Kimarli resigns as Chairperson of all tourism institutions, advises Harin on several factors

In a letter addressed to Minister of Tourism Harin Fernando, Kimarli Fernando has provided a notice of her resignation as the Chairperson of all four tourism institutions in the country. 

Giving reasons for the resignation, she states that it is expected that with Harin Fernando’s new appointment, he would want to appoint his own Chairmen and Boards of Directors. 

Kimarli further detailed that she accepted this role on an “Honorary basis” for the past 30 months and claimed that she took no salary, no vehicle, no allowances and that foreign travel and foreign accommodation was paid by her personally. 

“Having stepped forward to help the country I’m content that I cost the taxpayer nothing. This would be a good practice to encourage others to follow at this time of dire need,” she added. 

Further, she listed out a few of the achievements made by Sri Lanka Tourism, despite the extremely adverse circumstances during the pandemic. The extracts from the letter are below: 

1) Completion of preparatory arrangements for the Global Promotion Campaign, now ready to be submitted to the Cabinet and commenced when the time is right. Since the war ended in 2009, we never systematically promoted in key markets, which is responsible significantly for the underperformance of our tourism. Increased yields should result for all segments of the industry if well executed. 

2) The first ever Travel App has been designed for Sri Lanka which would incorporate over 5000+ sites island-wide and an online booking facility, ensuring tourism benefits a wide geographic and demographic segment as opposed to the existing well-worn circuit resulting in over tourism and limited distribution of benefits. The Cabinet paper has been submitted for the tender. 

3) We shifted focus from purely B2B, attending traditional trade shows that supported a few travel agents, to B2C marketing reaching the consumer. There is regrettably resistance amongst some segments of the industry to consumer marketing and entering the digital realm, which is the core focus of successful Tourist Boards elsewhere who promote directly to travellers and not only middlemen. 

4) The implementation of technology has resulted in all registrations now being online. Reengineering processes has reduced costs, removed outdated regulations and stopped visa issuance malpractice. 

5) Approval has already been obtained from Cabinet to provide soft liquor licences for all SLTDA registered entities. This is now pending with the Finance Ministry to implement.

6) Cabinet approval is in hand to issue 6-month Tourist Visas, pending implementation at the Immigration & Emigration Department.

She also thanked all international partners and stakeholders for their support in Sri Lanka Tourism’s pioneering initiatives and the embassies in Sri Lanka for their partnership and belief in our country.

Regret was expressed in the fact that no meetings were held with the new Tourism Minister in order to review progress and best practice guidance.

“Two meetings that you fixed for 21 and 23 May were cancelled. Especially at this critical time for the nation, when tourism would provide the fastest hard currency benefits, the cavalier attitude you have displayed does not bode well. I hope I am proved wrong,” she remarked.

Harin Fernando was also informed of some of the issues plaguing the industry.

“The Tourism Industry is not limited to a few Colombo based Associations represented on the Tourism Boards, known to dictate self-benefiting terms to political authorities while risking the future of an entire industry,” she said.

It was further alleged that a handful of ‘Veterans’ act like a ‘Cartel’, objecting to SME benefits such as the proposed minimum wage, a fair transportation cost for tourism drivers and obstructing the long overdue shift to digital marketing, which they do not understand, promoting only the age-old pre-internet trade show model. 

“I pray that such archaic practices will not continue to relegate this country to underperform vis-a-vis its competitors,” she said. 

Allegations of these “cartels” objecting to her attempt to account for the dollars into the country from tourism as well as dollars to be directed to hotels who have foreign currency borrowings were also detailed. Sher warned that any actions guided by such advice would demonstrate a lack of foresight and genuine commitment to change.

Fernando further stated that the Tourism Minister will “no doubt be requested to provide free visas and other incentives to promote the country based on cheapness, in the absence of ability to market and position the destination.”

Explaining further, she noted that the industry accounts for approx. 3 Mn of our citizens, many of whom are not represented in Associations. The past business model in the industry has largely been to undercut on pricing, selling cheap, resulting in many businesses not being financially viable from well before the Easter attacks and the pandemic.

It was warned that the inability to understand the new traveller behaviour will continue to be detrimental to the industry. However, there are some pioneering businesses in tourism accommodation at all levels, destination management and experiences who represent the new tourism model.

“They thrive under normal business conditions. I congratulate them for their passion and innovation amidst adversity. This demonstrates what is possible in this country if we can make a genuine break with the past,” Fernando said.

In conclusion, the outgoing Chair said she looks forward to witness the continuation to rebuild the industry as a safe space where nearly 3 Mn of Sri Lankans will thrive and grow.