By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Sri Lanka may face the risk of losing its position as a leading tourism destination in the world if the country fails to identify its niche in the global tourism landscape and adopt a strategic long term marketing plan, a senior industry stakeholder said.
“Sri Lanka is still to identify its niche in the fast changing global tourist landscape. Sri Lanka needs to identify if she is a cultural/heritage-based destination, a city-based entertainment hub, a MICE destination or something entirely different,” Renuka Hotel PLC Chairman and veteran hotelier Ravi Thambiayah said in the company’s latest annual report.
Numerous international experts visiting Sri Lanka this year have called on the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau to let go of the outdated “8 experiences” strategy due to its lack of focus and ability to confuse tourists on what is best to experience in the country.
They have unanimously been recommending Sri Lanka to promote experiential culture, heritage, and diversity—asking tourists to visit Sri Lanka for its food, to witness how tea pluckers spend their day or how religious ceremonies take place.
Echoing these sentiments Thambiayah said, “Museums, zoological gardens, elephant orphanages and historical attractions are an amusement of the past.
The modern traveller looks for experiential tourism. This is the era of interaction. Our challenge is to adapt latest methodologies to be a competitive tourist destination.”
However, the new government’s 5-year economic manifesto has focused on two tourism zones of the Southern province beaches and the Cultural Triangle—both catering to the traditional western tourists instead of the modern travellers in a bid to attract high spending tourists.
The government appears to be identifying high spending tourists as those staying at luxury hotels. However, the modern backpackers are known to spend handsomely on experiential tourism activities.
Meanwhile, Thambiayah said that supply side issues such as a shortage of quality food resources and quality staff should be tackled, and recommended that the Sri Lanka work on regaining the migrated industry professionals who would inject the much needed experience and expertise.
Sri Lanka is estimated to face a shortage of around 120,000 industry professionals if it attracts 2.5 million tourists in 2016, which would mean tourists experiencing lacklustre hospitality.
Thambiayah added that accommodation too should be constructed in a geographically sensible manner.
“The increase in the number of rooms in the Island should be better planned and dispersed within the country based on location and demand so that unhealthy price wars do not materialize,” he said.
Price wars are already at its highest point in Colombo with price undercutting taking place to gain a greater market share despite a regulated minimum room rate.
Thambiayah said that planned tourism promotion activities around Colombo could alleviate the problem.
An increase in tourism numbers would allow hoteliers to return to ethical business practices.
“This (supply side issues) coupled with a lack of a strategic long term marketing plan will result in Sri Lanka missing its position as one of the leading tourism destinations in the world,” he said.
Tambiayah added that the real increase in tourists could be seen if the number of flights coming to the country increase.