“You can do it! Go for it!” – Shiromal Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing Hotels & Travels

The name ‘Shiromal Cooray’ is one that is well-known in the Hospitality industry of Sri Lanka. She is an Accountant by profession, and the Chairman of Jetwing Hotels Limited and Jetwing Travels Limited.

Moreover, she serves as an independent Non-executive Director on the Boards of Commercial Bank and Allianz Insurance Lanka Ltd, and as a Non-executive Director on the Boards of Capital Alliance and Ceylon Tea Brokers (Pvt) Ltd.

She began her professional life at E&Y as an Audit Trainee and then worked in the UK and Hong Kong as an Accountant) before she joined J. Waletr Thompson and carried on as a Finance Director until joining Jetwing Travels. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Colombo.

Shiromal is a truly inspiring woman, and her vision for corporate young females is to be confident, focused, educated and be willing to make hard decisions. “She will have to have a thick skin to shrug off any unnecessary comments which she knows are unfair and not get intimidated by them. She will not be afraid to speak her mind and stick to her point but also know when to compromise, and should treat both male and female colleagues equally but ensure women are not overlooked and help them along in her journey.

“She will be good at multitasking, so she should not neglect her personal life. If she wished, not simply because it’s expected of her, she should start her own family and enjoy both aspects, and she must understand she will not be able to have it all equally. At different times there will be different compromises to make, that’s ok, don’t stress yourself! Also make your own mark, your dress sense, communication style all should be yours.”

In 2019, the Easter Sunday attacks posed an unprecedented challenge to the Hospitality industry. And when the industry started recovering, the COVID-19 pandemic hit it again along with the rest of the world.

Speaking about the challenges faced by the Hospitality industry, Shiromal stated that whilst almost all other sectors of the economy has recovered, Tourism is still trying to crawl back up.

“The airport or the International borders opening a few weeks ago is a definite plus. But the rigorous health protocols to follow, absolutely in agreement that we cannot do without them, inconveniencing both the client and the service provider, the costs of the PCR testing, also for the clients and the service provider in terms of staff testing and also the staff quarantining, the general fear psychosis in the country and looking at foreigners as COVID-19 spreaders, we need to reassure the public that stringent measures have been taken to protect the communities, most other countries closing their borders and preventing their citizens from travelling abroad (Eg: Australia), most countries requiring their citizens to do mandatory quarantining on return to their countries are all posing severe challenges to get the tourists to take a holiday in Sri Lanka.”

In addition, she said that the limitations of the island’s air capacity and the financial constraints caused by the pandemic are major concerns.

“Adopting the various health guidelines adds more cost constraints but are necessary for the safety of everyone. And, With zero income for both the Inbound and Outbound industries, retaining staff and paying vehicle leases have been a major challenge. Likewise, Hoteliers have also taken loans, and although the government has granted a moratorium, interest continues to accumulate and hotels must be maintained even with a minimum of staff.”

Furthermore, Shiromal affirmed that in order to attract more tourists to the country, especially during these difficult times, Sri Lanka must implement a marketing strategy without simply decimating information by sending regular updates and videos.

The industry veteran explained that the local market is more active at present as the tourist market is non-existent. However, she said that even the local market was limited due to the threat of random antigen testing and ad hoc travel restrictions.

“The local market becomes active when the internal travel restrictions are relaxed. However, whenever the threat of random antigen testing is announced, the domestic market also shies away from travelling.

“Unfortunately, almost everyone has resorted to price reductions, giving great discounts. In fact, this is a great time for the local traveller, as the value for money offered by most accommodation providers is unbeatable.”

On the topic of latest trends and innovations in the Hospitality industry, Shiromal stated, “Technology was making huge strides in the Hospitality industry even before the pandemic. It was made faster and at times almost essential by the pandemic. As a result, many online and contactless touch points are becoming popular, wearing protective gear and explaining the sanitisation procedures used are becoming important. Online meetings, virtual tours are some of the trends that I’ve seen emerge.”

When questioned whether the entry of international hotel brands has had an impact on the performance and outlook of local hotels, Shiromal noted that it has had a positive impact on the country as it provides international visibility and encourages local hotels to improve their standards.

“International brands bring visibility, and because they have fairly developed, and extensive marketing networks and well-structured sales teams, the country will receive the attention that they would not otherwise have received. Local hotels are also encouraged to meet their standards and compete in space with international brands.

“There are, of course, many local hotels offering authentic Sri Lankan hospitality, including the adoption of all international best practices. Overall, therefore, it can only benefit the Tourism industry in Sri Lanka.

“However, there is a negative impact in that, very often, these brands recruit trained staff from local hotels with higher pay and disruption. Ideally, more people should be recruited, trained and brought into the industry.”

In conclusion, the Chairman stated that Jetwing Hotels is ready to take on the challenges posed by the pandemic. She said it will meet the needs of the moment and the different segments.

“We’ve always taken care of our local clients and expats living in Sri Lanka, therefore, they’ve been extremely loyal to us in good times and bad, so we’re very grateful to them.

“We are able to cater to different segments, such as quarantine, intermediate care, level one hotel for tourists and level two for locals, and providing operational cash flow. We are hoping that, this year after vaccination, foreign travel will resume and we will be able to resume our business under different conditions.”

“She should be confident, focused, educated and be willing to make hard decisions.”

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