30 June 2020, Colombo: Tourism is a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for 5% of its Gross Domestic Product and employing 250,000 persons directly and up to 2 million persons indirectly. It is one of the worst impacted socio-economic sectors from the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, workers and businesses linked to tourism, are currently facing crippling income and employment losses, while foreign exchange earnings from tourism have also fallen drastically. These losses have been particularly detrimental to many Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and informal workers reliant on the tourism sector.
Speaking about Tourism in the country, Mr. S. Hettiarachchi, Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation stated, “The COVID19 pandemic has brought the tourism sector to a standstill. We are seeing near total loss of income in the hotel and accommodation sector, and for tour operators and guides. The income loss had a direct impact on jobs and income security, and women are disproportionately affected. Rebuilding and revitalizing the sector will require collective efforts of every stakeholder.”
Also speaking at the event, Ms. Hanaa Singer, Resident Coordinator of UN in Sri Lanka stated, “Tourism has a great potential to accelerate progress across the SDGs. If well managed, the sector can generate quality jobs for durable growth, reduce poverty and offer incentives for environmental conservation – a triple-win to help countries transition towards more inclusive, resilient economies. The UN in Sri Lanka, which includes its specialized agencies, stands ready to support the Government in coordinating efforts towards recovery in the tourism sector; to ensure that Sri Lanka tourism is more sustainable and resilient to future shocks.”
In response, the United Nations Development Programme has been recently supporting the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) to help revive the tourism sector in a post COVID-19 context through a series of strategic interventions.
Highlighting UNDP’s support, Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “In line with UNDP’s technical lead role for COVID-19 socio-economic recovery within the wider UN development system, UNDP stepped in both to help recover and to rebuild a more resilient tourism sector because of its direct link to Sri Lanka’s economy and society, and in turn, a link to the country achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This will require public and private finance, from both international and domestic sources”
One such intervention is the ongoing development of a national Roadmap on ‘Building a Safer and Resilient Tourism Sector in Sri Lanka: Post-COVID19’ which aims to springboard Sri Lankan tourism from recovery to long term resilience and generate social, economic and environmental benefits.
As such, a meeting was held on 29 June 2020 in Colombo under the theme;Putting People First: Building a more Resilient Tourism Sector in Sri Lanka to consult with bi- and multilateral development partners on the formulation and the implementation of the draft Roadmap.
Speaking about the Roadmap, Ms. Kimarli Fernando, Chairperson of the SLTDA stated, “This Roadmap will inform the Government’s Strategic Action Plan 2021-2024 for the tourism sector. Through the valued partnerships, technical and specialized expertise of the development and funding partners we can address the urgent needs for the sector’s recovery and would be pivotal for more long-term strategic support.”
This meeting engaged key decision-makers from key ministries, other UN agencies such as ILO, UNWTO, IOM and ITC, and development partners such as, World Bank, ADB, EU, USAID, Australia and others, to discuss the current situation as well as priority directions and financing for sustainable Sri Lankan tourism. Policy dialogues with the wide range of tourism sector stakeholders will follow.