With the tourism sector being one of the most severely impacted industries in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Tourism has continued to support the industry stakeholders through a host of measures to help tide over the crisis. In its latest initiative, the tourism authorities have extended the validity period of licenses of all tourism establishments registered with the SLTDA until the 31st December 2021 with the hope that it will decrease the burden facing tourism establishments presently. The validity of Tourist Guides licenses has also been extended until later on this year.
When the borders initially opened in January 2021, in order to ensure both large and small tourism establishments and stakeholders are supported, Sri Lanka Tourism introduced the Safe and Secure certification in adherence to health protocols after an audit by KPMG and Ernst & Young. This certification which was offered as a complimentary service to the industry has helped even smaller establishments and travel guides benefit from tourism activities conducted under the bio bubble concept.
With the third wave of the pandemic severely effecting the Industry, tourism authorities have requested new relief from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in addition to the extended debt moratorium from banks and finance companies, as well as concessionary working capital which was arranged for the industry in 2020/2021. In order to extend this support, Sri Lanka Tourism is further requesting the Central Bank to write-off of outstanding debts or interest waivers in order to sustain stakeholders who would otherwise have to shut down operations in the absence of tourists.
Further, the authorities secured VAT exemption for the tourism industry by lobbying for tourism to be classified as an export industry; 12 month instalment facility for utility payments and six month grace period for vehicle lease rentals was obtained; provisional registration to support informal sector was structured; loan and refinancing schemes to the value of Rs. 150 billion for affected industries which included tourism was provided and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) to provide island-wide training for Tourist Drivers was facilitated. The authorities additionally provided the opportunity to convert existing accommodations to Safe and Secure Level 1 and Level 2 hotels and intermediary care centres while the liquor license fee was waived off for 2021.
With the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, Sri Lanka Tourism took the initiative to expand the support provided to stakeholders previously overlooked, and reached out to Tour Guides, including National guides, Chauffer Guides, Area Guides and Site Guides, trained and registered with the SLTDA and provided relief totalling LKR 40.52 million. Additionally, as COVID-19 support; Sri Lanka Tourism recognised that there were many unregistered guides who were not able to garner the support extended during a time of crisis hence steps were taken to register Provincial Guides and grant them a one-off payment of Rs. 15,000.00. Further, Provincial licenses were issued to the accommodation providers for the first time.
Sri Lanka Tourism will continue to assist all stakeholders who have been gravely affected by the onset of the pandemic by liaising with relevant line agencies while continuing to explore new markets and promotional channels to attract the ‘new normal’ traveller to ensure the revival and sustainability of the industry. Concurrently the tourism authorities are taking measures to ensure that all tourism industry employees are vaccinated by October as part of the concentrated and systemic vaccination drive carried out by the government.