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Published on : Monday, November 7, 2016
Speaking ahead of the inaugural Asia Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference (AHTIC) in Colombo, he said: “One of the biggest challenges is the bureaucracy. We do not have the agility of the private sector to take decisions quickly and implement them.”
Promising speedy reforms, he added there would be new concessions and investment opportunities announced at AHTIC.
He said the island’s winter-season marketing campaign illustrated the challenges: it was agreed six months ago, but had yet to get off the ground, and the winter season was now imminent.
In a clear sign that he intends to push for change within government, he added: “While I acknowledge the need for financial and administrative regulations, they must be changed to suit current requirements. Today, time is of the essence and timing is everything.” The minister is setting up a cabinet sub-committee to speed-up project approvals.
The assurance will be welcomed by investors and businesses attending AHTIC in November which offers three days of expert opinion; speeches by leading insiders; a unique chance to hear political leaders’ views first-hand, and opportunities to network with successful entrepreneurs.
In a wide-ranging, pre-conference interview, Mr Amaratunga made a series of commitments that international investors will find attractive: Tourism development zones on state-owned land would be opened up for ownership and lease; infrastructure projects like new expressways and regional airports are planned, and he said the island’s integrity would be preserved by avoiding over-development. “Our aim is high-end tourism”, he said.
Mr Amaratunga said Sri Lanka wants to generate up to five million tourists by 2020 and increase tourism revenue to 10 billion dollars. That includes doubling the current number of rooms available and creating direct employment for 300,000.
He said: “Challenges to achieving these goals are communications based. We need to get the message out to the world that Sri Lanka is no longer at war and is one of the safest destinations on the planet…hospitality is ingrained in Sri Lanka’s genes”. He believes the island could fill the tourism void created by turmoil in the Middle East and terrorism in Europe. There is also room for further growth in Sri Lanka’s main regional source markets: India and China.
With the right reforms, he says, the tourism sector could grow by an average annual rate of 15 to 20 per cent over the next four to five years. By 2020 it is predicted to be the island’s top foreign exchange earner.
And in a message to investors, he made this promise: “Sri Lanka has given all possible investment concessions to the tourism and hospitality sectors. That is why we now have many of the leading international brands coming in to Sri Lanka with multi-million dollar investments.”
“As a government we are always open to negotiation and willing to accommodate investors whose requirements are in harmony with that of the government.”
Proof of the growing co-operation between the public and private sectors is the opening AHTIC networking reception in Colombo hosted by the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, the conference patron. His prime minister, as well as the tourism minister, will give the opening speeches as the conference gets under way the following day.
Sri Lankan ministers, including the finance minister, as well as government officials will provide the latest thinking on official policy on infrastructure and creating an investment-friendly environment.
The Asia Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference will take place, November 27 – 29, 2016, at the Hilton Colombo, Sri Lanka.