Packer says Sri Lanka could be tourist Mecca as casino license debate heats up

Addressing the Commonwealth Business Forum James Packer head of Crown Australia said, “Changing demographics in India and China could make Sri Lanka ‘a leading tourist mecca‘ for the rising middle class in Asia”.  He added that rising income in Asia was creating a greater demand for leisure and luxury goods.

The UN World Tourism Organization has estimated that the Indian outbound market will reach 50 million by 2020, compared to 4 million Indians who had traveled abroad in the year 2000, giving opportunities for her neighbors to grow in the industry .

Packer said a rising Chinese middle class was also increasingly travelling abroad. In 2000, 10 million Chinese travelled abroad, but in 2011 it had risen to 70 million. By 2015 the figures are expected to reach 100 million. ”Unless tourism operators and authorities appreciate exactly what the rising Chinese middle class wants, and unless we can cater for their desires, then we have little hope of taking advantage of this opportunity,” Packer said.

He says his planned integrated resort was positioned to help Sri Lanka reach its goal of 2.5 million tourists by 2016. ”To put this in perspective, it is forecast that the combined US and European middle class population will only be about 780 million at the same point in time,” “Through their spending power and tastes, this Chinese middle class will profoundly alter every aspect of the world economy. Those businesses and countries that move now will have a significant advantage in the future, Packer said.

Wealthy Chinese wanted luxury travel, luxury hotels, signature restaurants, quality entertainment, gaming, casinos and high-end retail, he said. ”It also explains why they are attracted to luxury integrated resorts, which meet all of their travel needs under one roof.” He also added that Singapore too had moved into integrated resorts because tourism arrivals were stagnating and tourists were staying for shorter time periods.

Meanwhile the ongoing debate over the legality of casinos in Sri Lanka is heating up with ministers of the administration and opposition legislators trading charges and counter charges. Opposition parliamentarian Harsha De Silva previously campaigned against the 5% tax on gaming revenue, which is perhaps the lowest in the world, now claims that casinos are against the current law in Sri Lanka.

Harsha lodged a complaint with the police recently claiming that James Packer is currently attempting to build a casino illegally without a license. He also stated that all functioning casino’s are operating against existing laws. De Silva had said in a statement that under Sri Lanka’s Casino Business (Regulation) Act, No. 17 of 2010 certified on 7 December 2010, no casino can be operated without a license and except in an area designated by a gazette notice. ”The Act further states that any person who carries on the business of a casino in contravention of the said provisions shall be guilty of an offence that carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to five years upon conviction after a summary trial,” de Silva said.

Countering De Silva’s claims, Investment Promotions Minister Lakshman Abeywardene stated that Harsha was trying to discredit Packer who is attending a Commonwealth Business Forum and is one of the panellists at the event. He added that “parties who had conformed to the Betting and Gaming Levy Act” would be brought into the Casino Business (Regulation) Act after regulations are gazetted.

[Via The Republic Square]

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