Concern aired over keeping Tourism’s ‘mother fund’ intact

Hiran Cooray, president, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) appealed to the authorities recently to leave the hoteliers’ ‘mother fund’ intact without dividing or distributing it according to Finance Bills passed in line with a recent budget proposal made by the Finance Minister.

Cooray said this referring to some of the moneys in the Tourism Development Levy (TDL) which are to be transferred to the Treasury, consistent with a budget proposal presented by the Finance Minister.

The TDL comes from a 1 per cent charge from tourists for services obtained together with one third of the departure tax sent directly to the Tourism Development Fund; a practice which has taken place smoothly over the past number of years.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunge had earlier remarked that the TDL had accumulated funds of over Rs.1 billion. “As a result of this, even I questioned the reason for the accumulation of these funds without being used, and this money is to be transferred, in a bid to bridge the gap of internal finances, the minister had said.

Resurfacing this matter before a large number of hotel and tourism industry stakeholders at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), held at the Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo, where Tourism Minister John Amaratunge was present as chief guest, Hiran Cooray said,” We are very concerned about the budget proposal on the Tourism Development Fund”.

Commenting on it further he said, “We hoteliers had a very good run in the past 6-7 years. All the money we contributed through this levy plus one third of the departure tax came back to the Tourism Fund. It helped us get through difficult times. It made funds available for us to carry out a proper tourism campaign. If this money doesn’t come to the SLTDA, the ‘mother’, and it’s divided or distributed according to Finance Bills, we will have to pay a lot.

“If we are to start promoting and regulating ‘Destination Sri Lanka’ as the government envisages, funds should be available for us. If it doesn’t come to Tourism as it used to come in the past, we will have to run to the Treasury at every critical time to canvass for allocations. It will completely hamper any vital promotional campaigns and marketing. As our Minister John Amaratunge is keen to position Sri Lanka on the global tourism map in an aggressively competitive way, we appeal to the Cabinet to rethink this proposal, he said.

“I attended the UN-WTO Tourism Ethics Committee which took place soon after the recent mayhem in Paris. At a travel agents’ event in Marseille, a French CEO told me that many travelers are hesitant to travel to Islamic countries in the wake of current volatile scenario. Taking this situation into consideration, I feel that the Sri Lankan national carrier should seriously rethink its decision to pull out of Paris, Frankfurt and Rome.

“This is more relevant as the Prime Minister encourages us to have products designed for European travelers. So this is the time to capitalize on this available opportunity. After deciding on ways to make a profit from these airline routes, we like to see daily flights to these cities, Cooray said.

Minister John Amaratunge speaking at the event said,” You have fought your battles and prevailed over the years,” and said in a lighter vein,” the budget is ours, so I don’t want to criticize it. However, I will make representations to the Finance Minister about your fund”.

Then highlighting some ‘progressive’ tourism related proposals in the budget, the minister said,” It should be noted that there are many features in the budget that help your industry’s advancement”.

Earlier, THASL and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO,) in a letter to the Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samarathunge had urged that in the event the Tourism Development Levy and the departure tax are withdrawn from the fund, an assurance be given that a sum equivalent to the collective sum credited to the fund in 2015 be allocated to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) for the activities of that authority.

Act No. 38 of 2005 provides for the establishment of a fund and the levy and collection of the TDL as well as one third of the departure tax be directed to the fund in a bid to obviate the need to canvass for allocations each year from the Consolidated Fund, to finance the activities of the four vital institutions of SLTDA, the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB), for tourism related projects.

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