Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the private sector to invest in flights to Jaffna and India, on 19 March.
He was responding to businessman Dhammika Perera’s complaint that the country doesn’t operate flights from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Katunayake to Jaffna. Perera said that this was a complaint made by the Tamil Diaspora, who have roots in Jaffna.
“They (the Diaspora) complain that they are unable to visit Jaffna because there are no flights to the peninsula,” he told Wickremesinghe. Perera added that the road trip to Jaffna from BIA was laborious.
Wickremesinghe said that the Government has opened the doors for anyone to fly to Jaffna or India. He inferred that it was up to the private sector to take the lead.
The Premier further said that the reason why the private bus service was efficient was due to the efficacy of the Jaffna bus operators, who operate at night.
Nonetheless, Perera’s complaint about the island’s poor public transport system was echoed by Turkish Ambassador Tunca Ozcuhadar, who also spoke at this event. He said that a flight from Europe to Colombo takes around 10 hours. However, the road transportation to a hotel in Mount Lavinia from the BIA, a distance of 43 kilometres, takes as much as one hour and 40 minutes, Ozcuhadar said.
He further said that there was no local transport available for a tourist to travel from BIA to the nearest bus terminus in Katunayake.
He said that Turkey entertained 40 million tourists last year, which raked in a revenue of US$ 30 billion to his country.
Dutch Ambassador Joanne Doornewaard, who also spoke at this event, indicated that the local hotels were out-pricing themselves. “What it costs for a tourist to holiday for a week in Sri Lanka, he could stay as much as three weeks in Thailand for that amount of money spent,” she said.
United Kingdom High Commissioner James Dauris, another speaker at the event, said that Sri Lanka should strike a balance between the tourist numbers and tourism revenue. Too many tourist numbers may hurt the island’s ecosystem, the very reason why tourists visit Sri Lanka in the first place, he said.
Wickremesinghe, however, said that with the island having 9,000 hotel rooms to fill, the country has to be conscious of tourist numbers too.
The occasion was an economic summit highlighting how Sri Lanka could uplift its export sector, tourism, and foreign direct investment, which was held in Colombo. It was organized by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the International Chamber of Commerce.
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