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The Sunday TimesBusiness

9th March, 1997



SAITHDRP helps expand tourism

The region's commitment to tourism was reiterated at the recently concluded tourism workshop in New Delhi, a news release states.

The South Asia Integrated Tourism Human Resource Development Program's (SAITHDRP) regional workshop was funded by The European Commission.

The workshop was attended by delegates representing the core sectors of the South Asia tourism industry from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka as well as a European Commission delegation led by Mr. A te Pass from the Commission Office in Brussels.

The delegation from Sri Lanka was led by Nihal Perera, Vice Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Human Resource Development Committee with Ranjit Perera, Director General - Ceylon Tourist Board, Gilbert Jayasuriya - Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THAASL), Ms. Rohini de Silva, Commercial Training Manager, AirLanka and Kumar Mallimaratchi, Vice President THAASL.

On the central theme of the workshop - the sustainable continuation of South Asia Tourism Secretariat, the workshop decided that the future operations of the Secretariat required continued technical assistance and support for institutional strengthening an implementation of an expanded technical work programme to meet the human resource development needs of the tourism sector in the region.

The workshop also adopted the Standards Usage Guide and Regional Testing Packs. These two documents provide all the necessary tools for the use and enforcement of the regionally recognised national occupational skill standards and set out detailed guidelines for the introduction and accreditation of entry level training programmes, as well as the testing and certification of both trainers and entry-level staff. In Sri Lanka, these will be implemented through the Ceylon Hotel School as the national awarding body for the tourism sector.

In addition the workshop discussed the draft report of the recent mid-term review of the programme.

Pleased with the outcome of the workshop John Yacoumis, Project Manager said, "We are happy with the deliberations and the evident usefulness of the programme in meeting the identified needs of the industry."

The SAITHRDP, which was launched in April 1995, is a three-year regional technical assistance project established at the initiative of the public and private sectors of the tourism industry in the seven SAARC countries.

SLIM training programme

The Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing has obtained the skills of two leading personnel in the sales and advertising world - Sumit Roy, Founder Director of Univbrands India and Cajetan Vaz, Creative Director LDB Lintas Sri Lanka, who will conduct a three day residential workshop at the Pegasus Reef Hotel, Wattala from 14th to 16th March.

Based on the theory that ''The best way to learn to create campaigns that build brands is the same way in which you learn to ride a motor bike - You learn by doing it'', the workshop will give participants confidence to ride the brand building mobike with ease. Training is entirely through assignments done individually and in teams. Participants learn practical ways in which to identify who the brand should be aimed at, what will give the brand a competitive edge, how to craft a person for the brand, how to generate an idea that will multiply the goodwill for the brand and how to implement this idea over various media.

StockNet designed on new lines

A new company has launched a sockmarket information software in Sri Lanka.

Called StockNet Live, the service is provided by Lanka Online, a subsidiary of Capital Suisse Asia Ltd. This is a joint venture between Central Finance and B. P. de Silva Holdings of Singapore.

"StockNet is designed to deliver market and other related corporate news, and even annual reports, directly and in real time to the finger tips of anyone with a computer," Lanka Online says. As it uses the Internet to transmit data, the package costs much less than those used for satellite-based systems.

"Instead of proprietary news sources, StockNet comes with customizable access to international investment publications and financial data providers already on the Web such as CNN, Barons, Investor's Daily."

Lanka Online says before StockNet, financial news was available to only a select few at relatively high cost.

"However, a growing base of serious investors, both professional and institutional, need reasonably priced information," the company said.

Senior Financial Analyst and Portfolio Manager at Capital Suisse Vasula Premawardhana, who acted as consultant to project said anyone trading or investing without access to speedy and accurate information is doing so with a serious handicap."

Mr. Premawardhana has previously worked with Reuters, Bloomberg, Option Vue and Trade Station.

He says StockNet was designed to give value-added information fast to investors, and not to overload the investors with a deluge of time consuming irrelevant data.

