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Covid-hit hotel industry seeks urgent support from government

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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.”



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HNB supports Sri Lanka Welfare Society of Blind Women

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Supporting the livelihoods of visually impaired women, Sri Lanka’s most customer friendly bank HNB PLC donated 300 white canes and dry ration packs to the members of the Sri Lanka Welfare Society of the Blind Women.

The donations made utilizing voluntary contributions gathered by HNB employees, were handed over to members of the Society at a special event at HNB Towers under the patronage of HNB Managing Director and CEO Jonathan Alles.

“HNB is proud to partner with the Sri Lanka Welfare Society of the Blind Women to serve the visually impaired women of the country. Our goal is to do our part in ensuring they are given opportunities, recognition and respect that are equal to every other citizen, and we hope that partnerships of this nature will pave the way for a more inclusive and caring society,” HNB Managing Director and CEO, Jonathan Alles said.

With 252 customer centres across the country, HNB is one of Sri Lanka’s largest, most technologically innovative banks, having won local and global recognition for its efforts to drive forward a new paradigm in digital banking. Over the recent past, the bank was ranked among the World Top 1,000 Banks list compiled by the prestigious UK-based Banker Magazine. HNB has a national rating of AA- (lka) by Fitch Ratings (Lanka) Ltd.

HNB was also declared Best Sub-Custodian Bank in Sri Lanka at the Global Finance Awards 2020, in addition to winning the coveted Best Retail Bank in Sri Lanka Award for the 11th time at the Asian Banker Awards 2020, in recognition of its sustainable growth and continuous improvements in processes, products and services amidst a challenging macroeconomic environment.

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Rizing, LLC acquires attune Lanka from MAS Holdings

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MAS Holdings announced today, that in line with its long-term strategic objectives, it has concluded the acquisition of its subsidiary attune Lanka (Private) Limited by Rizing, LLC. Rizing is a privately held, US-based boutique firm specializing in providing SAP solutions for Consumer Industries, Enterprise Asset Management and Human Capital Management worldwide.

In 2018, MAS Holdings completed an assignment with a leading global consultant to develop a long-term strategic plan, which identified areas of growth based on its core competencies and in the adjacent areas of Femtech and Wearable technology. The divestment of attune was an outcome of this plan, with the intent of finding the right partner for the Company to enable it to scale and grow.

This is a significant investment in a Sri Lankan-owned global technology firm by a company that is backed by a large private equity fund from the US, which will undoubtably help attune to scale and strengthen its business in the years to come.

“The acquisition by Rizing ensured that attune would benefit from Rizing’s global scale and expertise, and that their customers and employees continue to thrive as part of a leading solutions provider in the fashion and consumer industries” stated Mahesh Amalean, Chairman MAS Holdings. He also added that MAS would continue its close partnership with Rizing and attune in terms of the ongoing implementation and support for SAP products and services across MAS SBU’s in Sri Lanka and overseas.

Mike Maiolo, CEO of Rizing stated that “Customers from both organizations benefit from this partnership. Now two of the top SAP partners in Consumer Industries and Fashion are a united force to deliver unmatched value through combined experience, expertise and scale”. A leading provider of systems solutions and implementation services for SAP and with offices in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, Rizing is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, and has been on an aggressive mergers and acquisitions plan since 2018, acquiring several US-based and global firms.

“This merging of Rizing’s and attune’s industry knowledge and experience will provide our long-term valuable clients with access to exciting new technologies and talented resources” said Vajira de Silva, the CEO of attune, adding that “The strength of the combined companies will allow us to grow into new markets and augment our products and services to better address the needs of existing and new clients”. attune Lanka has subsidiaries in India, Australia, China, HK, Italy, Germany, UK, US and Netherlands, with over 500 employees worldwide.

Standard Chartered Bank’s global M&A advisory team acted as the sole advisor to MAS Holdings on this transaction.

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People’s Insurance enters Medical Insurance market with ‘the most comprehensive medical insurance cover available in Sri Lanka’

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In an unprecedented effort to enhance its product offerings to customers across Sri Lanka, People’s Insurance PLC recently announced its plans to diversify into the health insurance space of the country. This strategic move to establish its presence as a health insurance provider builds on the well-established public image of People’s Insurance as the insurer who cares with love.

As the market is already heavily saturated with health insurance products offered by the competition, Peoples Insurance had the strategic objective of offering a product to make them stand out from the rest. Following a customer first approach, the insurer has decided to be a step above its competitors by offering a highly comprehensive medical insurance cover available in the country.

Citizens of Sri Lanka and those individuals who currently reside in the country are eligible to obtain a medical insurance cover from People’s Insurance. Individuals can be covered from their 5th birthday onwards. However, infants from the age of 3 months can also be protected by these covers provided that their parents have a medical cover from People’s Insurance too.

Jeevani Kariyawasam, the Head of Operations at People’s Insurance PLC commented on this new development, “When People’s Insurance PLC began to contemplate our entry into the health insurance sector, we knew we had to be different. As we are known as the only insurer who cares with love, our health insurance product had to reflect this strongly. Due to this, we decided to position ourselves as an insurance provider with a highly comprehensive product in the health insurance space. With affordable premiums, we have made every effort to ensure that Sri Lankans can enjoy the peace of mind that health insurance brings about.”

Medical schemes will vary from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 2 million and premiums will depend on the sum insured, along with the customer’s age band. It is also noteworthy that the geographical scope of treatment extends beyond Sri Lanka and into India as well. Costs related to ambulance call outs, inpatient proceedings, surgical treatments, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and pre and post hospitalization expenses are just a few of the areas that this comprehensive product covers.

As People’s Insurance PLC has a trusted and well established name in the minds of Sri Lankan customers, it is expected that their entrance into the medical insurance sector will be welcomed by citizens across the island. With the underlying goal of caring for its customers beyond anything else, this new development will allow for more Sri Lankans access to proper healthcare services. This decision truly resonates with a purpose beyond profit initiative.

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