THASL Chief says support needed to prevent widespread devastation
Hotel industry alone employs approximately 250,000 staff
Seeks loan interest waiver for Rs. 350 bn debt till business rebounds to pre-pandemic level
Says banks are very understanding but they are reluctant to take a haircut
‘If govt reduces bank taxes by 2-3%, banks would be happy to accommodate our request’
‘There’s a lot of international donor funding available for hospitality industry’
‘None of the hotels have defaulted on any loans before’
‘Industry looks forward to 2021 with determination’
BY HARISCHANDRA GUNARATNA
As the hotel industry is forced to live with zero revenues with international travel becoming a long forgotten phenomenon in this Covid world, The Island Financial Review recently spoke with Sanath Ukwatte, President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) to find out how the whole thing is weighing on his mind.
Following are excerpts from the interview we had with him.
“THASL is recognised for the incredible work it has done to support tourism in Sri Lanka. No other association or industry body of any industry has done so much under so much pressure. The fact that THASL has managed to obtain almost everything we have asked from the government to support the industry is remarkable. No other industry body has managed that”.
“At the moment the entire tourism industry has collectively taken loans amounting to Rs. 350 billion. 80% is from hotels big and small. It’s not as big compared to the assets. Total hotel assets are worth around $10b at present valuations. This fact was mentioned by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during the Budget speech recently. None of the hotels have defaulted on any loans before. Moratorium is only a temporary solution as interest is accumulating during the moratorium period”.
“Since Easter attacks hotel debt is on moratorium. Pandemic came from no where. And again we are on moratorium. That’s why we are requesting the government for an interest waiver for 2 years or until international travel is restored and industry gets back to normal”.
“Banks are very understanding but they are reluctant to take a haircut. If the government reduces their taxes by 2-3% they would be happy to accommodate our request or else the government will have find another mechanism. There’s a lot of international donor funding available for hospitality industry as this is a global problem. 1 in 10 workers is employed by the travel industry, whether it be hotels, airlines, cruise lines, travel agents, theme parks, restaurants, retail etc”.
“As the worst affected industry due to COVID-19, governments world over have announced targeted relief for the hotel sector. Naturally THASL seeks government assistance to grant short-term and medium-term relief for the industry until the business bounces back”.
“We must also remember that our sector was completely crippled by the Easter Sunday attacks and as we were just about recovering from January this year onwards, industry came to a grinding halt in March as a result of this pandemic. Both these unfortunate events were out of our control. Now we are in a serious situation. Our priority is to maintain the livelihoods of 500,000 direct and indirect employees. Hotel industry alone employs approximately 250,000 staff who have undergone years of training. It’s a pity to lose staff who are committed and have made a career in the industry. In total there are 2 million dependents on tourism industry both indirectly and directly.
“In 2018, in addition to the salary, average service charge of a hotel employee was Rs: 25,000 per month. Now all that is lost. Hotels are struggling to pay monthly salaries to their permanent employees as company reserves has now depleted. Already nearly 20,000 have lost jobs. They were mainly trainees or who have worked for less than one year. Even the restrictions between inter provincial travel and 50 people limit for weddings and events have badly impacted on local business”.
“New Year’s Eve which is an important day for all hotels in the country in terms of revenue is all subdued now due to government’s call to restrict gatherings. The businesses are in danger. Cash flow has become a serious issue for hotels and jobs are at risk. That’s why we seek government support to restructure hotel debt with a two year interest waiver and a long term settlement plan for capital repayment”.
“Currently total hotel debt stands around Rs 350 billion. We have also requested the government to grant us the wage support scheme for the most vulnerable employees for which the Cabinet has already given the go-ahead. As a result of the 2nd wave of the virus UNWTO has revised the prospect for the international tourist travel for 2021 to a negative growth. Although we welcome the government’s decision to re-open the airport for tourists from January – a step in the right direction – it will take a minimum two years for the industry to rebound. Small and medium sized enterprises consist about 70% of the tourism industry. That’s why we call for financial and political support to enable critical recovery measures as speedily as possible.”
Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August
Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.
(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.
Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.
The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.
Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.
“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”
An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.
The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.
India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.
The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.
“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.
Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.
The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.
India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.
The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.
Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn
Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.
Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8
The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.
The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.
Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.
The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.
Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka
A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.
Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.
The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.
The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.
As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.
Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.
(Company news release)
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