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Developing plans and policies without young people is a futile exercise: UNICEF Sri Lanka

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Series of crises SL has faced have dealt a heavy blow

Reviving presents SL with an opportunity to address its long-running challenges

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Young people are not only the present but also the future; developing plans and policies without them is a futile exercise, they need to be the front and centre of the discussions because they are the ones with fresh ideas and the most at stake, in terms of the sustainability of the planet and the tourism sector, Christian Skoog, Representative, UNICEF Sri Lanka said in Colombo yesterday.

“Here in Sri Lanka, we have a gift. That gift is the 4.4m young people. The contribution young people can make to the tourism sector is immense. But to harness their energy and ideas, there is a need to provide them the skills, training and opportunities to thrive within a dynamic and fast-growing industry,” he said.

“Across the world it is young people who are the hungriest for travel. They are seeking new experiences and looking to broaden their horizons. They serve not only as your potential clientele, they are also your best marketers through tools like social media. Indeed, Sri Lanka has been named one of the world’s most instagramable locations,”

“Rarely has there been such an urgent moment for us to ensure the energy and enthusiasm of young people to contribute to Sri Lanka’s sustainable development is given expression. And rarely has there been such an opportune moment to discuss building back better in the context of sustainable tourism.

Skoog made these points at an event hosted by the Chamber of Tourism and Industry held to mark the World Tourism Day.

Further speaking he said:

“Today we consider how to sustainably revive a sector upon which the livelihoods of so many people depend and we discuss how we can effectively respond to the challenges that confront us. When I learned in late 2020 that I would be appointed to serve as UNICEF Rep in Sri Lanka, I felt invigorated by the prospect of coming. Of course, much of that vigour was related to the work I expected to undertake here. But I confess that part of my excitement came from listening to my friends saying it is “paradise” and “best vacation spot”. Whenever I have had the opportunity to explore Sri Lanka since, I have been captivated by the landscapes, the biodiversity, the food, and the warmth of the people I meet across this island. But of course, I also arrived at a time of profound economic hardship for so many. I know those impacts have been felt deeply across the tourism sector. Many of you have struggled valiantly to keep your businesses running, and to maintain decent livelihoods for workers across the sector: from hoteliers to taxi drivers to souvenir sellers, to tour guides, to wait staff.”

“Sri Lanka’s tourism sector has contended with a succession of adverse events in the past 3 years: 1) The devastating terrorist attacks of Easter 2019 reduced arrivals by 18%. 2) COVID-19 crisis shut borders & paralysed air travel. 3) Conflict in Ukraine entirely cut a tourism market that until recently represented 25% of foreign arrivals. And, of course, economic crisis continues to pose an array of challenges. Reviving tourism in a manner that is sustainable and inclusive is one of the key tools to help us navigate through this crisis.”

“I would like to reiterate the importance of sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka, to touch upon the relationship between sustainable tourism and the SDGs, and mention the role young people can play as we re-think tourism in Sri Lanka.”

“Tourism is a critical component of the economy; it is Sri Lanka’s 3rd-largest source of foreign exchange, and contributed about 5% of GDP, pre-COVID. Tourism is also a major employer of people across the island. In fact, globally, tourism employs one in every ten people.”

“Let’s be under no illusions. The series of crises SL has faced have dealt a heavy blow. But the task we now face in reviving the sector also presents us with an opportunity to address some its long-running challenges.”

“These include over-tourism and other unsustainable practices; contributions to Climate Change; pollution; a loss of biodiversity; and a lack of inclusion. As an island nation with extraordinary biodiversity, Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of unsustainable tourism.”

“Indeed, when tourism arrivals plunged during the pandemic, many destinations took the opportunity to reflect on the toll irresponsible or unsustainable practices had on their ecologies; and they resolved to do this differently. We too, should resolve to do things differently.”

“As tourism returns, the demand for ethical and sustainable products and experiences continues to rise. We can no longer consider sustainable tourism offerings as a choice. Costs incurred in adopting practices that benefit the environment and community, need to be looked at as investments which provide the industry with an advantage.”