"Real time market information is vital for the growth of our stock market," says Mr. Premawardhana, "With StockNet Live, not only would you see deals as and when they happen, you can even have the system alert you to a move in a stock you are following." Suresh Gunasekara, Business Development Manager for Lanka Online says they do plan to complete with the news capability of the news giants like Reuters.

"StockNet is an Internet product, thus, it will not only give you our market, but in fact, the whole world at your finger tips. He says that StockNet is a must for serious investors who rely on speedy accurate market data and other financial information, especially with the CSE going screen based, speed of information would be even more crucial.

Trinco back in business

By Shamindra Kulamanage

Those who fled the city of war, leaving it a ghost town are now trickling in. Refugees also left the war-torn city to safer places beyond our shores are now coming back, bringing money with them, Irfan Mohamed, a grocery owner told the Sunday Times Business.

He is one of those who stayed behind and saw Trincomalee through its darkest period into its first rays of light.

"Business is good. People are spending more. With Trinco's lost population returning, residents are now being absorbed into jobs for which labour had to be once hired from outside, he said with optimism brimming over.

Trincomalee town seems as active as any other city in the country, the only difference being the excessive military presence in the area.

With new pavements and street lighting being installed, the town was a hive of activity, when the Sunday Times Business visited it last week.

While the town's two big private ventures, Tokyo Cement Pvt. Ltd. and the Prima Ceylon Pvt. Ltd. seemed hardly affected by terrorist activity in the area, tourism was obviously the hardest hit. Terrorism had also taken its toll on the town's once booming fishing industry.

But the sizable fishing community mainly working for the mudalalies were satisfied and even optimistic.

Land prices had shot up unbelievably. Real estate prices in the town have gone up over100% during the past 3 years residents said.

A perch in town costs between Rs. 125,000/- and 150,000/- while a perch in the suburbs is as much as Rs. 80.000/-.

Security in the Trincomalee town is tight with government and the large military presence in the city and its large area makes it almost impossible for the LTTE to take it over.

The Tokyo Cement factory (making Mitsui Cement) and the Prima factory (making Prima flour) in Trincomalee are the largest private sector organizations operating in Trincomalee. A senior official of Mitsui Cement, said they have never faced a security threat so far. The ships bringing in the raw material have the facility of coming right up to the cement plant as the Trincomalee bay is one of the best natural harbours in the region.

The full potential of the harbour is of course yet to be exploited, being suppressed, largely due to the current security situation.

The employees at the Tokyo Cement factory and the Prima factory form a considerable proportion of the residents, while the rest are either government workers, small or medium scale businessmen, farmers or fishermen.

Food prices in the city were found to be reasonable. Kantalai tank provides the water for paddy cultivation. Fish and vegetables are abundant. Transportation or storage costs are minimal for food grown in the city. Only items that came from Colombo are expensive.

The thriving fishing industry in Trincomalee was one of the first to suffer as a direct result of fighting in 1983 and had not recovered since to its full potential.

Many Sinhalese fishermen left with the advent of the emergency in 1983 and then again in 1987 when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was deployed.

The fishing Industry however through all the setbacks has survived and has annually sustained a catch of over 12,000 metric tons. Except for the meagre local consumption, the bulk of this stock is frozen and sent directly to Colombo.

An astounding 1/3 of the Trinco population are fishermen comprising Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, some of whom are clustered in refugee camps but continue to fish.

Kanagasingham, a fisherman from the area said they earned a substantial amount. Depending on the catch their income varied from around Rs. 200 to 300 daily.

"Of course there are certain days when we cannot go out to fish. But these days are rare and generally we have a good income, he said.

The majority of the boats used by these fishermen are fiberglass with outboard motors. The traditional "wallam" boats were few. Kanagasingham added that there were 5-6 important fish merchants in the town who own lorries and cold storage facilities. According to him it is they who provide the fishermen with the new boats, nets and outboard motors. In exchange the fishermen are obliged to sell their daily catch to these merchants.

