The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) has developed and formalized a 3-year event plan for 2009 up to 2011 with a mix of organized, sponsored and marketed events, geared towards attracting local and foreign tourists. The SLTPB Assistant Director of Marketing and Events Seroshi Nandasiri said the events are well designed, well structured and meet world class standards that can be marketed abroad and attract different types of crowds. The SLTPB markets the events through its PR network and agencies, the web and e-newsletters which are circulated to a database of over 200,000 people.
“We have about four to five principal events organized per year,” Ms. Nandasiri said. “There are another four to five sponsored events and national events which are being marketed effectively throughout the world. We have developed the timeline and planned the events accordingly. Next year will be a continuation of the events. What is good will continue and what doesn’t work will be cut.”
January 2009 saw the conclusion of the very successful Galle Literary Festival which attracted local and foreign participation and much publicity in the local and international press. In fact, two couples came from different corners of the world to specifically attend the Literary Festival, one from Idaho in the US and the other from Queensland Australia. Colombo Fashion week came to a close in February 2009 and was also described as successful.
Other key events on the SLTPB calendar include the launch of a Post Card Campaign in March 2009. The idea behind it is tourists coming into Sri Lanka will be given a gift pack with ten coupons that can be redeemed or given to friends or relatives who would like to visit Sri Lanka. Those who come to Sri Lanka Tourism counter in the arrival lounge will also be eligible for a raffle draw with a blogging competition.
Ayurveda 2009, a national indigenous healthcare exhibition and symposium, has been scheduled for May followed by the popular Hikkaduwa Beach Festival which will be held for the second time in June 2009. Hikkaduwa is an organized event with the SLTPB providing some sponsorship, around 20% for last years Festival which was much lower than the 50% that was anticipated. The SLTPB provides funding for the initial two years and is given over to the industry to handle once it becomes established. Moreover, the 2008 Festival was the first time in 23 years that all the hotels in Hikkaduwa had 100% occupancy. Some changes will be made to this year’s event. In lieu of a large party and several day time events, there will be a concentration on smaller evening events even though the beach sporting events during the day will continue.
A Sigiriya Arts and Crafts Mela will be held in June to coincide with the poson festival. It is being organized in partnership with the National Crafts Council with the cooperation of the nine provinces and is expected to draw crowds from across the country. The Kandy festival, a first time event, will also fall in June 2009. A tea festival has been scheduled for 2010 although the promotional campaign will be launched in August 2009. A jazz festival has been scheduled for October 2009 as well as the Negombo Beach Festival in December 2009.
Shafraz Farook from the SLTPB’s Destination Social Responsibility stressed the need to establish the events locally first and only then market them internationally. “Unless they aren’t established locally, they won’t work,” he said. “Sri Lanka is a destination not known for events so we need to create some initiatives for people who want to do all different sorts of things.” He added that these events cater to different markets and different people with different needs.
Before traveling abroad, ‘discover your own country’ is the motto of the domestic tourism campaign which has taken on greater importance in recent years. Mr. Farook said domestic tourism is a major revenue component in any developed tourism market such as the United Kingdom or the US, sometime as high as 60% of revenue. He pointed out that even Australia dedicates a lot of its time to domestic tourism. The SLTPB has plans to begin with a press campaign to get people to different locations with hotel and tour packages and spend time in the locations, using the facilities that are offered.
“We are targeting the middle class and upper middle class as well,” he said. “We want to tell people that the rates are not expensive and they don’t have to break the bank.”
There has been a good response from the industry. Large companies such as Walkers already have local tours and have recently launched domestic tourism campaign products. “These are encouraging signs,” Mr. Farook said. “The industry has identified domestic tourism as an important segment. The mindset has changed from the past. People have the understanding that a customer is a customer, whether local or foreign.”