Sri Lanka Tourism to support SMEs and product development with EU funding

Sri Lanka Tourism said yesterday it was in discussions with the European Union Office in Colombo regarding the most effective use of a Euro 3.5 million (over Rs 700 million) Government-to-Government grant offered to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The total grant to the Sri Lankan Government is Euro 22 million, allocated primarily to support agriculture and farmers, with Euro 3.5 million allocated to support the tourism sector.

“The EU is considering increasing the grant to EUR 4 million and is awaiting final clearance from head office. A key focus is supporting the SME segment to increase overall yield and grow tourism revenue that would benefit wider segments of society,” Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando said.

“The fact that 100% of the funding is invested in Sri Lanka to support Sri Lankans and to develop long-term competencies as opposed to the conventional practice of donor funding being diverted back to donor countries is a matter of pride for Sri Lanka Tourism. Especially when the resumption of long-haul travel and consumer sentiment is very uncertain, investing within Sri Lanka is sensible,” she added.

The grant utilisation criteria communicated to the Government by the EU included support to SMEs and wellness tourism, including Ayurveda and Hela Wedakama. The EU has had an ongoing development program for the wellness sector in Sri Lanka for several years.

Sri Lanka Tourism has agreed with the donor to include 1) one-time cash handouts to small and medium hotels 2) upskilling employees in soft skills, sanitary standards, business management 3) programs with SME/homestays to develop nature and community-based products through a small grant program 4) wellness sector – product development, branding, marketing and certification of wellness resorts focusing on Ayurveda and Hela Wedakama.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Director General Dhammika Wijayasinghe said: “Product development will be led by the private sector who is already in this segment. Wellness could make a significant contribution to Sri Lanka Tourism’s sustainable development goals.”

With Sri Lanka’s success in battling COVID-19 due in part to indigenous medicine as well as the fact that wellness tourism is the fastest-growing sector globally, with indigenous cures highly prized by Western travellers, focusing on this area will yield dividends.

Currently, Sri Lanka Tourism is working with the Ministry of Health to finalise regulations relating to Ayurveda and Hela Wedakama and capacity building. Thereafter a product development and promotional campaign will be launched.

The EDB has in place a national strategy for wellness and Sri Lanka Tourism will coordinate with it. Sri Lanka Tourism has also set up a wellness group with the private sector for support and ideas that could be incorporated into the action plan.

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