PM Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at the Sri Lanka Tourism50th anniversary celebrations
Targeting to achieve both high-end tourists and 4.5 million tourists by 2020, the Sri Lankan government will be giving greater support for b o u t i q u e hote l s , Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed. “The pride of place will be given to boutique hotels,” Wickremesinghe s a i d a t t h e 5 0 t h A n n i v e r s a r y Celebrations of Sri Lanka Tourism last week; an occasion which conveyed some mixed policy decisions as well. Wickremesinghe noted that the boutique hotel hotspot of Uva Wellassa will continue to play a major role in this aspect, while such developments in areas such as Kandy,
Hambantota, and the East Coast will also be encouraged. “We have identified 40 buildings in the Colonial Fort area for hotels,” Wickremesinghe added, possibly contributing to the plan to create a tourism passageway between the Colombo Port and the Dutch Hospital Complex as a hub to promote Colombo as a turnaround port for cruise tourism.
He said that each region within Sri Lanka should be promoted as a different destination, with 4-5 day tour packages for each area. “Cruises on the Nile take a week. We have the same number of sites in the cultural triangle, but it’s covered in a day and a half,” he said. Tourism, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga stated that one of the main goals is to increase tourist spending per night from the current US$165 to US$250 by attracting high spenders. However, he noted the changing profiles and behaviour of tourists, have given rise to homestays in Sri Lanka.One of the main weaknesses hindering Sri Lanka Tourism has been its lack of market research and effective targeting of promotions to attract the kind of tourists it wants.
Experts note that with mixed signals of attracting 4.5 million tourists—which translates to mass tourism—and the high-end tourist strategy similar to that of Bhutan, well-educated high-end tourists may sense some confusion in the country’s policies. Confusion may also heighten, as the government is now involved in a ‘50 experiences campaign’ to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka Tourism. Both local and international experts have continuously said that even the previously adopted 8 experiences strategy was too confusing, and called for Sri Lanka to be branded with 3 words as ‘authentic, compact and diverse’. Further, while the government continuously said that it will protect the local culture, it did not convey a great commitment to protect the environment. United Nations World Tourism Organization Executive Director who was in Sri Lanka to join in the festivities, praised the government’s ambition in tourism, but offered a friendly caution as well.
“ Wi t h g r o w t h c o m e s responsibility. We invite you to celebrate next year in 2017 the International Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development as approved by the General Assembly last December,” he said. Several mature locations, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Bali, the Himalayas and Machu Pichu have experienced ruin due to inadequate environmental safeguards and policies limiting tourists coming into the destinations. Experts have warned that Sigiriya and Yala, as well as the other parts in Sri Lanka are most likely to face such a situation if the government insists on attracting 4.5 million tourists by 2020.
However, hotel development has slowed down significantly, as corroborated by both Central Bank data and John Keells Holdings PLC Chairman Susantha Ratnayake recently, which may indicate that supply is drying up due to an expected slowdown in demand, undermining the 2020 goals. Wickreme s inghe reassured that the government will bring in policies that will promote tourism in the best possible way in Sri Lanka.
Domestic tourists stillimportant: Minister
The government will not forget the domestic tourists, who should also be able to enjoy the country’s beauties leisurely, Tourism, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said. “We have not forgotten domestic tourists, who kept the industry going for over 2 decades,” he said. Most of the 5-star rooms in the country were filled with domestic tourists who were offered attractive promotions during the civil war. Amaratunga said that domestic tourists can look forward to staying at government-owned accommodation, all of which will finish being upgraded and refurbished in the near future.
While the Chinese and Indian traffic has significantly reduced the seasonality in the country’s tourism industry, promotions for domestic consumers are extremely common in the quieter months starting from April.