The Island - interview with Dr. Parakrama Dissanayake, Deputy Chairman and Managing Director Aitken Spence PLC
Source: The Island
- The Aitken Spence Group has performed remarkably well in the 1st Quarter of this year. What are the main keys to your success?
Aitken Spence PLC made an impressive comeback in the first quarter by recording a 145% increase in Profit Before Tax (PBT) and it was driven by the non-tourism companies of the Group that includes maritime and freight logistics, renewable energy, elevator agency, money transfer services, printing and packaging, plantations, apparel, insurance and maritime education and management. The diversification of business and our international presence in eight countries, has been a main contributing factor to achieve a compelling performance amidst many setbacks particularly impacting the tourism sector.
From the onset, we have demonstrated purposeful leadership through team effort, we have relied on our collective knowledge, innovation and insight which has helped us to navigate and will continue to rise above this tumultuous environment.
- Going forward, what would you recommend as the main ways in which the Sri Lankan economy could be revived?
A priority for the Sri Lankan economy is to regain the monetary, financial, fiscal stability and gradually implementing policy changes than expecting swift changes overnight especially for key export industries that bring forex earnings into the country.
In addition, to expand our export products and services. When we look at the past two decades, we notice that Sri Lanka has a low growth of exports and lack of export-oriented investment, particularly FDI when compared to other countries in the region. We must reduce red-tape, build our infrastructure, innovativeness and make crucial technology transitions as these will determine our ability to compete with other countries in the region. The success of this will also depend on proper educational and training efforts.
A concerted effort should be made to improve our ranking on Ease of Doing Business and the Logistics Performance Index (LPI). What matters in the short term is to manage investor perception on business confidence.
From a private sectors perspective, Aitken Spence is embracing business transformation and upgrading skills of our employees to better equip them for the future.
- What is the current status of your palm oil sector? Have the issues surrounding this sector been cleared up?
The issues remain unresolved. We are confident that the Government will find a pragmatic solution.
- What are the keys to the success of your Strategic Investments sector?
The key success has been our strategy to cautiously diversify and balance investments to be less dependent on one or few businesses which has proven to be successful especially when facing the ongoing pandemic.
Our significant investments in renewable energy which were recent additions to the portfolio has been a key success to the Group’s strategic investments sector. We introduced Sri Lanka’s first waste to energy plant that was launched this year. This project came about with a sustainable solution to the waste management problem which is a complex and long-running issue in the Colombo city. Further investments were made this year to expand our portfolio in hydropower and in line with the collective efforts of the Government and the private sector to produce clean energy sustainably.
The printing arm of Aitken Spence was the first green printing facility in South Asia and continues to raise the benchmark in the industry.
Moreover, the plantations segment provided a substantial boost to the Group’s strategic investments sector by recording its highest ever profit from inception due to its balanced portfolio of diversification. The segment commenced commercial production of four varieties of berries under the brand “Berry Much”. Another first in Sri Lanka to cultivate and market the full range of berries. The plantations segment also entered into a shareholder agreement with SIM Leisure Group to develop and operate a world-class ESCAPE adventure theme park.
- What would be your main priorities in your Tourism Sector once a degree of normality has been established in the country?
To improve resilience in Sri Lanka Tourism, priority should be given to urgent matters such as working towards a recovery plan and better coordinated efforts between all stakeholders to achieve this common goal. With this in mind, a main priority for us is to ensure that our employees across four countries in the Group’s tourism sector have completed the inoculation (both doses) and even those indirectly linked to the industry. This is critical and one of the ways to restore traveller confidence.
We are also revisiting our product offerings in line with the changing thinking pattern of international tourists centred on their safety and well-being. We will focus on a more differentiated, experiential product offering and direct engagement for customers as compared to the traditional accommodation offering. In this business transformation process, we are embracing technology that captures customer needs that would further elevate customer experience and support destination Sri Lanka.
With our hotels presence not just in Sri Lanka but in the Maldives, Oman and India; we will continue to strengthen our operations in those countries and look for greater opportunities. Our hotels in the Maldives did relatively well and has certainly cushioned the blow on the Group’s tourism sector.
We are also concerned with sustaining the trained human resources within the tourism industry as with the current situation many are moving out of the industry and new entrants to the industry have substantially dropped. When the situation has improved, our concerted efforts would be to attract people into the tourism industry.