Sri Lanka mulls tax waivers to support tourism after blasts

Tourists bathe in the sea at Unawatuna Beach in Galle, Sri Lanka. (Bloomberg pic) 

NEW DELHI: Sri Lanka will consider giving some tax amnesty to the tourism industry, in a bid to help companies recover from the Easter Sunday terrorist attack that killed more than 250 people, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.

The industry has requested for some tax waivers, including on import of security gear in the aftermath of the blasts that targeted foreigners and churchgoers, Samaraweera told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin on the sidelines of Asian Development Bank meetings in Fiji.

“With the right kind of action, I would say tourism could bounce back to normalcy within a short period of one to one and a half years,” he said. That’s been the experience in destinations such as Tunisia and Bali, which faced similar attacks in the past, he added.

The terror attacks are poised to hit tourism, which accounts for 5% of the US$87 billion economy, as visitors flee from the nation famous for the Temple of Tooth, Dambulla Caves and coconut tree-fringed beaches.

Sri Lanka has been struggling to revive growth following a three-decade-long civil conflict that ended in 2009 and political turmoil last year. Arrivals have increased more than five times since the war ended and revenue from the industry is near a record.

Central bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy earlier said it was still too early to quantify the effect the decline in tourism will have on economic growth, which slowed to 1.8% in the fourth quarter, the weakest pace since the start of 2014.

“The biggest risk would be continuation of such attacks,” Samaraweera said. “We think we can manage it, hoping it would not recur again. Sri Lanka’s economy is moving slowly, but soundly.”