O’ Sri Lanka … the long and short of it

1 January 2020 08:14 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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For long, our nation’s tourism authorities have considered figuring out a way to justify the return on investment to politicians and policymakers as key to serving the 
interests of the industry.


The equation used to be relatively simple: x media spend = y visitors. Again, for long, our nation’s tourism authorities have failed to understand that it is no longer that simple. For long, the global marketing campaign, mooted way back in 2009, has been on the ‘back burner’.


In the short period of five years, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau had six chairmen, with a seventh chairperson appointed in December 2019. Despite finding the ‘right’ people, one finds those ‘right’ people moving out within a short time frame.


Within a short period after being appointed, the tourism state minister, as reported in an English daily, has opined that the extended TV campaign on CNN was questionable, falling short of explaining how he arrived at this conclusion – except to say that it was not widely watched in our key source markets. Shortly after that, the newly-appointed Tourism Ministry secretary requests the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau to prepare a ‘short-term’ marketing plan.


The data released by Sri Lanka Tourism on tourist arrivals in November 2019 was short of the usual monthly information. It merely announced that the country welcomed 176,984 visitors during that month. The non-availability of other relevant information is reportedly because the board’s research and data gathering team was away in Australia on a study tour, giving no indication as to how short/long they would be away.


The country’s current marketing activities are limited to participating in trade shows, trade fairs and workshops revolving around certain countries, which are selected on the basis of past experience and convenience instead of following the latest marketing trends in the world.


Their promotion remains focused on what ‘the destination has to offer’ and continue to use mass marketing techniques more suited to the passive customer, forgetting that the modern customers are now highly active partners in the marketing process.


Customers can now decide how and by what means they access their travel and tourism information and how and what processes they can adapt to access and purchase their travel and tourism arrangements.


The time has arrived for the ‘next surge’ in destination marketing – for the government to not only pay lip service to tourism as an economic force but to practically place it high on the agenda through resource allocation, political power, public-private partnerships, etc. This means shifting from planning and procrastinating to implementation and execution of the several plans that have been drafted and shelved.


Strong partnerships between different stakeholders, especially between the private and public sectors, are necessary in order to be successful, competitive and to achieve our desired market share in a global platform, where new destinations emerge every day.


Looking inward, the eyes, they say is a ‘mirror of one’s soul’. So, is an airport the mirror of the country’s soul? One can certainly tell a lot about a country or a city from what you see and encounter upon your arrival at one or other airports. It’s a long way from the early days of aviation, when a runway, a shed and a windsock (conical-shaped wind indicator), were enough to qualify as an ‘airport’. As way back in the 1950s, cities were beginning to realise that their functional airfields had powerful symbolic potential.


Anyone who disembarks at the Changi airport will immediately sense that Singapore is going to be clean. When your luggage is already on the carousal even before you get there, you instinctively feel that the country thrives on efficiency. Singapore not only expressed its competence but also showcased its inventiveness.  Early 2019, it opened Jewel Changi Airport, a nature-themed mall and entertainment complex with the world’s largest indoor waterfall surrounded by a high-altitude tropical forest, thus conveying the country’s commitment to improving economic growth with breathtaking environmental care.


Bandaranaike International Airport tells its own story. First off, the terminal building is a very old and boringly utilitarian. It just feels like a very middle-of-the-road type of airport with no sense of local culture or creativity. Things don’t get any easier in the insanely cramped baggage claim areas. 


Unfortunately, our little airport just hasn’t kept up with growing air traffic and travellers’ needs, though it may be the best airport ever, if you want to buy a washing machine. The car traffic is a nightmare and dragging your luggage through the terminals can be challenging.


Once you hit the road, you realise that this is a nation in a hurry, where police do not target the fiendishly speeding buses or the motorists on their mobile phones whilst driving or the tuk-tuks that impatiently dart across lane traffic.


O’ Sri Lanka where art thou heading?
(Shafeek Wahab, Editor of 
Hospitality Sri Lanka, is a consultant, 
trainer and an ex-hotelier)

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