Some core challenges continue to pose threats to the future viability of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry despite positive changes which have brought new opportunities, head of a leading leisure group said.
Aitken Spence Hotel Holdings PLC Chairman, Harry Jayawardena, while making certain suggestions, told shareholders that marketing Sri Lanka as a destination, construction costs, lack of skilled HR, endangered natural resources etc, pose a challenge to the country’s tourism industry.
Although the destination has seen a rise in arrivals over the past four years, it is imperative that a cohesive international marketing communications strategy is realized without delay to beneﬁt from the post-war interest in the destination,” he said.
According to Jayawardena, the time is right for the launch of an integrated communications strategy, which will utilise mainstream media, PR and events to position Sri Lanka in key markets.
“Likewise, the destination needs to be positioned and differentiated from other destinations,” he added. The chairman further stated that capacity expansion is deterred by construction costs. “There is an undisputed capacity shortfall especially as we move towards the strategic target of 2.5 million visitors by 2016,” Jayawardena noted. He highlighted the necessity for the government to play a critical role in catalyzing development through provision of incentives due to the high and rising costs of construction and the overall investments required for resort development. The chairman also highlighted the lack of skilled HR which continues to be a growing challenge for the industry. “The concern is not only limited to the scarcity of resources but also to the growing cost of HR. As is to be expected, the excess demand has resulted in a rise in cost of skilled resources, thereby once again expanding the operating cost structure,” he said. Jayawardena added that the lack of resources will impede the growth of the Sri Lankan tourism sector, given that Sri Lanka’s service levels will fall short of expectations and be below par of destinations in the competitive framework. Sri Lanka’s winning attributes are diversity of offer and the authenticity of the tourism product. “Unfortunately, due to lack of controls, systems and policies, our natural resources are in danger,” the chairman noted.
According to him, overcrowding and over visitation at major national parks has become not only an eyesore but also a threat to the sustainability of our wildlife offer.
He suggested that authorities must be considerate of future sustainability of our natural resources, and for the sake of protecting the authenticity of our tourism product, bring into force a visitor quota and strict regulation of the same. Jayawardena opined that the ability of Sri Lanka to attract high yield travelers remains directly dependent on the availability of speedy accessibility to the strategic tourist resorts in Sri Lanka. “Towards this end, we must look to effectively utilize existing air infrastructure such as the Sri Lanka Air Force airstrips by converting these to accommodative domestic airports,” he said. Jayawardena is of the view that Sri Lanka must pursue the implementation of an open skies policy with the addition of the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport to Sri Lanka’s international air accessibility. He added that the presence of a second international airport adds to the ability to market the country more forcefully, if new airlines can be persuaded, especially charters to frequent the destination as well as increase frequencies.