By C. Samaranayake
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka have shown a fourfold increase in comparison to the tourist arrival figure of 438,475 for the calendar year 2008. With the ending of hostilities in mid-2009, the country has shown a sharp increase in the number of arrivals on a year-to-year basis.
The industry is well poised to achieve immense growth in the future with the opening of new hotels, refurbishment of existing hotels, valueaddition, hiring of expatriate staff for top positions, meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism promotions, etc. The arrivals for 2015 were 1,798,380 according to data.
More foreign hotel chains have expressed desire to set up business in Sri Lanka while the hotels already being constructed will commence commercial operations for the next tourist season. The publicity given by the foreign media and the efforts of Sri Lanka Tourism have immensely contributed to the positive development of the industry. The tourists visiting the country in the current season have expressed great satisfaction and value for money spent on their holiday to Sri Lanka. The visitors will always spend money on good tourist vacations with many value-added features, which they do not find in other countries.
Some of the main points they look for are safety, hotel services, courtesy of staff, above par transport facilities, ease of passage at airport, health standards of the country, green environments, food and beverages, feeling of care and ready assistance, well-fortified information desks, ease of shopping, quality of inland travel packages,etc.
Many speakers who made presentations at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit held in January in Colombo were of the view that higher influx of tourists will precede the smooth and continuous foreign direct investment flow to Sri Lanka. It is the repeat guests who will think of setting up business ventures here.
Similarities and familiar environments would also add to the tendency of visiting the country a number of times in one calendar year. Some visitors are faced with a choice of selecting holiday destinations for winter vacations. In such a scenario, Sri Lanka needs to come out on top in comparison to other Asian destinations. Visitors would not mind paying little extra or premium prices if they could find their familiar and safe holiday in Sri Lanka. The friends, business associates and hotel staff and management would augur well in their choice.
Time for high-net-worth tourism
Time has now come for Sri Lanka to embark on high-net-worth and legendary tourism to augment and sustain the tariffs charged. This would add to the image of the country surpassing the other competitive countries. Holding of at least 20 international events for a calendar year in Sri Lanka would attract many first-time visitors to Sri Lanka. This would lead to family and group visits later after experiencing the diverse variety of attractions Sri Lanka offers.
Regional or continental tourist studies would go a long way to structure ideal itineraries for different sectors, regions and continents. The visitors would prefer itineraries to suit their expectations. In this respect, surveys need be conducted by the travel agents to innovate their itineraries to ensure tailor-made ones to perfection.
Some restaurants select food/beverage requested by the visitors and prepare same in the manner preferred for their customers. This way, the restaurant would receive a direct promotion at no extra costs. This may be a workable option for dinner where the customers would prefer a choice of their own rather than the items in menus. Premium prices also will be in store from the guests. The methodology of promotion of this type would be suitable mainly for small groups of 10 to 15.
Talking about the revenue earned from tourism, the earnings have exceeded the turnover of 2008 by over eight times in 2015 earning valuable foreign exchange earnings for the country. The tourism corporate structure should plan for sectorial tourism with varied tourism products and packages. This way, the promotion of high-net-worth/high-spending categories of visitors would become an easy task. Safe airline access and travel would be the other priority the visitors would look for. Alliances with major airlines, open sky policies for selected continents (to avoid refugee inflows) and attractive promotions would ensure the long-term success of the schemes.
Bouquets should be presented to Sri Lanka tourism authorities, all travel agents, hoteliers, MICE promoters, hotel staff in all categories, airport staff, shops, restaurants and malls catering to tourists exclusively, tourist traffic transporters, guides and others connected to the industry in many ways. Sri Lanka has so far achieved substantial growth in the industry over the last few years and is on course for further success in the future.
Incentives should be offered by responsible authorities to all parties connected to the industry from the airport itself, to ensure a smooth flow of visitors to the country throughout a calendar year and also to ensure quality, punctuality and motivation.
(C. Samaranayake is a professional in the sector for the last 35 years and could be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)