SAARC Investment Forum “Turning point in South Asian Tourism”

The SAARC Investment Forum themed as “Turning point in South Asian Tourism” organized by SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) in collaboration with the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and in partnership with Fried Naumann foundation was held at Colombo from September 30th to October 2nd, 2015.

The conference was inaugurated by Hon. John Amaratunga Minister of Tourism, Hon. Eran Wickramaratne Deputy Minister Public Enterprise Development, and Hon. Harsha De Silva Deputy Minister Foreign Affairs from Sri Lanka. Hon. Lt. Col. Muhammad Faruk Khan (Retd.), Honourable  Member Of Parliament also the Chairman Standing Committee Ministry Of Civil Aviation And Tourism  & Former  Minister of Commerce of Bangladesh, H.E Maj Gen (R) Syed Shakeel Hussain the High Commissioner of High Commission Of Pakistan In Sri Lanka,  Senior diplomatic officials from Afghanistan, India and Nepal, Mr. M. Ibrahim Ghafoori Director SAARC Secretariat, Mr. Suraj Vaidya Acting President SAARC CCI and Mr. Ajith Wattuhewa President FCCISL too joined the session. The valedictory session was addressed by Hon’ble Minister of Finance Hon. Ravi Karunanayake and Hon’ble Minister for Petroleum Resources Development Hon. Chandima Weerakoody, Government of Sri Lanka.

The conference was addressed by renowned business figures, Aviation and Tourism Sectors players, experts, practitioners, government officials. The sessions attended by representatives of the Private Sector of South Asia held extensive discussions on important areas with the prime objective to encourage and promote tourism sector by engaging private companies and industrial players in the regional economic integration process. In addition to Inaugural Round, three business sessions were organized, which discussed scope of cooperation in Aviation Industry under the theme of Open sky policy, business prospects of Tourism and hospitality Industry and possible investment opportunities to forge new business alliances amongst.

Technical Session-I:
During the course of discussion in Technical session on “Open Sky Policy in South Asia: Challenges & Prospects, the experts and participants observed that within the broad objective of SAARC, which is to forge cooperation among its members, there was an urgent need to take immediate measures to unleash the potential of airline business in true perspective. Aviation traffic rights 1 to 5 need to be facilitated within the region and at least flight operations, connecting capital cities need to be initiated as priority concerns and can be extended to other commercial cities. To facilitate passengers, all airlines from South Asian countries should provide code sharing facility to make travel easy within SAARC.

Technical Session-II:
Technical session on “Business prospects of Tourism and hospitality Industry“ focused on areas of cooperation amongst  organization involved in promotion of tourism. The experts and stake holders were of the opinion, that Tourism and hospitality sector has enormous potential that could be harnessed in bringing South Asian countries closer together while terming it as a driving force for regional integration in South Asia. They also identified lack of information about Tourism Potential and inadequate traveling facilities as the basic hurdles, the experts recommended for putting in place an accessible information mechanism by creating dedicated websites, having inter-linkages and ensuring access to updated information about incentives for tourists. They also recommended setup SAARC Tourism Trade and Investment Board under the SAARC mechanism, composing of all Tourism Development Authorities and local brand hotels. Non-availability of Tourist Visa (particularly in three major economies India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was termed as first and foremost challenging factor, hampering tourism promotion in the region, on account of which the South Asian Tourists prefer travelling outside the region despite enormous attraction for tourism within the region.

Technical Session-III:
Technical session on “Investment Opportunities in Tourism Sector”, made an attempt to identify investment opportunities in the Tourism Sector to enhance regional tourism. The importance of private public partnership in development of tourism and usage of this cooperation was suggested as a model to attract investment within and outside the region was discussed. The experts were of the opinion that the businessmen from all South Asian member countries should be allowed investment through direct channels under the sovereign guarantee of the member states. They emphasized for streamlining the policies and relaxation of regulations in the country to attract potential investors and investments.

Valedictory session:
Hon’able Minister of Finance, Mr. Ravi Karunanayake and Hon’ble Minister of Petroleum Industries Mr. Chandima Weerakody, Govt of Sri Lanka graced the Valedictory session of the conference as Chief Guest and Guest of honor respectively.  In his speech Mr. Karunanayake said that “I think we have won the hearts and minds by ensuring that Sri Lanka is a nice destination for tourism. To ensure proper investments coming in, we will have the necessary requirements of getting you all into that investment-safe mode. That’s the way we intend developing our tourism industry. We can see a rapid movement and we will open the markets up. The declaration today is very timely and we intend opening many of them up in the next budget that is going to take place on November 20 but unfortunately the previous political activities did not put Sri Lanka in good state but those have been corrected.

Earlier to his speech the guest of honor, Hon’ble Minister Mr. Weerakody said that Sri Lanka has had a difficult past and in achieving our goals, Sri Lanka is committed to work as friends of the entire world but very especially as friends of our neighbours, the SAARC countries.

Mr. Suraj Vaidya, President SAARC CCI urged upon the Governments of SAARC member nation to consider very seriously the recommendation made by SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the conclusion of three days deliberations.  He was of the opinion that it’s time we should move forward as SAARC nation. We have to build confidence among our nations ensuring that our every step will benefit our nation. He added that SAARC seeks to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia, strengthen collective self-reliance and promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in various fields.

Mr. Iqbal Tabish Secretary General presented Colombo Deceleration. The conference concluded with vote of thanks offered by Mr. Ajith Wattuhewa, President FCCISL.

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