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Harry J. calls for wage subsidy from govt. to safeguard livelihood of tourism sector workforce

  • Seeks extension on moratoria for loans that expire in Sept.

Chairman of tourism-heavy Aitken Spence PLC, Harry Jayawardena called for a wage subsidy model from the government to safeguard the livelihoods of nearly half a million people employed in the leisure industry, which has been dealt a double whammy—first with the Easter attacks in 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic since last year.

The fresh call from Aitken Spence, one of the largest resort operators in Sri Lanka and Maldives, comes as the industry grapples with extended disruptions to its business due to the virus resurgence in April.

Sri Lankan tourism sector employs over 400,000 people directly and indirectly, and accounts for 4.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The virus related restrictions pushed over half a million into poverty last year alone, the Finance Ministry said last week.

“Safeguarding livelihoods to craft our recovery was key as we recognise that our employees are the drivers of success. Therefore, there was an understanding that we would safeguard the quality and the level of their livelihoods by protecting jobs,” Jayawardena said.

Although the industry saw some recovery during the first three months of 2021 with the revival in domestic travel, it was not even closer to the lost revenues and was not enough to cover overheads of the sector.

However, that short window where the local visitors could travel mitigated the losses and managed to uphold the livelihoods of many thousands who are dependent on this sector, Jayawardena added.

Meanwhile, he called for extended payment holidays on the loans to the sector as recovery of the travel and tourism sector now appears far away due to extended restrictions re-imposed as a result of the virus resurgence. “We request the government to extend these moratoria for a further period and provide more support for the sector with a wage subsidy to protect the livelihoods of the large number of people employed in this industry,” he requested.

The Central Bank in March extended the moratoria on loans in the travel and tourism sector for another six months from April through September.

Tourism industry has been receiving State support for over two years since the Easter attacks in April 2019.

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