ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 06
Financial Times  

Wooing and delighting the niche traveller

By Antony Motha

Imagine: You are a tourist holidaying in Sri Lanka, basking in the warm sunshine on your deckchair by the beach. You are mesmerized by the soporific sound of the sea and the sight of the waves breaking on the golden beach. As you sit up to sip your colouful mocktail, you think, "God's in His Heaven – All's right with the world!”

At that precise moment, a horde of vendors descends on you like a swarm of bees, pestering you, harassing you, to sample their wares. They refuse to scram until you buy something. What a bloody nuisance!

Only if it crosses a certain threshold, however, does such harassment get categorised as criminal activity. It is precisely to safeguard tourists from these and similar situations that the Police Tourist Division (TPD) was inaugurated in June 2007.

Speaking at a media discussion last week, Senior Superintendent of Police Maxie Proctor, TPD Director, indicated that - during 2005 and 2006 - there had been about 300 complaints registered each year. He explained that harassment by vendors was a consequence of inadequate tourist arrivals. Spelling out the TPD’s roadmap (now under implementation), he said that resources have been the constraint thus far.

Now that personnel have been recruited, they will be provided with intensive training inputs.

In addition, police posts in certain coastal areas and other places of tourist attraction have been identified for upgradation to police stations. Proctor pointed out that police stations have also been identified for improvement. Enhanced protection will ensure that tourists have a delightful time. Their hassle-free experience would help communicate the message that Sri Lanka is a safe place to visit. Despite being the fourth-highest foreign exchange generator in Sri Lanka, tourism’s contribution is small: just 1.5% of GDP, against 8% internationally, says Thilan Wijesinghe, Group CEO/ MD of Forbes & Walker.

“Niche tourism is going to be very important in coming years,” he believes. In his avatar as Chairman of the Advisory Panel on Niche Tourism Products, Wijesinghe is assisting the Tourist Board in defining standards for boutique hotels. Speaking from his experience at Tea Trails, Bogawantalawa, he insists that hotels can curb harassment - by procuring provisions and services from surrounding areas.

Based on inputs from the panel, Sri Lanka Tourism has launched a drive to attract quality rather than quality. The rationale is simple, Wijesinghe explains: The creamy layer of tourism worldwide consists of the top 3% of tourists, but this segment spends 30% of tourism dollars. Because of their spending power, niche tourists demand very high standards. They expect to be received at the airport, cleared through immigration/ customs, and whisked away to their hotels. They travel individually or as couples, and treasure their privacy.

Opening the discussion, George Michael, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, admitted that the industry was facing a difficult time. However, with the industry employing more than 300,000 people – and “feeding a million” – they could not afford to leave any stone unturned.


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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.