“The tourism sector, as a whole, needs to focus on marketing Sri Lanka as not only a desirable destination because of its natural beauty, culture and heritage, but also differentiating it as a sustainable destination.”

“I believe that harnessing tourism’s positive contribution to sustainable development and the mitigation of the sector’s adverse effects calls for strong partnerships and decisive action by all tourism stakeholders.”

“Events like this give us an opportunity to build partnerships: to reflect, and to share ideas and strategies. Creating true partnerships of both public and private sector operators in the country is key to our ability to revive the sector and develop sustainable tourism as a tool for a better future for Sri Lanka.”

“With the right safeguards in place, tourism can provide decent jobs, particularly for young people, it can inspire us to protect life on land and life below water, it can help build resilient, gender-equal, inclusive economies and societies that work for everyone. And it can help Sri Lanka thrive,” the UNICEF representative said.



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Top agents from Kuwait visit Sri Lanka on familiarization tour

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Eleven of Kuwait’s top tour operators and travel agents arrived in Sri Lanka this week on Jazeera Airways on a familiarization tour. Jazeera Airways currently operates three flights weekly to Sri Lanka connecting the leisure and labour markets. The familiarization tour was organized and sponsored by Jazeera’s General Sales Agent in Sri Lanka, Aitken Spence PLC.

The familiarization group travelled and enjoyed the highlights of Sri Lanka during their stay in Sri Lanka. Commenting on the tour, Travel agent P Mayur stated “We love the Sri Lankan people’s smile, hospitality and their humbleness” We heard lots of negative news prior to our arrival, and were wondering if we were making the right decision. However, when we came into the country, our experiences were nothing negative”. I am definitely coming back to this beautiful country to enjoy the beaches with my family and it won’t be too long” Another member of the group Sami Malik stated that “it’s amazing to see how Sri Lankan’s love and preserve their cultural values of the country. The rich history and heritage are something our clients would love to discover in Sri Lanka”

The Jazeera airlines familiarization tour concluded with an awards ceremony recognizing the airlines top agents. The event was graced by the Minister of Tourism and Land Harin Fernando and State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya.

Jazeera airlines has good connections in the Middle East region and can contribute to the revival of tourism in Sri Lanka by connecting the middle east travellers to the country. The agent familiarization tour is expected to contribute towards promoting destination Sri Lanka. Jazeera now operates three flights per week from Kuwait to Colombo; however, the airline expects to raise its frequency of flights per week by early 2023. Jazeera Airways operates its best-in-class Airbus 320 Neo aircraft to Colombo, connecting more than 50 destinations across the continents.

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Sysco LABS’ Managing Director, Shanil Fernando Emphasizes HR’s Role in Retaining Local Talent

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Shanil Fernando, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sysco LABS Sri Lanka, recently spoke at the ‘Employing Tomorrow’s HR Today: The CEO’s Perspective’ panel discussion organized by the Association of HR Professionals Sri Lanka (AHRP).Representing the ICT industry, Shanil shared his insights on retaining and developing talent, unique people initiatives at Sysco LABS, and how emerging technologies like AI are transforming HR processes.

An industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience in technology and innovation, Shanil highlighted the importance of HR’s role in transforming the workplace into a sanctuary that gives employees peace of mind to do their best work. Speaking about people challenges, he focused on the local tech industry’s current issue of attrition and emphasized the necessity for crafting a sound employee engagement and retention strategy that addresses both financial and mental well-being.

Alluding to the present economic crisis, he said: “The country’s key industries, including technology, are experiencing significant attrition at the moment. Collectively, retaining talent has become a major challenge. The primary reason for this migration is the socioeconomic impact of the current economic crisis. In order to mitigate this, the economic situation must be addressed urgently. High public taxes will also compound the problem. The government must take the necessary steps to reduce the burden put on the private sector by introducing significant reforms to non–performing State-Owned Enterprises, avoiding public funds being used to keep loss-making SOEs afloat. Privatization or listing such enterprises on the stock exchange will allow them to be scrutinized in the same manner as a well-run private company, ensuring true transparency and accountability. As organizations, what we can do is build mechanisms that insulate employees, as much as possible, from the impact of the current economic crisis. For example, if the company is at an advantage as a FOREX generator, they can share this advantage equitably with their employees.”

