Says this is not a case of east versus west but simple economics
By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Sri Lanka should focus on Indian and Chinese markets for sustainable future tourism growth due to macroeconomic fundamentals, John Keells Group Deputy Chairman and Cinnamon Hotels President Ajit Gunewardene said.
“In terms of our location advantage, we’re closest to the two most populous countries in the world and possibly—even though China is going through a current economic slump—will be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. For us, it’s a golden opportunity,” Gunewardene said.
He said that Chinese tourism has grown from virtually nothing to over 100 million annual tourists in 15 years and the current Indian outbound levels of 15 million will become 100-200 million outbound tourists in the future.
Making the comments at the launch of the Future of Tourism Summit to be held later this month, he said that this is not a case of east versus west but simple economics.
While some Indians and Chinese who arrive as tourists and engage in unsavoury activities such as begging have been highlighted in the media in the recent past, western tourists engaging in immoral activities especially in the southern coastal belt are not reported due to becoming the norm and such activities bringing additional income to locals.
Those who champion the western market as the future of the industry have been saying that the Indian and Chinese tourists spend less during their trips and travel in groups which are given extremely low travel agency room rates.
Further, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that Sri Lanka requires high-spending tourists who are from the west and that Chinese and Indian arrivals would just be extra. This line of thinking is also rising due to a thought that eastern markets are attempting to emulate western lifestyles and therefore catering to the western market would automatically attract the former.
However, Gunewardene’s argument suggests that Indians and Chinese are and will be, the higher spenders.
Part of the problem could also be that Sri Lanka is not promoted widely as a premium destination, losing out to destinations such as the Maldives and Kerala which attract the high-spending Chinese.
Further, Sri Lanka is a price follower, bowing down to demand-side pressures instead of maintaining rates as a premium destination as suggested by international experts. Hotels too are undercutting each other in price wars instead of collectively marketing the country.
“Before we destroy what is great, we believe this is the time to create something unique and sustainable for the country and the industry in the long term. We (Cinnamon Hotels) learnt that our competitors are our partners. That’s what all stakeholders should do,” Gunewardene said.
He said that Indian and Chinese tourists are also aware and practice sustainability and eco-friendliness.
“Green tourism is not limited to the west. It’s global. It has already become the norm. In five to 10 years from now we won’t even be talking about green tourism because that is how we will all travel. It’s moving rapidly in that direction,” Gunewardene said.
He added that Sri Lanka should also become a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) tourism destination targeting India and China.
Their internal MICE industries are bursting at the seams, and destinations such as Singapore and Hong Kong are catering to them, accruing annual MICE revenues between US $ 4-6 billion.