Speech delivered by the Minister of Tourism development, Christian Religious Affairs and Lands, Hon. John Amaratunga at the 51st Anniversary Celebration of Hoteliers Association of Sri Lanka on October 24 in Colombo.
I would like to begin by congratulating the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka on the occasion of its 51st anniversary, which is being celebrated in signature style this evening. It is significant that the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka which is better known as the THASL is even older than Sri Lanka Tourism which was established one year later in 1966.
THASL is the premier association representing the interests of over 200 hotels recognized by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. This association has been instrumental in developing the local hospitality industry and is recognized as the apex body in the organized tourism sector. During the past 51 years THASL has been working hand in hand with the government in achieving national objectives in the tourism sector.
The role played by your association has assumed greater significance given the importance accorded to tourism in the national economic agenda by the present government. As the Minister of Tourism Development one of my main goals is to see tourism becoming the number one foreign exchange earner by the year 2020. Towards this end, not only must we work towards increasing the number of tourist arrivals but also work towards increasing the revenue derived from each tourist. For this to take place hoteliers must come up with innovative concepts and ideas to grow revenue.
Speaking of revenue, one topic that continues to be extensively discussed these days is the minimum rates in city hotels. Although this matter was discussed with the industry at length, following which the Tourism Advisory Committee arrived at a unanimous decision to abolish the minimum rates by end March next year, we will extend it for a further period following consultations with the Finance Ministry.
While this remains a highly contentious issue, I believe it would be in the best interest of the industry to allow market forces to determine rates in the not too distant future.
Another issue that is very much in the news these days is the greatly anticipated destination marketing programme. From the day I took office I have been pushing to get this programme off the ground but I have been constrained by bureaucratic road blocks which have been created as a result of the financial indiscipline that prevailed during the previous regime. I’m happy to inform you today that most of the hurdles have now been cleared and the promotional programme is now at the procurement stage. It is my belief that the programme can be launched early next year.
Some of you hoteliers during a recent meeting with me lamented about the financial difficulties you face when refurbishing some of the older properties. I want to inform you that I have given this matter serious consideration and decided to take up the issue in cabinet. While I’m not in a position to offer any guarantees, I will attempt to obtain some form of concessions for refurbishing at least the older properties.
One other aspect I wish to focus on this evening is the need for proper training of staff. Recently I have been hearing of various instances where staff even in some of the leading hotels, were found to be wanting when it came to certain specialized skills. I cannot emphasize enough the fact that in order to attract the high spenders we need to offer professional service at all levels.
While the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management is doing its best to raise skill levels and improve standards through professional training it can handle only a limited number as opposed to the industry requirement. You hoteliers must step in to fill the void by coming up with your own training programmes at least for specialized frontline staff. This can be considered as your contribution to the national endeavour of raising service standards.