By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Sri Lanka must convert its plans into action by conducting market research to fuel its tourism policies in the future, an Australian tourism expert urged recently after evaluating the country’s 2020 Tourism Vision policy document.
“The Sri Lanka 2020 Plan is an all encompassing manifesto. There is recognition in it for research, but Sri Lanka needs to do research on leading markets. The only way to guarantee success is to undertake research like we do in Australia,” Tourism Australia Deputy Chairman Andrew Fairley said. Speaking at a seminar held at Australia House in Colombo, he said that Sri Lanka has not had a particularly high commitment towards research in the past.
Veteran hotelier Srilal Miththapala, who moderated the event, added that Sri Lanka’s past policies had adopted a ‘shotgun approach’ hitting some objectives while missing others.
According to Fairley, understanding the requirement of each key market has allowed Australia to market different products in different tourism generating countries.
“The number one requirement across all 13 of our key markets is safety and security. The number two, for the main Chinese and Indian markets, is nature, but number three for China is food and wine, but number three for India is value for money. So we started marketing ‘Australia is a Restaurant’ in China, and we organized many food festivals,” he said.
Fairley said that Tourism Australia, together with other central and regional government agencies and overseas offices conduct research into every facet of tourism under a national tourism agenda, creating a reciprocal relationship, where policy drives research, which in turn drives policy.
The Sri Lankan authorities are aware of the shortcomings present in the lack of critical information, since Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Paddy Withana recently admitted the lack of market research conducted on Sri Lanka’s core tourism markets.
However, massive short and long-term tourism promotion campaigns running into billions of rupees are currently being planned without first conducting such research, pushing attractions identified by the government into the minds of potential visitors. Fairley said that the attractions the country markets shouldn’t be determined by the tourism authorities, but by the consumers, based on research.
“The markets will tell you what they want, and going forward, you can collaborate with banks and credit card companies to gain access to spending patterns. Getting these data will help develop shopping precincts and events,” he said.
During the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2016, Fairley had pointed out to policymakers the risks in promoting what they think of as attractions to markets, since Australians would not come to Sri Lanka if the latter kept promoting beaches in the former market. While Sri Lankan authorities are pursuing numbers of tourist arrivals, with an aim of attracting over 4.2 million tourists by 2020, Fairley said that Australia Tourism has instead turned towards attracting higher revenue. Australia Tourism is given an annual promotional budget of AUS $ 150 million, to reach its 2020 goal of achieving between AUS $ 115-140 billion in annual revenue from AUS $ 65 billion in 2010.
In 2015, Australia generated AUS $ 97.1 billion in revenue, on target to reach around AUS $ 127 billion in revenue by 2020.
Sri Lanka in 2016 attracted around US$ 3.5 billion in revenue from 2.05 million tourists, and is targeting US$ 4 billion in revenue from 2.5 million tourists this year.
Opposing the numbers driven policy is the sustainability and carrying capacity of tourism in Sri Lanka, which government officials recently said has to be researched and taken into consideration when creating policies in the future.
March tourism earnings decline but first quarter earnings up to US$ 1bn
Earnings from tourism, the third largest foreign exchange earner of the dollar-hungry island nation, after workers’ remittances and apparel dipped in March by 2.5 percent to US $ 322. 7 million from a year ago.
But the earnings for the first 3- months rose by 3.4 percent to little over a billion dollars, according to the provisional figures seen by Mirror Business.
March earnings from tourism dipped as the arrivals fell in response to the daytime closure of the country’s main airport in Katunayake due to the re-laying of the runway.
March tourist arrivals fell by 2.5 percent to 188, 076 before rebounding in April as the work on the runway was completed during the first week of April.
During the first quarter, arrivals grew by 3.4 percent to 604, 953.
In 2016, Sri Lankan attracted a little over 2 million visitors and in 2017 the country targets 2.4 million tourists.
In 2016, Sri Lanka earned US $ 3.5 billion from tourism, an 18 percent increase. Meanwhile, the workers’ remittances for February grew by 2.6 percent to US $ 568.7 million from a year ago, the latest data available showed.
For the first two months, the remittance income rose by 2.0 percent to US $ 1.14 billion from the same period last year.
In 2016, the remittance income increased by 3.7 percent to US $ 7.2 billion. The incomes to the current account in the balance of payment such as earnings from tourism, remittances and other services income is completely absorbed by the expanding trade deficit in the country.
According to latest data, during the first two months, the trade deficit substantially expanded to US $ 1.68 billion from US $ 1.24 billion in last year due to rising imports and falling exports.