By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Sri Lanka’s tourism authorities are hoping to attract 2.5 million tourists and generate US$ 4 billion in foreign exchange for the country this year, backed by a short-term Rs.500 million digital media campaign, which is currently being planned.
“Last year, we ended up close to US$ 3.5 billion and this year we should reach about US$ 4 billion if all goes well and there’s no world war and disruption. And that is an estimated figure. There may be more,” Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said. He added that the government is aiming to attract 2.5 million tourists, compared to the 2.05 million tourists that visited the country last year. This is an expected annual growth of 22 percent, compared to the 14 percent growth in 2016.
So far in 2017, tourist arrivals have grown by just 3.4 percent compared to the same period last year, due to the partial airport closure resulted by the revamping of the runway of the country’s main international airport in Katunayake.
“Of course in the first two months we had the issue of airport disruptions, and pulling out SriLankan (Airlines) from popular destinations, but nevertheless we see the trend is now increasing again,” Amaratunga said.
The airport in Katunayake became fully operational after the runway refurbishment in the first week of this month.
Amaratunga had initially set a goal of 2.5 million tourists for 2016, although the target was revised down to 2.2 million later. Arrival targets for both 2015 and 2016 were not achieved.
The absence of a coordinated destination promotional campaign, coupled with global terror attacks may have contributed to Sri Lanka failing to meet its targets in the past 2 years. However, word of mouth and the usual efforts of the government and the private sector contributed towards the growth of tourist arrivals at a diminishing rate, a trend which has persisted since 2010.
Leading private sector hospitality industry figures have also been observed to endorse the overly ambitious targets of the government instead of advising for more realistic goals.
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau Managing Director Sutheash Balasubramanium explained that Sri Lanka must utilize social media tools such as Instagram and Facebook, as well as leading bloggers in the social media sphere to promote the island as an attractive destination in order to boost arrivals. He said the proposed social media campaign will focus on Europe, China, India and the Middle East and they will be targeted in different phases.
Balasubramanium went on to say that the campaign will cost between Rs. 300-500 million, and a capable media agency will soon be selected through calling expressions of interest. “This will be in the short-term. What we have after this is the global campaign (which) will be running for 3 years up to 2020, and that I think amounts to a Rs.3 billion campaign.” Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa chipped in, saying that a Rs. 800 million media plan is also being formulated.
The Sri Lankan government is preparing to pay US$ 500,000 in arrears to three global television channels for past tourism promotional campaigns, before embarking yet again on similar publicity endeavours.
“The problem that we faced is the previous regime embarked on this type of publicity and not settled the bills, and as a result, we are now not able to get any publicity through these agencies,” Minister John Amaratunga said.
He said that the arrears run into ‘billions’, before Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa said that Sri Lanka has to pay US$ 500,000.
“We have to settle a little over US$ 500,000 to 3 media channels— Al Jazeera, Sky News and Bloomberg. Right now we have finalized the details and the details are being presented to the Cabinet of ministers seeking approval to go ahead. We have the funds to settle it,” Sugathadasa said.
He noted that the campaign was conducted from September 2014 to March 2015, and could be considered a success, given the increase in tourist arrivals seen since then.
Sugathadasa said that the entire campaign was worth US$ 700,000, and that the previous government had paid US$ 200,000.
“They have claimed a little over that, but we have processed the claim and we have decided that we will be paying up to US$ 500, 000,” he added.
Amaratunga said that the Cabinet may pass the proposal within a month, which would allow Sri Lanka to start similar television publicity in the future.
“They are prepared to come back and do publicity for us,” he said.
The current government had made plans to start a US$ 2 million publicity campaign through Bloomberg in February 2015. (CW)
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