Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is running helter skelter in an attempt to sort out matters to ensure the much-awaited digital marketing campaign and the global promotion campaign would get underway according to schedule in the wake of the dismissal of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara on Wednesday. The industry has been [...]

Business Times

Tourism in a tizzy: Minister Amaratunga wants control


Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is running helter skelter in an attempt to sort out matters to ensure the much-awaited digital marketing campaign and the global promotion campaign would get underway according to schedule in the wake of the dismissal of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara on Wednesday.

John Amaratunga

The industry has been having meetings with Tourism Minister John Amaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding this sudden dismissal that triggered concern across the trade.

The Minister told the Business Times on Thursday that an acting Chairman Esala Weerakoon (Ministry Secretary) had been appointed and that in about two weeks time someone would be appointed. “We need to get the best man,” he said adding that the reason for the dismissal was that there were a number of years with no promotions.

In addition, he said that there is an audit report coming up that is expected to reveal “everything.”

Giving his side of the story, Mr. Nanayakkara told the Business Times that he had not tendered his resignation but had only adhered to the letter issued by the Minister following discussions with his lawyers.

Call to resign
Quoting the letter he read, “The government has taken a considered decision to reconstitute the board of directors of the SLTPB with immediate effect. Towards this end I shall be thankful if you would kindly tender your resignation as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau on or before January 10. Your Chairmanship will cease as of January 10th.”

In this respect, he pointed out that “In the English I know reconstitute means he has to ask the board to go. H0wever only I have been asked to resign”.

As a result of this he noted that he had been advised to refrain from submitting a letter of resignation and since it indicates he ceases to be chairman virtually sacking him, he has now decided to stay at home.

He noted that the letter was contradictory since on the one hand it states the board will be reconstituted but on the other hand he has been asked to go without even an inquiry which is illegal.Moreover, dismissing an official during the run-up to an election is also illegal as it violates the Elections laws, he noted.

He further pointed out that he was seeking advice from the “political hierarchy” and would if necessary take legal action. Mr. Nanayakkara said, “I will not succumb to unreasonable request and that may not have been in good faith”. Asked why the minister would have wanted him to resign by January 10, he believed it would be because he planned to oppose a recent request put forward by the Minister at the meeting of the Tourism Task Force for a CNN advertising campaign.

Mr. Nanayakkara pointed out that since this was not the audience that they were seeking to target and he would have opposed this move. Moreover, at the meeting this week the Task Force had asked the Minister to submit a Cabinet paper on the matter while he had learnt that some of the private sector representatives had also opposed this move. This campaign is expected to cost over US$600,000.

Digital campaign
Meanwhile, recalling the problems encountered all along since Mr. Nanayakkara assumed office he explained that at the start he had been asked by Minister Amaratunga’s son-in-law Dinesh Weerakkody in the presence of the minister to allow the SLTPB MD Sutheash Balasubramaniam to continue to carry out the work on the digital marketing campaign as he had already commenced it.

The tourism Ministry Committee comprises (chair) Tourism Ministry Additional Secretary Ms. Shirani Weerakoon, SLTPB MD Sutheash Balasubramaniam, some digital experts from the Sri Lanka Tea Board, Export Development Board (EDB) and SriLankan Airlines.

At the time he assumed office, the committee was trying to put together the Request for Proposal (RFP) following which they had to issue the Terms of Reference and the Evaluation Criteria.

Udaya Nanayakkara

Following this request by Mr. Weerakkody, Mr. Nanayakkara approached the board and informed them of the request and obtained their approval for the MD to be representing the organization at the committee and obtained their concurrence.

But everytime the board met, which was a minimum of once a month Mr. Nanayakkara stated that he would be asked as to the current position of the digital marketing campaign to which the standard answer was that there were procurement process disputes.

After about two months the board had wanted the Chairman to check on the problems and Additional Secretary Ms. Weerakoon who was present on the board explained it following which Mr. Nanayakkara also spoken to other members as well.

It was found that the main problem on the RFP was that Mr. Balasubramaniam had wanted one company to be awarded the campaign to be carried out in the three countries namely UK, Germany and France whereas the others on the committee were of the opinion that since the tender value was not very high they preferred country-centric boutique digital agencies to carry out the campaign.

Moreover, the other members pointed out that the campaign had to be carried out in three different languages targeting the different buying psyches and so it would be better to spend more of the budget for actual digital usage.

But since nothing was getting underway the industry complained to the Prime Minister who called for a meeting where he cancelled and disbanded that committee and appointed a new one under the PPP headed by Tourism Ministry Secretary Esala Weerakoon, Public Private Partnership Task Force appointee Thilan Wijesinghe, SLTDA Chairman Kavan Ratnayaka, SLTPB Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara and then the Minister sought two industry persons with PM’s office nominating Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando and businessman Dhammika Perera.

This committee then started to prepare the RFP and consult digital experts in the country and those abroad and decided to select country-centric boutique agencies to carry out the campaign in the three European states and later added India and China as the numbers from these markets were found to be slipping in the past two years.

Plans were underway to advertise next Sunday both locally and internationally with advertisements already placed to appoint a CEO for the global contract and the campaign was expected to start off and roll off by end February.

By that time Densu Grants had already been contracted to produce eight 30-second films featuring the eight tourism products offered that is scheduled to be ready within the next two weeks, Mr. Nanayakkara said adding that it was at this stage that he was asked to go home.

Asked to comment.SLTPB MD Balasubramaniam told the Business Times that when the previous committee was working on the RFP for the digital marketing campaign he had wanted to go ahead with the selection of one company as opposed to country centric boutique agencies from the three different countries.

He noted that this was even agreed by the board as well as it was informed to them by the relevant experts in the field of digital marketing that selecting one company was the best option as there would be total alignment. Mr. Balasubramaniam stated that however, now since India and China were introduced it had to be a country specific campaign.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.