Recognizing the vital role of SMEs in Sri Lanka’s Tourism Sector
The Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka in collaboration with Sri Lanka Tourism recently hosted a virtual business to business (B2B) interactive session with the Member states of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) with the aim of enhancing tourism cooperation in the region. CICA is a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security, and stability in Asia. The forum which was focused on the importance and benefits of international collective efforts and collaborative endeavors to create a sustainable tourism sector post pandemic was attended by over 100 industry experts from twenty-seven member states.
Opening remarks for the meeting were made by Hon. Tharaka Balasooriya, State Minister of Regional Cooperation who commended the measures taken by the Government in upholding the economic and social development aspirations of the people despite the challenges faced due to the pandemic. Ms. Kimarli Fernando, Chairperson of, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau made the keynote address, followed by a comprehensive presentation on Sri Lanka. The presentation covered a variety of topics related to tourism and the measures currently being taken to ensure a faster post-pandemic recovery. Presentations were also made by The Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), Association for Small & Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET), The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) while the closing remarks were made by Mr. Rohana Ambagolla, Director General/East Asia, Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka.
A key component in this strategy for recovery is the SME sector, which makes up nearly 80% of the domestic tourism industry. The Association for Small & Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET) represented this vital sector and acknowledged the government’s efforts to support SMEs at this critical juncture. Speaking on behalf of ASMET, at the virtual session, Mr. Rohan Abeywikrema elaborated on the challenges faced by the industry. He went on to praise the government’s effort to sustain the industry by implementing a series of policy decisions and by incorporating a framework of best practices commensurate with international standards. Mr.Abeywickrema further praised the commitment by Sri Lanka Tourism to provide the SME sector with a voice and the many measures taken to mitigate the challenges faced by the industry. The support of The Ministry of Finance was also acknowledged as being crucial for sustaining the tourism sector until a full recovery is possible.
SMEs are a vital part of the island’s tourism industry and an engine for economic growth. They are, however, also the most affected demographic due to the prevailing situation. Sri Lanka Tourism continues to work closely with these SMEs, to ensure they survive the current slump and find the fastest possible road to recovery. The Authorities have spearheaded the process of converting the SME sector from an informal to a formal sector which ensured improved standardisation, modern regulations, and pragmatic policy decisions. Additionally, the latest technology has been implemented, including complete automation of the ‘Tourism Service Provider Registration Process’, which now provides 100% online registration.
“The work we have done towards completely revamping the local tourism sector, ensures visitors are provided with a more authentic island experience and sustainable tourism model. The primary focus at this point is the sector’s speedy recovery and SMEs have a crucial role to play in this transition,” commented Ms. Kimarli Fernando – Chairperson SL Tourism. Mr. Sanath Ukwatte, President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka who spoke at the virtual event echoed similar sentiments and stressed the need for a clear pathway to recovery. He thanked the government for the stimulus measures that have been implemented and noted that developing domestic tourism was vital for sustaining the sector until borders begin to open.
Following the CICA event, Ms.Kimarli Fernando was recently a panelist at the CIMA CXO Forum 2021 which focused on ‘Navigating the tides of uncertainty’ and explored some of the key issues facing the region while discussing best practices the industry could follow to mitigate the challenges. The panelist at the forum discussed the need to adapt to the new normal and the measures that need to be implemented for economies to capitalise on the ‘great reset’ taking place globally. Given the future requires a more diverse, inclusive, and collaborative approach across political, economic, and social spheres, Ms.Fernando emphasized Sri Lanka Tourisms stance to continue to focus on building an inclusive and sustainable industry with a keen focus on the SME sector.
The advancements made within the industry during the downtime will enable Sri Lanka to re-emerge as a truly world-class destination that caters to a more high-yielding visitor. While the many stakeholders in the industry will have a crucial role to play in this transformation, Sri Lanka Tourism remains focused on continuing to position Sri Lanka as one of the most important leisure destinations in Asia which will no doubt uplift vital revenue streams to the Island.