June 07, 2011 (LBO) – Sri Lanka has to liberalize aviation further to make the country more accessible to tourists and boost economic activity, the head of one the island’s top leisure groups which operates in several other countries, said. “The implementation of the open skies policy remains key to the success of Sri Lanka’s travel and tourism industry,” Harry Jayawardene, chairman of Aitken Spence Hotels told shareholders in the annual report.
“With the nation targeting 2.5 million tourists in the year 2016 as per its strategic tourism plan, there remains a bottleneck with respect to airline frequencies, inbound destinations and the number of airlines operating to Sri Lanka.
Aitken Spence is a top resort operator in Sri Lanka and also owns or manages resorts in the Maldives, India in South Asia and Oman in the Middle East.
Sri Lanka’s policymakers are banking on tourism to be one of the lead sectors to push economic growth after the end of a 30-year war. Several airlines have increased frequencies to Colombo.
Official data shows that aircraft movements rose to 34,092 in 2010 after dipping to 28,624 in 2009 at the height of the war. From 2006 to 2008 aircraft movements had been around 33,000 a year.
International air traffic is governed by bilateral agreements, which are negotiated on a reciprocal basis.
“It is essential that a bilateral open skies policy with a greater number of individual nations and a wider open skies framework is put into practice for the growth of both the aviation as well as the tourism industry in Sri Lanka,” Jayewardene said.
“In the context of tourism it is essential and now an opportune time for bilateral relations to be reached with European carriers especially those from our key source markets.
“It is hoped that in the coming months the government will shift its position from protectionism towards open skies in the larger interest of the nation despite its concerns for the commercial viability of the national carrier.”
National carrier SriLankan Airlines has been running large losses, especially after breaking links with then managing shareholder, Emirates. SriLankan has lucrative monopolies in ground handling and catering in Colombo’s main airport.
The state has also started a budget carrier which has also lost billions of rupees and eaten up people’s taxes in capital injections.
Sri Lanka is also planning to introduce visa to a number of key tourist markets which had visa free travel up to now, which the leisure industry has warned will hit arrivals.