public, without having a proper chance to defend themselves, has caused them great mental trauma, not to mention the tarnishing of their reputation and severe damage to their business activities, the statement said.

The adverse and wide publicity generated has caused serious repercussions and credibility issues on the whole tourism industry in the international arena, it was stated.

Trauma and health problems

As individuals these board members and families have undergone severe trauma, leading to some serious health problems among a few, they complained.

The group made reference to the Tourism Act No.36 of 2005 to drive home the fact that of the important role the private sector has in tourism.

It noted that this Act was one of the most extensively researched, discussed and evaluated piece of legislation and not just ‘pulled out from the hat’ overnight, being almost 10 years in the making.

An Act that was unanimously passed in Parliament without dissent provides the structure for private sector participation, because tourism, not only in Sri Lanka, but in many parts of the world, is a totally private sector-driven industry. Most countries followed the same structure and during the drafting of this legislation, many such examples of other countries’ structures were also referred to, it was noted.

The whole concept was based on a healthy public sector- private sector partnership model (PPP) .

Further, the industry noted that the post-war pent up demand for Sri Lanka is gradually waning, and the country will now have to compete with all the other Asian countries, which have superior products, very competitive pricing and aggressive promotions worldwide.

The pointed out that Sri Lanka will have to “move out of its comfort zones, into the fiercely competitive international market and promote the country in a professional and strategic manner to reap long term benefits”.

Careful planning

In this respect strategic planning could be successfully carried out with the involvement of all stakeholders and drawing upon expertise from marketing professionals in the country, it was noted.

The statement also detailed how the Act provided for the establishment of separate independent bodies having their own board of directors comprising private sector professionals and government representatives to manage different aspects of the tourism industry: the Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority (SLTDA), Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB). Each of these bodies has a Chairman, Director General / Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer and Board members from the private sector and the government (select positions reserved for representatives of Tourist Hotels Association of
Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Inbound Tour Operators, Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka, Hotel School Graduates Association among others)

These representatives, nominated from the different organizations, serve on the respective boards in a non-executive and honourary capacity, giving of their valuable time and expertise for the development of tourism in the country, it was stated.

The whole objective of the exercise would be that these boards will function in a ‘typical private sector environment’, preparing overall goals and targets, strategic plans, budgets and action plans, for proper execution of the work in each of these institutions, the statement said.

It was explained that this model was seen as one of the best PPPs implemented in Sri Lanka, and was studied by other private sector organisations such as the tea industry.

In fact in 2010 the World Bank initiated a credit scheme of US$ 18 million for sustainable tourism development, primarily based on their satisfaction of the good governance structure of this PPP model, where they felt that the money will be properly used, it was explained.

Having readily contributed their own time, energy and expertise to help tourism and the country grow and prosper, the concerned industry individuals stated that “such treatment (arrests and public humiliation) meted out to them, the entire tourism private sector is fast losing faith in the government, and  one of the country’s most successful PPPs, is on the verge of

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