A furore broke out this week in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry after the chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), Udaya Nanayakkara, refused to abide by the tourism minister’s order to step down and deemed the decree “illegal”.
Nanayakkara had been preparing plans for a destination marketing campaign to take off this year, as a budget of 5.3 billion rupees (US$35 million) had been set aside for calendar 2018, the largest ever in a single year, for two campaigns and other promotional activity.
“This is very disturbing, coming at a time when the long-overdue marketing campaign is about to get off the ground,” said the head of a tourism conglomerate who agreed to speak on the basis on anonymity.
The shocking move came just as the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators and The Hotel Association of Sri Lanka released a joint statement welcoming efforts to expedite the digital advertising campaign planned for early 2018 and the global advertising campaign scheduled later in the year.
While the reason given for the dismissal was that the ministry wanted to re-constitute the board, none of the other 10 board members received similar letters.
The minister said the board will be chaired by the secretary of the Ministry of Tourism in the interim and assured that all marketing plans are on track.
The minister had also told local media that the move was made considering complaints from within the industry of delays in rolling out projects. Industry players, however, alleged the dispute was due to the minister’s advisors interfering in decisions and trying to secure contracts for known parties.
As well, the legality of the dismissal has also become a point of contention. The country’s independent Election Commission, which will conduct island-wide polls to local authorities on February 10, has issued a directive to all state institutions banning new appointments, promotions and demotions, etc, until February 15. This is a routine order to guard against the ruling party offering jobs to party supporters during elections.