By Captain Gihan A Fernando
RCyAF, SLAF, Air Ceylan. Air Lanka, Singapore Airlines, SriLankan Airlines and Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka Looking at the plight of the country, it is obvious that the lack of VFE (Foreign Exchange Value) is the cause of many problems. Whether it’s long fuel lines or unavailability of essential goods, services and medicines. Although the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority (SLTDA) has said it can contribute US$800 million to the public coffers, this year there seems to be no rush to shake things up from the Ministry of Tourism. During the last meeting of the Tour Operators with the President, the supervising Minister was not even present!
When it comes to tourism, there must be a master plan to earn VFE urgently. The infrastructure is already there. All it needs are high priority considerations. While the gasoline and diesel used by domestic consumers is an end in itself, the fuel supplied to tourism organizations will bring direct and indirect EDVs to the country. A VFE return on investment.
Here are some of the issues that need to be addressed immediately.
(1) A stable and democratic government
(2) Make fuel available for passenger vehicles a high priority.
(3) Fuel for electric generators in tourist hotels
(4) A government program to ensure the safety and security of visiting tourists.
(5) All foreign embassies should be urged to take action in their relevant countries to revise their travel advisories, affirming that Sri Lanka is now safe for tourists.
(6) Sri Lanka being second only to Indonesia for hosting “digital nomads”, harness the potential for improvement
(7) Have international surfing, yachting and sport flying events.
(8) Relaunch domestic charter flights
(9) Think outside the box to win VFE.
(1) It goes without saying that a stable and democratic government that will show its integrity to the rest of the world will go a long way in winning the much needed VFE.
(2) Make fuel available to Tourist Vehicles immediately and as a priority. Island-wide SLTB refueling stations could be co-opted for distribution purposes. The authorities have been unable to organize a priority scheme for essential services similar to the army, police and health services.
(3) Make fuel immediately available for electric generators in hotels across the island to ensure electricity and internet facilities 24/7. If estimated fuel requirements are unaffordable, focus on hotels on the north and east coasts to start with, as hotels on the southwest are out of season due to the onset of the southwest monsoon.
(4) The safety and security of all tourists could be achieved with a high priority government plan involving tourist police and the military, with minimum effort and cost
(5) Publicity and marketing through embassies should be intensified as a matter of priority. Unfortunately, until point (1) is satisfied, progress will be slow.
(6) Who are the Digital Nomads? These are people on extended vacations who work away from their home country, earning a living while enjoying life. Sri Lanka must strive to be the first country for this type of tourists. Therefore, we need to improve facilities for “digital nomads” making them attractive to continue their lifestyle.
(7) Sri Lanka enjoys a favorable climate for activities such as surfing, sailing and recreational aviation. There are local organizations that will help organize facilities, including international competitions. Unfortunately, they are not even consulted and there are too many regulatory restrictions. The process could be simplified.
(8) By providing fuel only for charter flights, only within the country, tourists who can afford it can be taken to and from 17 airports on the island such as BIA, Jaffna, Vavunia, Thalladi ( Mannar), Nuwara Eliya, China Bay (Trincomalee), Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Hingurakgoda, Castlereigh, Batticaloa, Ampara, Mattala, Weerawilla, Koggala, Dickoya, Katukurunda and Ratmalana. Chartered helicopters could take them anywhere and earn VFEs. These airport and landing areas are maintained by SLAF and Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka Ltd (AASL) at huge cost to the government.
(9) According to Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, to maintain Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport costs US$100 million per month in VFE. Now is the time to “think outside the box”. (See article below)
(10) There is another “white elephant” in the form of the Nelun Kuluna which is of no use. May I suggest that we allow tourists to climb to the top, like in the Eifel Tower, so that they can have a bird’s eye view of the city of Colombo. They could pay in VFE. Like the Eifel tower, TV and radio antennas could be installed there. Helping to earn a living.
A sensible solution for Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, (MRIA), the ‘loneliest’ international airport in the world
When tourism restarts, there is a reasonable and painless way to earn all-important foreign currency (VFE) by adding value.
Can I give readers a quick fix? I never thought for a moment that I would say that….
Cease operations at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), remove fencing and allow elephants, other animals and birds to enter. Convert the terminal into a hotel. It has an observation deck with large windows that already exist. Build some water points. There are at least three breaches of fences by elephants every week.
In short, make it an animal park. Ratmalana Airport has non-standard and unsafe concrete fences and walls that can be replaced with security fences removed from MRIA. They could do the same with radio navigation aids and make Colombo Ratmalana International Airport a true international airport. All of this could be done at minimum cost. Stealing has been this writer’s life for over 50 years and I never thought I would say this.
In Kenya, there is a hotel in the jungle called ‘The Ark’, built near a waterhole where all kinds of animals come to drink, day and night. There are floodlights aimed at the waterhole at night. There are animal spotters who activate buzzers in hotel rooms, depending on the type of animal. Visitors (in nightwear) could come to large viewing areas to observe them. The airport and Aviation Limited of Sri Lanka (AASL), the tourism industry and the wildlife conservation department may remove the electric fence and reopen waterholes that were closed to prevent birds from nesting and, in short, reopen them to elephants. It was a corridor of elephants anyway.
There is also an airport in Ecuador that has been turned into a park. The Mattala terminal has large glass windows which would be ideal for observing and photographing elephants. A large waterhole near the parking area might attract more elephants. The control tower could be used to spot elephants. The conversion of Mattala into a tourist hotel will create a source of income. Let’s ‘bite the bullet’ and cut our losses in these difficult times. As the experts say “Mistakes pave the way for innovation, growth and creativity”
The latest and greatest radio navigation and landing aids have been installed in Mattala and remain largely unused, while Ratmalana, the birthplace of civil aviation in Sri Lanka, remains technically deficient. Airports and Aviation of Sri Lanka (AASL) could therefore reinstall some of Mattala’s navigational aids, such as Very High Frequency (VOR/DME) omnidirectional range/distance measuring equipment and a landing system instruments (ILS) at Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana. , cheaper. The other ILS could be installed at KKS, Batticaloa or Weerawilla airports which also lack radio navigation aids.
The Human/Elephant conflict could be greatly reduced if and when Mattala and Suriya Wewa are returned to the jungle. The SLAF was able to launch an intense seed bombardment to replace the 44,000 hardwood trees that were cut down. It can take hundreds of years to recover. Let’s forget our egos and think outside the box. After all to ‘To err is human’ (Cicero).
Think about it.