Shanil emphasized the importance of transforming modern-day HR professionals into strategic business partners who are creative, innovative and able to proactively deliver solutions. Elaborating on vital steps taken at Sysco LABS, to transform its people operations to be more strategic in identifying talent needs, he said: “We are a strong, culture-oriented company. The pandemic dampened our culture efforts in the last 2 years, but we’re now focused on rejuvenating this culture and HR must be a flexible change agent that works together with other business functions to enhance the workplace experience for everyone. At Sysco LABS, every associate is allocated an HR Business Partner who will support them throughout their entire journey at the company and ensure all their needs are met. This enables us to deliver a more wholesome work experience to our associates.”

Shanil also spoke about how emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) can transform the HR function, noting that AI creates opportunities for greater efficiency and more intelligent decision-making. He suggested that HR leaders must adopt AI as it gives businesses a critical edge when gauging future talent needs and understanding how to better create a compelling people experience.

Summing up the impact of initiatives implemented at Sysco LABS, Shanil said, “Sysco LABS is impacting a Fortune 100 company and a trillion-dollar, global industry from here in Sri Lanka. Our people are our most precious resource, and we strive to make the workplace a sanctuary for all of them. We want our associates to feel supported and cared for, with our initiatives driving engagement and camaraderie reflecting that. It’s these initiatives that have enabled us to maintain a purpose-driven, world-class workspace exposing our associates to global experiences and opportunities.”

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CICT pledges US$ 25,000 for sight-saving surgeries in Sri Lanka

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Another group of Sri Lankans with correctable eye diseases and disorders will soon begin surgery to restore clearer vision, thanks to the latest phase of a community initiative of Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) in partnership with the Nawaloka Hospital.CICT recently donated US$ 25,000 (Rs 9.25 million at current exchange rates) it has pledged for the project. The donation is part of CICT’s ‘C-Blue Restore Sight Project’ that the Company launched in 2015.

Nawaloka Hospital will procure, supply and utilise all the resources needed to implement the project, including providing professional medical staff, lenses, accessories, and other equipment to perform surgeries, under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the two organisations. The patients for these free surgeries will be selected from the waiting lists of several government hospitals in Sri Lanka, on the recommendations of the signatory organisations.

Commenting on CICT’s continuing support to this eye care programme, the Company’s General Manager – Administration and Corporate Social Responsibility Mr Grant Yang said: “The C-Blue Restore Sight Project was launched to enable access to eye care, especially for those living in impoverished conditions. The recent economic crisis in Sri Lanka has pushed many more beyond the poverty line, and often, non-emergency healthcare is one of the casualties on the list of priorities. With this latest phase of the project, CICT is reaffirming its commitment to the continuity of this initiative, despite the challenges faced by the business.”

Cataract surgeries, refractive surgeries that reshape the cornea (LASIK surgery), and Corneal Collagen Crosslinking (CXL) including squint correction and keratoplasty will be performed under this phase of the CICT ‘C-Blue Restore Sight Project.’ Additionally, selected patients requiring the Avastin injection for visual defects too will be accommodated. Plans to conduct eye camps in certain needy areas identified by CICT are also in the pipeline.

At a ceremony held recently at the Hospital, Mr Grant Yang presented a symbolic cheque to the Chairman and CEO of Nawaloka Hospitals Dr Jayantha Dharmadasa and the Hospital’s Director/General Manager Vidya Jyothi Emeritus Professor Lal G. Chandrasena. Thereafter, the CICT team visited some of the patients scheduled for surgeries. Since the launch of the ‘C-Blue Restore Sight Project’ in 2015, CICT has funded more than 450 cataract surgeries to restore sight, in collaboration with the National Eye Hospital.

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