Hiran Cooray is the chairman of
Jetwing Symphony PLC which comes under the Jetwing family of hotels. He has
been talking to the Daily Mirror in Sri Lanka about the devastating impact on
the country of both Covid-19 and the political turmoil that spilled onto the
streets of Colombo. Some extracts from that interview:
On why nobody spoke up about the political crisis
in Sri Lanka
through probably the worst ever time after Covid. Even after the Easter Sunday [bombing]
attacks, there was a lot of international support for us. Analysts said it would
take probably one to two years for us to recover, but because of international
support, within six months, we were back on track.
course, Covid came with all the international borders closed. That was the
worst-ever time that tourism, not only Sri Lanka but globally, faced. Our
income literally went to zero. We survived because the government gave us a
moratorium. We did not have to service the loans.
Then, when we were recovering
from COVID, comes this [political upheaval]. I’m very sad because none of us,
not only in tourism, in other sectors as well, never spoke of this crisis. Some
in the media alerted the public, but even that was not taken seriously. So, we,
like a little crab in a boiling pot, were swimming. Nobody spoke up.
Why the country can’t give upon tourism
Tourism is a low hanging fruit. It can take off very easily and it
can be wiped out very easily. Some governments take tourism very seriously.
This industry now has become a headache
because there’s so much investment, so many people dependent on it. Close to
two and one half million people [in Sri Lanka] depend on tourism.
has literally come to nothing. We are back trying to bring us out of the mess.
Once again, we always think this is the last time we are in a mess like we did
after the Easter Sunday bombings. We were getting out of Covid and now this
life. We can’t give up tourism. Tourism is an industry that will contribute a
lot to our country to get us out of the balance of payments issues that we are
facing. We need tourism and we must be committed to move this industry
On claims that the Sri Lanka Tourism Development
Authority favoured certain hotels, certain people, and that they were not
looking after the industry.
yes. That should not have happened. We had a time during Covid when the
industry should have been brought together. That’s how we got out of situations
in the past.
the airport bombings in 2001. We had the central bank bombing in 1996, And then
we had the tsunami in 2004. When that happened, the travel associations, the
hotels association, the inbound travel agents, the outbound travel agents,
everybody was sitting in the tourist board and discussing what to do?
is an industry that is bound to face difficulties. If somebody starts sneezing
in Europe, we get pneumonia.
work together with the public and the private sector. But there will be always
difficulties because the private sector will demand something. The government
will have a different objective. Be that as it may, people must come together
and sort out those differences and work.
On hopes for a light at the end of the tunnel?
I always see light at the end of the tunnel
because that’s my nature. I can’t see any darkness any time. That’s because of
my faith in God.
But be that as it may, there is now a necessity
for all Sri Lankans to get out of this balance of payments crisis we are in. We
must earn more foreign exchange. Tourism is one of those sectors that can bring
foreign currency into the country.
And I appeal, given this opportunity, that
everyone who is in tourism to bring their money into this country. Never keep five
cents outside because it’s our responsibility.
The other is we must learn to serve our
customers with Sri Lankan products, Sri Lankan food, not be hellbent on serving
anything that is foreign.
Believe me, no tourist comes for two weeks to
this country to eat a salmon from Norway or Scotland or Alaska. Right. They are
coming to eat tropical fruit, tropical seafood and all of that. Therefore, we
must have that confidence now to serve our foreign customers with Sri Lankan
“I can’t think of a better country than this to live,” says Hiran Cooray. Photo Credit: Hiran Cooray
On the heartbreak of the turmoil in a
I feel very sad and embarrassed that this has
happened to our country. I have no words to describe it. I can’t believe that
we are in this situation for such a beautiful country. I have travelled to maybe
100 countries in the world. I can’t think of a better country than this to
The outlook for Jetwing hotels
just barely surviving. Our priority is to look after the 3200 people who are
directly working with us and so many others who supply food and other items to
seriously dependent on us. Then we must service the banks. We cannot forget the
banks. They have helped us to expand. They have lent money to us, and we must
pay that back.
think of doing new hotels until we look after those who have looked after us.
After that, hopefully in three to five years’ time, if things settle down, we
will add new experiences, new things, all of that, for sure.