ASMET chief hopeful SL tourism industry will bounce back  

By Harishchandra Gunaratna

President of Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET), Rohan Abeywickrama, yesterday, said Sri Lanka’s tourism industry would be the first to bounce back in the region if the coronavirus threat could be overcome by end May.

Abeywickrama, a veteran in the SME sector with over 40-years of experience under his belt, told ‘The Island’ that a leading Malaysian tour operator had recently made a tentative reservation for 140 pax for a week’s package tour of the country in August. He said, that demonstrated the confidence the tour operators of other countries have reposed in Sri Lanka.

The ASMET President said the country’s tourism industry had weathered many a storm in the past and proved its resilience. The government should consider tourism a priority and assist the industry in recovering fast.

In the areas like Habarana, Minneriya , Polonnaruwa, there were only 8,000 rooms including 3,000 home stays, and the authorities should provide financial assistance to the operators of those properties to recover, Abeywickrama said.

India and China accounted for 35 percent of the SME sector tourists and the China Eastern Airlines were awaiting the green light from the local authorities to operate flights to Sri Lanka once the situation improved, Abeywickrama said, predicting a surge in arrivals. Sri Lanka should be geared to cater to them, he added.

The ASMET President said that he had sent a letter to Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, urging the government to grant interest free loans to SME sector operators who had registered with Sri Lanka Tourism, based on their past performances and the amount of foreign exchange earned. He said SME sector had incurred a loss of Rs. 100 million since the commencement of the lockdown.

Around 100 members of ASMET incurred the above mentioned loss mainly due to cancellations of bookings due to the airport closure.

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