Managing Director of Jetwing Travels Shiromal Cooray, in conversation with LMDtv, commented that she believes that there is “a slight improvement” in the socioeconomic climate of the country.
She added that “we’ve had a prime minister, a finance minister and a president leaving. We couldn’t afford that kind of instability. Now there seems to be stability.”
“The tourism industry has borne the brunt of multiple crises in the past; we’ve had a war, we’ve had a tsunami and we’ve had insurrections. It’s an endless list,” she said of the challenges the tourism industry has faced over the years.
Commenting on the resilience of her peers in the industry, she said: “We have learned to cope with these challenges; and we’ve managed to surmount them.” Cooray said she was proud of their tenacity in the face of all these obstacles.
“However, in the last three years, we’ve had one predicament after another,” she lamented, alluding to the period of the pandemic and the turbulent time experienced most recently. And she said that this time has been more taxing since there was no respite from several calamities – the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019, COVID-19 in 2020/21 and the economic crisis this year with little time to recover in between.
She said the relief granted during the pandemic presents problems to those who availed themselves of it, contending that “all of us are struggling because we had a moratorium during the pandemic and now payments have to be made.”
“There are countless issues but somehow, we are managing – we’re hopeful because we have the experience to cope. I think most in the industry are optimistic and we’re confident that if tourism revives, we will be able to recover very fast,” Cooray said, reiterating the resilience the industry has demonstrated in the past when faced with challenges.
Cooray says she has observed a lull in international visitors but that “local tourism accounted for up to 20-30 percent of our business even in the best years. Therefore, it is a very important market.”
“Unfortunately, with the fuel problem, things got a little difficult. We virtually had only five or six percent occupancy from locals,” she revealed, adding that with the improvement in fuel supplies, “there are more vehicles on the road and fewer queues, which is a positive sign.”
Of the impact of migration on the industry, the Managing Director of Jetwing Travels believes that skilled workers are in high demand – and skilled hospitality workers even more so. She noted that it is easier for such employees to obtain employment oversees – and that she could not, in all conscience, deter any of her staff from seeking better prospects.
“According to news from the UK, fuel prices were to go up by three times more than they had anticipated,” Cooray noted, considering the global aspects of tourism. And she commented that the geopolitical environment and its implications for Sri Lanka were less than ideal.
The conflict between China and Taiwan has real world implications due to their proximity to Sri Lanka. If violence breaks out, it could hurt Sri Lanka’s economy because China is a major tourist market. While China remains closed at present, it is hoped that there would be a change in the coming year.
She continued: “We feel that with the winter, if it’s more expensive to stay back home, it might be cheaper for those in colder places to fly to a warmer country like Sri Lanka – and Sri Lanka is not such an expensive destination.”
“Although prices have gone up in rupee terms in Sri Lanka when converted into dollars, they could be the same or even less. We will be an affordable destination. And even tourists will have more rupees when they bring their currency and convert it here,” she added.
As a result, they will have more spending power in the country, she asserted. “Yes, it will definitely have a favourable impact on tourism,” she stated, in summing up.