When asked whether they get a fair deal from the merchants who do the bulk trading, Kanagasingham answered in the affirmative. However, there are a few opinionated fishermen who refuse to accept the incentives offered by these mudalalis".

The Sunday Times Business learned that around 5 - 6 "Mudalalies" operate from one town. They among themselves own all the lorries that transport the fish, own the freezing facilities and through providing fishing boats and nets to the fisherman assure themselves of a regular supply of fish. While the fishermen we spoke to were satisfied with the deal offered to them; one merchant on the other hand was also making considerable profit as a result of the rich fishing grounds in the seas off Trinco.

The richer merchants also operate large tank boats which have longer nets and freezers in the boat. A tank boat costs around Rs.1.5 million, making them affordable to only a few rich merchants. Despite setbacks, the potential is highly promising for the fishing industry in Trincomalee.

Restrictions on fishing in the high seas off Trincomalee, (this has been declared a security zone) and the constant threat of terrorist attacks present a larger number settling in the area for fishing.

"We are not allowed to go far out to sea due to the security threats. Thus we are compelled to fish near the coast. The security threat is also genuine. It has only been 3 weeks since the Air Force mistakenly attacked a fishing boat completely destroying it and killing one of the three fishermen in it," Kanagasingham said.

According to available statistics the volume of the daily catch in Trinco only falls short of the volumes in Puttalam, Mannar and Jaffna with the catch mainly comprising of tuna, mullet, mackeral, shark and skate.

Trinco also has its own cold storage plants with a storage capacity of over 200 tons and a fish processing plant capable of processing around 10 tons a day.

The 14 year old ethnic conflict has most seriously affected the tourist industry. Trincomalee once famous for its golden beaches and calm seas today is bereft of tourists. Of the over 15 hotels that operated in Tricomalee, before the conflict began in 1983, only around 5 - 6 operate now. Most of the beach hotels in the vicinity of the famous Nilaveli Beach are abandoned. All abandoned hotels had been looted with only the walls standing as a reminder of the by-gone era.

Hotel Club Oceanic Manager, L. P. Sundarampillai speaking to us said that occupancy was very poor around 3% annually. Most of the 50 rooms of the hotel have been closed up permanently, he said.

"No foreigners come to Trincomalee principally because the Ceylon Tourist Board does not recommend the North or Eastern provinces. The only occupants at the hotel are the ICRC officials and NGO staff members who turn up from time to time. In addition, there are times when Sri Lankan holiday makers turn up too," Mr. Sundarampillai added.

"There was a tremendous upturn in the hotel Industry in Trincomalee during the brief ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE in 1995. It was during that time that the Keells Group purchased Hotel Club Oceanic in a rather optimistic move hoping that there will be a turn of the tide. But sadly it wasn't to be so, Mr. Sundarampillai said.

Most hotels operate despite losses because of fear of vandalism if they are closed up permanently.

However, the Hotel Club Oceanic has been host to a few regional residential seminars organised by the Health Department and the CEB. Full board of the hotel per person costs Rs. 800/- ++ per day for locals, while foreigners pay around Rs. 750/- as the room rate per day.

A young holiday maker Gavin Jayawardene was of the opinion that Trincomalee was under the circumstances an exotic destination. "The beaches here are empty, the hotels are quiet too, plus the packages offered to Sri Lankans are quite reasonable, he added.

"I think Trincomalee contrary to the prevalent opinion is fairly safe. Its a great holiday destination for people who like to do something a little extraordinary" Gavin added.

G. Johansan, a German engineer having stayed in Trincomalee for over 3 months, working as a Consultant to the Tokyo Cement Company thinks that Trincomalee deserved more positive exposure. "Its a pity that more people don't come to Trinco: I think it is an attractive destination. "

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