The tourism industry this week cheered a move by Sri Lanka Tourism (SLT) to finally prepare the groundwork to spend on advertising and promotion of the country in the post-war era, an issue that both sides have been at odds.
SLT Chairman Nalaka Godahewa said a committee inclusive of representatives of the two main industry associations and SriLankan Airlines has been set up to prepare a promotion campaign that will run alongside current marketing efforts by the SLT.
The industry has been complaining that SLT was not spending enough on promotion and to provide more visibility to show the world that Sri Lanka was open for tourism after the conflict, and that individual tour companies were compelled to invest their own funds to promote the country overseas.
Mr Godahewa said the committee, chaired by him, will prepare a programme to be submitted to the authorities for approval and implementation after that.
“There is (some kind) of marketing, but that is not enough. We need to be more visible (particularly) after the (end of the) war in our key markets to tell the world that we are ready for business,” noted Anura Lokuhetty, President of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, adding that the latest move was welcome.
Nilmin Nanayakkara, President, Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), said they have been pushing for a more concerted marketing effort which resulted in the formation of the new committee. “It’s a good move.”
Tourism has been affected by the war between 1983 to May 2009 during which arrivals were in the region of an average 500,000, and these numbers have progressively increased since the end of the conflict with 800,000 expected this year.
The SLT Chairman however defended the board’s position saying that while not much media (paid) advertising has happened, other marketing has continued like sponsored visits by journalists, expected to go upto 200 foreign writers this year, and scheduled participation at 16 trade fairs in 2011 in addition to web marketing. “Articles by visiting journalists is far better than placing an advertisement,” he said.
He said the approximately Rs 500 million promotion budget will be spaced out to include advertising, trade fairs participation and journalists’ visitor programmes. Currently the SLT spends around Rs 200 million on participation at trade fairs and around Rs 40 million for sponsoring visiting journalists which leaves around Rs 200-300 million for other advertising.
Mr Lokuhetty said, “Unless we do aggressive marketing under a concentrated effort travellers will (otherwise) forget Sri Lanka as competition is strong (to draw visitors) from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia or the Maldives.” He said it was important to revive the charter (tours) market which has dropped to around 10% compared to 60% in the 1980s. “These charters also promote the country which is an advantage in terms of advertising. In the Maldives for example, the charter composition is 70% while 30% is on scheduled carriers,” he added.
In another positive move, a new tourism policy strategy including the country's tourism tagline, ‘Refreshingly Sri Lanka - Wonder of Asia’, is due to be presented to the cabinet either last week or this week.