Power cuts and fuel shortage hamper tourism recovery  – The Morning

Date:

 

  • Tourists who want to visit Sri Lanka now thinking twice: SLAITO
  • Fuel is provided for SLTDA registered establishments’ vehicles: SLTB

 

By Imesh Ranasinghe 

The tourism sector, which has started to bring in dollars to the country since December 2021, has been heavily impacted due to the fuel crisis, with international media and social media reports on the matter making travellers think twice before booking a trip to the paradise island.

Many of the leading international media organisations such as Reuters, Al Jazeera, and CNBC have reported on how Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has led to extended power cuts.

Although the President’s Office announced that there would be no power cuts after 5 March, the power cuts still take place, with timetables laid out by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL).

Sri Lanka’s daily energy demand is around 43 Gigawatt hours (GWh) on average out of which 80% are produced using fossil fuel. Out of the 80%, coal is used to generate 40% of the energy while thermal oil is used for 20%.

The draining of reservoirs due to the dry weather experienced by the country and the continuous breakdowns at the Norochcholai Power Plant have made the CEB more reliant on fuel for the generation of power for which dollars are not sufficient to make purchases.

Tourists inquiring about power cuts in Sri Lanka 

The Sri Lanka Travel and Tourism Facebook group has many foreigners inquiring about Sri Lanka’s fuel situation and power cuts. Some wanted to know about the situation of the country before they arrived while some who had already arrived in the country were expressing their dissatisfaction.

“Have tickets booked and will be arriving in Sri Lanka at the end of March. We booked before finding out about the economic problems. I was wondering whether to rent out a car and self-drive but will we have difficulty finding petrol/gasoline? Will we have issues with eating at restaurants due to the blackouts?” Robin Nicole from the UK asked.

“Is it true that Colombo does not have power? This power cut thing is not working for us at all and if this goes on much longer we’ll have to leave instead of staying for another 6 six months as we planned. But today I heard that Colombo hasn’t had any power cuts at all? Is this true? Also, does anyone know when the power cuts are going to end completely?” Kathryn Thompson from the US who had already arrived in Sri Lanka said.

A week later she posted the following: “Power cuts were supposed to end on 5 March and now they’re back? What happened? How long are they supposed to be here? Everyone said they were ending on the 5 March and they did not. We had no power cuts throughout this weekend and thought they were done for good. But now they’re back! It’s absolutely ridiculous. We have to leave the country if this continues any longer.”

“We’re in Hikkaduwa. There is a power cut every day here for five hours. We’re here for five more weeks. Awful time we’re having,” Lesley Williamson from Spain said.

“I have a trip booked for mid-April with my two children, I’m just concerned about the power cuts and fuel shortages as my boys are quite young, does anybody have more info as it’s hard to find any online?” Nicola Fox from the UK said.

Negative publicity impacting tourism 

Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) Secretary Dharshana Cabraal told The Sunday Morning Business that due to the negative publicity given to Sri Lanka’s current conditions through international media and social media, many of the travel agents in other countries were constantly calling the inbound tour operators asking whether there were power cuts and fuel shortages in the country. “It has a huge negative impact on the tourism industry,” he added.

However, he noted that the tourists who had already come to Sri Lanka and the bookings that had already been made were not being cancelled at the moment. “But the ones who are planning to come are thinking twice,” he said.

“We are somehow carrying on but when there is a negative impact from media and social media, we cannot do anything about it,” Cabraal said.

SLTB depots providing fuel for tourism vehicles 

According to Cabraal, filling stations belonging to the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) depots are providing fuel for vehicles used in the tourism industry.

However, he said none of the officials had approached them to provide a solution to the power crisis or provide fuel for generators in tourist establishments.

SLTB Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mahesh Kulathilaka said that a decision had been taken last week by the Transport Ministry to allow diesel for vehicles belonging to Tourist Board-approved tourist establishments.

He said diesel was shared with the relevant vehicles while saving enough fuel for SLTB buses but added that there had not been any request by the Ministry to provide diesel for generators at hotels.

Hotels running out of fuel for generators 

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Hoteliers Association of South President Brendon Meurling said that the power cuts were impacting the tourism sector down south in a major way as most days it experienced power cuts for about eight hours.

“We find it difficult to find diesel for the generators during the power cut,” he added, noting that some hotels in the area did not even have generators to provide uninterrupted power to their guests.

Moreover, he said the current gas shortage had forced many of the tourist hotels in the area to close down their restaurants to outside guests and cater only to in-house guests.

When asked whether the SLTB depots were providing fuel to tourist vehicles, he said that not all vehicles were being provided with diesel and the hotels had a serious problem of transporting tourists.

Meurling, who is a Resident Manager in a hotel in Koggala, said that his hotel had recently received a stock of fuel from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for the two generators at the hotel.

“We received the stocks because of a payment made in advance a while back. Right now we are okay for another three to four days. We don’t know how we will survive after the stock of fuel is over,” he added.

According to him, the two generators at the hotel consume 30-40 litres of diesel per hour to generate electricity.

However, despite the power crisis, he said there had not been any major cancellations in bookings in the hotels in the area but added that most guests were reluctant to come again as having power was their main concern. “They (tourists) don’t want to be in the dark after paying for the trip,” he said.

Another hotelier from the South said that there was a daily search for diesel among the hotels and restaurants in the area to power their generators as tourists were only having dinner in places with electricity, putting many restaurants out of business.

Even though some tourists were fine with candlelight dinners, he said the restaurants needed power to produce the meals. “It is a chaotic situation; I don’t think the Government realises the gravity of this situation,” he added. 

 

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