Business Times

Retail boom in the offing to hit Colombo

By Sunimalee Dias

The retail market is likely to witness a boom backed by international visitors come shopping while enjoying their stay in Colombo, industry analysts said adding however, the potential was beyond the current level.

Shopping frenzy tourists are not what Sri Lanka is accustomed to but today the tone is setting the industry to gain more in terms of foreign revenue from international visitors. In this respect, there is a strong need for authorities to initiate an integrated plan to build infrastructure and promote the country as a shopping destination, Softlogic Group Chairman Ashok Pathirage said during an interview with the Business Times. The entrepreneur in addition to carrying out sales of electronic items has also entered the apparel sector in marketing Mango and Giordano.

He surmised that while the current conditions would generate an increase in revenues from the increase in tourists to the country there. The government needs to ensure the right conditions are in place and with parallel focus on all industries in a bid to develop together to reap benefits accordingly, he said.

However, today this is hardly seen with no proper planning and a private sector simply setting up malls and shops around Colombo, which the government should have been engaged in demarcating the respective areas for such businesses.

On the other hand, Mr. Pathirage noted the government was only interested in increasing rooms and room rates pointing out that tourists would want to see more than simply Sigiriya and other historic sites.
Revenues could increase by a 1000 fold; he observed adding “business can increase tremendously.” Plans need to be in perspective with the industries and is should not be a “political plan,” he said.
Dismissing industry –based associations housing persons with vested interests, he said “We work directly with the authorities.”

Issues pertaining to the duties on clothing amounting to 70% were telling on the retail market, he said adding, “they can’t develop a shopping destination if they keep that.” However, he was confident the government would address this issue. While shops to dress locals was not the call of the day it is imperative that businesses look beyond what is at home and reach out to tourists to gain the required revenue gains. On the other side of the road with not much of an international branded product, are a budding bandwagon of Sri Lankan designers who have won international acclaim for their designs making their mark on the local retail market.

The gains in the retail market are set to break ground in the budding Sri Lankan fashion industry that is now coming out with a new set of homegrown designers setting up shops that have created an attraction by tourists. Wanting to purchase a taste of the local flavour, tourists have clearly taken a liking to the local designs weaved out as a result an increase in tourist interest is taking shape.

The next big boom is because of tourism with at least four tourists per day shopping at local design stores for the past eight months, the local fashion industry’s campaigner Ajay Vir Singh said. First tourists would walk into stores they have been told would appeal to their taste but later have found themselves walking up further to stores of a different nature, related Mr. Singh. Something uniquely Sri Lankan is being held with pride once they savour the tastes of local designers, it was pointed out.

Excited on these new developments, he said, “This will drive the boom.” In addition, it is intended to create a map of the placement of designers within Colombo for tourists to have a place to shop, he said.
A marketing campaign is set to take off commencing June in hotels and other tourist meeting points to create awareness of the availability of a Sri Lankan designed garment.

Mr. Singh pointed out that with lots of designers coming out there is a need to ensure they get their business models right in a bid to be attractive to customers. In this environment of cashing in on tourists willing to purchase more, stores should work together with these designers and focus on encouraging them to improve their standards, he said.

While local design stores were today available only within city limits they will be encouraged to open shop in close proximity to tourist sites, he said adding this would be brought out in the future.

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