Anura Kumara Dissanayake Leader of the National People’s Power
Some people have met us before and discussed the issues in the tourism sector and some people are meeting for the first time to discuss with us. I like to thank all those who participated in this event. Here we hope to listen to you more and briefly present some points related to our vision.
What place did the tourism business occupy in the economy before the covid epidemic and the Easter attack? The largest number of tourists came to Sri Lanka in 2018. About 2.3 million people came and earned an income of about 4.3 billion dollars. It contributed about 4.9% to the Gross National Product. They had provided about four hundred thousand direct and indirect jobs and made it their livelihood. It is clear from these figures and information that the tourism sector holds an important place in the economy from any angle. Among the many fundamentals of our economy, we need to determine where to place the tourism industry. That is where our economic strategy becomes important. Several significant areas must be taken into consideration while making this economic strategy. We believe that the location of our country, the natural resources of this country, the nature of the human resource, the nature of geopolitics, and the civilization that this country has built on as the basic five factors that are of great importance.
We believe that amongst these sectors, the tourism sector belongs to the sector that consists of the country’s resources. Our country has got one of the best coasts. It has many climate zones, great biodiversity, a lot of ancient heritage, and also the hospitality of the people is highly valued. Tourism, which is built on natural resources, is one of the most important areas of our country. The long-term economic consequences we are currently facing have centered around two main problems. There is a shortage of dollars as well as a shortage of rupees. The most talked about is the shortage of dollars. But even the rupees used in the country are in short supply. Our foreign trade loss in 2021 is 8.2 billion dollars. 6.7 billion dollars will be spent to pay the loan installments. That means an additional amount of more than 14.8 billion dollars is needed for these two things only. Almost 7 billion dollars were being received from foreign workers to cover it. Almost 4 billion dollars were received from tourism. In that situation, there is a deficit of nearly 3.5 billion dollars for these two fields alone.
In solving the dollar crisis that our country is facing; some answers can be found through the development of tourism. But there is a bigger crisis regarding the rupee than the dollar crisis. Total government revenue in 2021 is 1.4 trillion. The total expenditure of the government, excluding the payment of debt installments, is 3.5 trillion. In other words, when the treasury receives Rs. 40/-, the government spends Rs. 100/-. That means there is a 60% revenue deficit. A large portion of government revenue comes from taxes. Tax revenues rise as the economy expands. If the economy shrinks, revenues to the treasury will fall. The Monetary Fund has stated that our economy will shrink by – 8.7% this year. That means the national income is predicted to shrink to 72 billion dollars. Then the revenue to the treasury will fall further. Spreading tourism is also important in solving the rupee crisis.
11% of the land is used for our agriculture. Protecting this land is a major challenge. It is impossible to develop land for agriculture. Because of this, tourism is an area that can be expanded within the economy. Rural poverty and the loss of new economic opportunities for rural youth are serious situations in people’s lives. Because of this, nearly one million people have made the three-wheelers their economic livelihood. One million people were drawn here by the failure to create new job opportunities for the youth. From that point of view, the tourism sector is important for providing job opportunities in rural areas. Now we have reached the peak of Colombo centered economy. Therefore, the economy has to be expanded to the rural people. Tourism is an important sector for that. There are a large number of villages and towns across the country that can be promoted as tourist villages. It is important to develop our economy into a tourism economy.
It is necessary to bring tourists for that purpose. Related to that, there are fields like natural beauty, the study of building civilizations, and the study of biodiversity, and for that, first of all, the image of Sri Lanka is very important. Now there is a very bad picture regarding this. They said that they will send a team to see if they steal from the World Bank by giving them a loan to bring fertilizer. In the ongoing discussion before the United Nations Human Rights Commission, there is also talk about avoiding economic crimes to protect civil and human rights. Therefore, they look into economic crimes. What is the European Parliament, the English Parliament talking about us? What is being talked about in Kenya? What did the Prime Minister of Bangladesh say about us? No matter how favorable the ecosystem and resource system that the tourism business possesses, if Sri Lanka does not have a good image, the tourism business will be hit hard. This is why we are building the image of Sri Lanka with tourism. That is the first thing to do.
Secondly, this sector should be protected in case of any movement in the economy. For example, fuel shortage affects all sectors including the industrial system of our country. However, if tourism is an important part of the economic strategy, priority should be given to this sector. The Asia Cup cricket tournament was supposed to be held in Sri Lanka but was moved to Dubai under the current situation. But because of this, Sri Lanka Cricket received an additional 2 million dollars, the chairman of the Cricket Institute had said. If you think about cricket only, it is important. But if you think of it as a country, there was a problem that a tourist couldn’t come to. If about eight teams came to Sri Lanka for the Asian Cup, now the image will be built in a way that Sri Lanka is safe. But after that, they played the match in Dubai and published advertisements saying “Visit Sri Lanka”. During the cricket tournament, it was to be shown about providing the necessary security to the tourists. If you think only about the cricket institution, it is cheaper to hold the match in Dubai. But if tourism is a part of the overall economy of the country, then the match should be played here. What is the image of the country if accommodation, transport facilities, and management cannot be provided for eight teams? If tourism is an important sector of the economy, priority should be given to protecting this sector in case of any disturbance.
Thirdly, tourism is a sensitive field. This field may fluctuate depending on the situation in Sri Lanka, such as the Easter attack, as well as the situation in the world. In such cases, a protection fund should be established to provide stable protection. In 2007, the financial collapse of the US financial market put the banking system at risk. But the US government released 700 billion dollars to the banking system. There was a lot of criticism for spending this money to save the banking system when ordinary citizens were in crisis. But to secure the economic system, that government bore the cost. It is our responsibility to protect tourism in this way. It is important to have a travel protection fund in situations like the recent crises that have affected tourism. During the covid epidemic, almost every country used money from the treasury to protect their economies. We are creating a care fund to face such situations.
Tourism is not limited to a narrow field. It is a combination of many fields like transportation, health, entertainment, etc. Therefore, a centralized center is needed for tourism. Therefore, a tourism commission should be appointed to represent all these areas. Also, we need a commission representing the groups engaged in this field. Such commissions are needed to settle internal conflicts and differences in this field. And more than 99% of this sector depends on the private sector. If so, our primary role is to develop related infrastructure. The fifth position of our vision has been devoted to tourism. Sixth, we need to change the attitude towards tourism in our history. The engagement of women in this field is limited to 6%. But the attitude in this regard is not good. Education and literature should be created to develop those attitudes. We select these six areas as a political movement interested in tourism.
We have a vision of building the image of the country, intervening to solve the crisis in the field, and establishing the development of the six main focus areas under our rule. We have a vision of where this business should be taken by 2030. Our role is to set goals, create infrastructure, create attitudinal changes, provide financial facilities and implement legal regulations. We are ready to openly comment and discuss this.