- SLTDA chief says focus needs to be on connectivity before promotion
- Plans to position Sri Lanka as high quality, safe destination
- Explores possibility of tapping wealthy elderly population as new target market
- Says framework being developed to capture health details of tourists before arrival
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
As tourism sector stakeholders are adopting measures to stay afloat, authorities have been capitalising on the time available to chart out comprehensive plans that aim at redefining the industry in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak that has dealt a crippling blow to the travel and tourism sector globally.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) shared that the agency together with key stakeholders are exploring strategies that would bring a renewed focus on Sri Lanka tourism, to position the country as a high-quality and safe destination.
Giving details on the recent developments regarding the industry during a panel discussion facilitated by Colombo-based think tank Advocata yesterday, SLTDA Chairperson Kimarli Fernando said Sri Lanka would need to start from the very beginning where the initial emphasis must be on connectivity.
“Before looking at promotions, we need to look at increasing connectivity. Though we are located in a super location, I am not so sure if we are optimising our capability with regard to connectivity. We need to start there,” said Fernando.
The Sri Lanka Tourism chief spelt out a list of areas the authorities are currently working on such as certifying hotel properties that follow recommended health guidelines on COVID-19 and having detailed information about the health status of tourists before their arrival to the island.
Fernando also pointed out that the need of the moment is to look at promoting Sri Lanka as a transit hub for the region, and to facilitate the same. Discussions have been held to explore the possibility of increasing the current 6-hour transit to 10 -12 hours by providing necessary facilities at the airport.
Acknowledging that Sri Lanka cannot rely on its key traditional markets for tourism anymore, Fernando said the Authority is reviewing countries to promote Sri Lanka to and those that are likely to come out of the crisis situation faster will be ones considered. She assured the selection would be evidence-based.
Further, Fernando stressed that Sri Lanka cannot look at mass-scale tourism as it has been doing thus far; instead it must look at bringing in high spenders who are able to stay longer in the island nation.
According to the tourism head, a feasible segment is the elderly population from the West.
“Look at the elderly population in the Europe, they spend longer stays in countries. We need to look at older population, who have more time to spend,” she said.
Reflecting similar sentiments was The Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte who said tapping into the elderly population is a viable option since they have substantial savings.
“Sri Lanka’s traditional markets after India is the UK and in that country the government pays 80 percent of their salaries, which is largely saved by this segment.
“There is a great desire for people to get out. But we need the clearance to go on with this,” he said.
Ukwatte also stressed the hotels should not look at slashing room rates to attract tourists.
“Hotels can’t survive on low deals and cheap tourists. Our operation costs are high than other countries, we cannot follow the Thailand model, we need to go for quality,” he added.