Industry up in arms over John’s move to oust Tourism Board Chief

By Charumini de Silva

The tourism industry is up in arms against Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga’s decision to remove Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara, saying it would cause further setbacks and was untimely ahead of the much-needed global advertising rollout.

Though asked to resign by the Tourism Minister, SLTPB Chief Nanayakkara, an industry veteran, remained defiant.

He claimed any removal, transfer or promotion of public servants during an election period was illegal.

“The Minister has sent letters to the entire Board of Directors to resign from their respective positions, pointing out that he wants to ‘restructure’ the institution,” Nanayakkara told Daily FT.

He said they had received the letters on 8 January, insisting that the Board of Directors resigns from 10 January.

“In my opinion, this order of the Minister is illegal according to the Election Commissioner’s directive. No Minister can ask to resign, appoint, promote or demote public servants until the Local Government elections are over on 16 February,” he added.

Noting that he would not adhere to the illegal request of the Minister, Nanayakkara said: “I don’t know about the others on the Board, but I am not going to resign. I will refrain from coming to office from 9 January.”

When contacted, Tourism Development Minster John Amaratunga denied that he had sent letters to the entire Board, but accepted that he had sent a letter to the SLTPB Chairman.

“There were many complaints from the industry against him and there were delays in executing projects,” said the Minister, justifying his decision.

According to Amaratunga, Ministry Secretary Esala Weerakoon will be the Acting Chairman of SLTPB until they appoint a “fit and proper” candidate to suit the position’s requirements.

“I want to restructure the SLTPB. We need to increase efficiency and accelerate projects. I cannot let the industry down and let tourism suffer because the heads of the organisation change,” he added.

The Minister, being the appointing authority of the chairman, can also remove irrespective of whether there is an election or not. Other members of the SLTPB Board are ex-officio members. Their original term of three years is coming to an end.

Industry sources said that Nanayakkara, since his appointment six months ago, had performed well and given leadership to the much-needed global advertising campaign for Sri Lanka. The digital campaign in five core markets – India, China, UK, France and Germany – is slated to go live by mid-February whilst a global advertising blitz will follow mid-this year.

Furthermore, the industry is also busy rolling out the 2020 Strategic Plan with the blessings of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Nanayakkara was heading the task force prior to taking over as SLTPB Chairman.

In a joint statement, the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) on Monday congratulated the Boards of SLTPB and SLTDA for pushing promotions despite various obstacles and challengers, highlighting that the cooperation between SLTPB and SLTDA hadbeen a major contributor to the effectiveness and speed of the promotions.

Both associations received support from their respective Board nominees who made tireless efforts to voice industry concerns. This has resulted in the action plan passed by the respective Board targeting spends in excess of Rs. 5.3b for calendar year 2018, the highest estimated spends ever in the history of Sri Lanka tourism. This further strengthens the plans and guidelines identified by the Tourism Task Force under the advice of the Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism and Christian Affairs.

Board members to continue to support the respective Boards of SLTPB and SLTDA and to make Sri Lanka tourism a major contributor to the economic development of the country.

The Board of SLTPB consists of 11 members of whom three are nominated by SLAITO and three by THASL as per the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005.

Commenting on Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals last year, the Minister said they were highly disappointed with the performance in 2017.

“Although there is a marginal growth of 3.2% compared to 2016, this is not enough. Six months of last year were taken away due to the partial closure of the airport, floods and the dengue epidemic, but we cannot be satisfied at all. We are still the lowest compared to the other competitive countries,” Amaratunga stressed.

He remained cautious with his forecast for 2018 tourist arrivals, but said if the country was able to record over 2.5 million arrivals, it would be promising as the Government was pushing its long-awaited digital promotion campaign to go online from next month.

Courtesy : Daily FT

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