The island’s tourism industry seeing a major upturn after the end of war in 2009 is expected to create nearly 350,000 new job opportunities by 2016 of which one fifth or 20 percent will be of management capacity.
“The capacity of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management (SLITHM) to supply the required number to the industry is insufficient at the moment,” said Anura Lokuhetti, president of the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka.
“I think we definitely have a gap to fill in the industry currently.”
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka have seen a significant improvement from traditional western markets as well as regional markets like India, China and East Asia, over the last two years.
The islands tourism authority wants to attract 2.5 million visitors by 2016 and four million by 2020 with annual income targeted to hit USD 8 bn by 2020.
“In the past, we used to train people in hotels and then subsequently they will go to the hotel school and get the qualification,” said Lokuhettige, a hotelier for 33 years.
“But there is no proper institute to train the management aspects of tourism to the youngsters."
He said due to the lack of education opportunities a large number of Sri Lankan candidates are now seeking opportunities in foreign universities.
Most who leave Sri Lankan shores for education find employment in western economies or the Middle East.
“Opening up professional institutes where you can get foreign degree is a necessity and it will prevent people’s money going out of the country,” said Lokuhetti, adding that the industry has already started inviting Sri Lankan management professionals and experts employed in overseas.
However Lokihetti says the leisure sector in large is looked upon by society as a taboo, making it harder to attract talents to sign up.
“A person joins the hotel industry, when he or she can’t find any other jobs and when the parents do not want their child to be at home,” said Lokihetti.
“We need to change perception and thinking of it. Every parent wants their child to become doctor, engineer or an accountant. We tourism industry are mainly due to ignorance,”
The industry is now on a drive to create awareness among the public about the opportunities it offers.
“This is the industry which has the potential to become number one foreign exchange earner for the country,” said Nalaka Godahewa, chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism, the promotion agency.
“We want to encourage schools children to join the tourism industry to fill an anticipated skills gap given the rapid growth we are experiencing."