By Nadia Fazlulhaq
Boutique tourist hotel owners are selling personal vehicles and hotel furniture, cutlery and bed linen online to stay afloat as they see little chance of a quick recovery despite rumors that the hospitality industry. tourism is recovering for the European winter.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) said 5,040 tourists arrived in August compared to the pre-COVID years when around 150,000 to 200,000 tourists visited the country during that month.
Arrivals in September (September 1 to 23) increased gradually to 11,130, mainly due to the “Buy One, Get One Free” promotional offer which attracted around 7,000 Indian tourists.
Between January and August, around 25,000 tourists visited the country. In 2019, 1.9 million tourists came, bringing income to around three million people directly and indirectly involved in the hospitality industry.
Last month’s tourist arrivals include 594 from Canada, 512 from Germany, 489 from the UK, 405 from India, 311 from the US, 248 from France, 247 from Russia, 178 from China, 152 from Switzerland and 115 from the Netherlands.
There were less than 100 tourists from Australia, Japan, Israel, Poland, Czech Republic, Singapore, Spain, Norway, Austria, Italy, Sweden and Saudi Arabia . Less than 10 visitors came from South Africa, Finland, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“Unemployed hotel workers in a once thriving industry continue to suffer from the lockdown and pandemic restrictions. We are sad to see our employees suffer but we are helpless. I had to sell a personal vehicle to continue hotel maintenance and daily expenses, ”said Malith de Silva, president of the Ella Hotels Association.
He said most of the small guest houses have been closed, with no income for almost two years.
“These are tourist areas – all of our income was based on tourist arrivals. The people of the region are lost. Most of their savings are over and boil down to selling hotel furniture, ”said de Silva.
“It’s been almost two years with zero income. All the employees were sent home. I sell several furniture, bar and kitchen items, service items, bedspreads, wall decorations, antique display items, all online. Once the tourists start to arrive in large numbers, I might reconsider my decision. For now, I foresee other business opportunities, ”said an owner of a small boutique hotel in the south.
Tourism officials urge hoteliers to be hopeful as they believe December to March will be a promising month.
In order to keep the industry alive, the Central Bank has asked licensed commercial and specialist banks to extend the debt moratorium granted to the tourism sector for nine months. The relief measure will be extended until June 30 of next year.
“The industry is recovering and plans to welcome around 5,000 a day next year,” Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said this week, sounding an optimistic note.
He acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism industry the hardest.
“The government has taken steps to relieve the [stakeholders] to pay loan installments, utility bills, rental payments and allowances, ”Ranatunga said, adding that the allowances included payments of Rs. 15,000-20,000 for registered drivers and speakers tourist guides.
“The introduction of PCR testing at Bandaranaike International Airport was another measure to encourage tourists while ensuring a hassle-free visit by limiting quarantine in hotels for fully vaccinated tourists,” he said. added.
SLTDA Director General Dhammika Wijesinghe said the Sunday Times plans were underway to increase promotion in the high-end European tourism market.
“We will participate in the World Travel Market in London in early November and the French Travel Fair in October. There will be strong propaganda to attract Europeans. Discussions are continuing on the offer of preferential rates for visitors to animal parks and the Cultural Triangle, ”she said.
Global travel specialist Expedia said this week that Sri Lanka’s popularity among Britons as the “next destination” had increased by 20%.