“I know different people have different views, but my view is that casinos are needed,” he said.
He added that casinos are a major source of entertainment for the type of high-spending tourists Sri Lanka aims to attract.
“But we shouldn't let locals enter. We should have them in a separate place, like the US has in Las Vegas,” Fernando said.
Singapore has made a fortune in tourism through casinos but is discouraging locals by charging excessively for their entry.
Casinos were the centre of major controversy last year. Australian casino king James Packer was invited to open shop by the past regime, with locals such as John Keells Holdings also seeking to start operations and Dhammika Perera hoping to extend his current casino business as well.
The current regime, while in the opposition, had rallied religious leaders to their cause in blocking the casinos.
Jetwing Group Chairman Hiran Cooray had later gone on to suggest that an isolated destination such as the under developed Kalpitiya zone be developed into a casino strip.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake recently said that casinos will not be started by the new regime.
Govt. eyeing ‘Hawker Streets’
The government will be evaluating the possibility of facilitating Southeast Asian style ‘Hawker Streets’ and providing funding to existing vendors to increase tourism spending in Sri Lanka.
“In Malaysia and Thailand, there are food stalls on the street. Here, we should see if can get the help of the Colombo Municipal Council to set up temporary huts in a road like Marine Drive in the evening for food stalls,” Deputy Minister Arundika Fernando said.
Singapore is world famous for its hawker street food with stall owners providing both regional and international cuisine. They used to cater to the local lifestyle, but became a culinary tourism phenomenon following the turn of the century. Most have become permanent hawker centres.
Fernando said that the government will look at setting up a funding scheme for small scale vendors as well.
“We have seen that the pineapple and fruit vendors in Thailand cut their fruits in different designs and place them on ice as a presentation. In our country, our pineapple sellers are selling just like in the past. We want to help them,” he said.
He added that stall owners around cultural attractions such as Sigiriya will also be given such funding and assistance to upgrade their service quality and increase tourism spending.
“We have to do things like this from the grass root levels right up to the top levels. We have to help the industry,” he said.
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