Sri Lanka’s ambitious plans to develop its tourism sector are being held up by too much bureaucracy, according to the island’s minister for tourism, John Amaratunga.
Speaking ahead of the inaugural Asia Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference 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 added that 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 explained: “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.
Amaratunga said Sri Lanka wants to generate up to five million tourists by 2020 and increase tourism revenue to US$10 billion.
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.