Tourism veteran Upali Ratnayake steps down as DG of SLTDA

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Dec 12, 2019 Tourism industry veteran Upali Ratnayake has stepped down as the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), the apex body of the Tourism Sector in Sri Lanka.

Having joined as a Management Trainee in 1995, Ratnayake rose to the organization’s top tier of decision making over the years as the Director Planning and Development,  Domestic Tourism, Quality and Assurance before taking over the Director-General Position.

Having graduated from the University of Colombo, Ratnayake completed his MBA in Thailand on Tourism and Hospitality. He completed his Post Graduate Diploma in Belgium and also underwent special training on Green-Eco tourism in Japan and Australia.

Vastly experienced in areas such as national tourism planning, development of investment projects, domestic tourism and resort management, tourism standards and quality assurance, research, tourism training and special projects engagements, he has also represented Sri Lanka in many international seminars and conferences.

Having been appointed in January 2018, he was able to bring a significant amount of developments to the organization and the Tourism industry utilizing his expert knowledge and over 20 years of experience on the subject.

Some of the key achievements during his tenure include,

  • Introduction of one-day license issuing and renewal of permits which was a major burden for the tourist service providers due to the long process.
  • Restarting Sri Lanka Tourism Awards after a gap of 6 years and uplifting the tourism industry.
  • Commencement of internationally recognized Nation Sustainable Tourism Certification program and completion of the pilot project and securing funding for the 2nd phase by UNDP/BioFin.
  • Spearheading the April 21st Easter Sunday Crisis gathering all the industry stakeholders and introducing a Financial Relief Scheme for Tourism Service Providers with the assistance of the treasury.
  • Bidding to bring down the UN World Tourism Organization’s Asia Pacific Regional Conference to Sri Lanka in March 2020 which was scheduled to take place in the Philippines next year to bring top-level government delegations to the country to boost tourism in Sri Lanka post-Easter Sunday Attacks and send a positive message to the world.
  • Designing USD 75 million worth projects for tourism development along with World Bank and obtaining the approval from the World Bank Sri Lankan Office and the Treasury to move forward.
  • Obtain Rs.12 million from the United Nations Development Fund as a grant in 2019 and secure Rs. 100 million grant from the fund for the year 2020.
  • Obtaining approval for USD 500,000 from the Asian Development Bank for training, development and marketing of Homestay Projects in Sri Lanka.
  • Preliminary agreements have been made to obtain a USD 1 million loan for the first phase and a loan of Rs.2 Billion for the second phase (with a repayment period of 40 years and a grace period of 15 years) for the Tourism Development in Sri Lanka by the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO)
  • Introducing an efficient mechanism to lease the lands belonging to the Authority to private sector investment projects, Re-assessing of land values which have not been updated for several years and compiling a list and valuation of all lands owned by the Authority which has not been prepared yet.
  • Identifying lands in Mannar, Delft, Elephant Pass, Mannar for future resorts, preparation of development plans under Master Plan for the Lands belonging to SLTDA in Yala, Kuchchaveli and Kalpitiya Areas.
  • Signing memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the approving agencies to minimize the time lapse for private sector investment projects.
  • Finishing Phase 1 and commencing Phase II of the Bentota Resort are some of his key contributions towards the infrastructure development of the Tourism Industry.
  • Providing a 75% reimbursement of course fee for any officer who undertake tourism studies at any recognized university as an encouragement.
  • Initiation of Incentive Scheme based on Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for SLTDA employees. 

Concerning the issuance of licenses which is one of the main functions of SLTDA,

  • In the last two years, the team has been able to register 4,300 entities compared to the 3,300 over the six years before 2018.
  • Extending license renewal period from one year to two years as an incentive for travel guides, providing training opportunities for skill development of all tour guides.
  • Preparation and implementation of programs to absorb over 25,000 identified informal sector into the formal sector. 
  • Establishment of law enforcement unit for the above purpose, regularize the activities and directing a team of retired police officers to carry out Inspections Island wide are to name a few.

He was also able to accelerate and develop regional development projects through direct discussions with the provincial council every three months in a time when the authority did not work directly with provincial councils and also managed to resolve any issue between Associations, Hotels, Guides, and Travel Agencies etc. as the regulator of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.

When asked about his sudden resignation he stated that respecting the new government policy and the Hon. Minister, he made the decision.