By Charumini de Silva
The Government will shortly offer investment opportunities in the tourism sector, with plans underway to resurrect non-strategic enterprises by listing them on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), a top Minister said.
“The Hilton Colombo, Grand Hyatt, Waters Edge and Grand Oriental Hotel will soon be listed to be divested in the private sector,” Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Affairs John Amaratunga said.
He said that with absolute peace in all parts of the country and a stable Government that has given priority to the development of the economy, it was the right time to draw global attention to Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka is a unique island destination unlike any other its size. It is a compact yet diverse and authentic island with a rich cultural heritage where tourism plays a vital role in its economy. Investment is certainly flowing in but we would like to see some of it going to the North as well which offers huge potential,” he added.
Speaking at the Hospitality Investment Conference Indian Ocean held in Colombo yesterday, the Minister said that necessary steps had been taken to address the massive manpower requirement which was escalating with increasing arrival targets, new hotels and thousands of new rooms in the offing. Already some of the world’s top hotel brands such as the Ritz Carlton, Marriott, Grand Hyatt, Shangri-La, Sheraton and ITC had begun constructing properties in the country.
According to estimates, over 20,000 new jobs will be added to the hospitality sector each year over the next four years, raising the number directly employed in the hospitality trade from 140,000 at present to 240,000 by 2020.
“Judging by the current trend, we are confident of achieving our target of four million arrivals by the year 2020,” he stated.
Despite industry experts suggesting that Sri Lanka should focus on attracting the high-spending upmarket segment, the Minister pointed out that the Government wanted Sri Lanka to continue to be a destination for people from all walks of life.
“We have no problem with budget travellers and backpackers. We welcome the hostels and other establishments that are opening up to cater to these segments as well.”
He also said that there was substantial state investment in infrastructure development in identified tourist resorts based on a new master plan being formulated by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
“We are also investing in developing domestic air connectivity to get over the road traffic congestion issue. New airports will be opened close to Kalpitiya in the North Western Province and in Badulla in the Central Province. One was recently opened in Batticaloa in the Eastern Province,” he pointed out.
The message of Sri Lanka being one of the safest countries in the world has not filtered down to some of the target markets, according to the Minister and this was a barrier which needed to be overcome. In light of this, a worldwide destination promotion campaign on a multimedia platform will be launched by Sri Lanka Tourism towards November this year.
Furthermore, the authorities are keen to develop the MICE segment in addition to medical, health and wellness tourism, adventure and sports tourism and event-based tourism.
Amaratunga also said the finalisation of the Megapolis Plan and the new financial city would make Colombo the trading and commercial hub of the Indian Ocean region.
With the Government completing its first year in office last week, the Minister went on to note that it had put in place the fundamentals that were needed for investment to flow in.
“Sri Lanka is poised for economic take-off. Today Sri Lanka has a changed political landscape that is hinged on good governance, upholding democratic values and human rights and inclusive development of the country.”