Tourism has the eye for opportunity in a crisis and analysts believe that discounting rates at a time like this would not hold well neither would it be good to have all the eggs in one basket and depend on single markets for sustenance. This was the focus at the recently concluded Cinnamon Future of [...]

Business Times

Opportunities galore in tourism’s darkest days

Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit 2019

Tourism has the eye for opportunity in a crisis and analysts believe that discounting rates at a time like this would not hold well neither would it be good to have all the eggs in one basket and depend on single markets for sustenance. This was the focus at the recently concluded Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit conducted by Cinnamon held at the Cinnamon Grand, Colombo on Monday.

Audience at the meeting. Pic by Indika Handuwala

As each country’s recovery or response to a crisis like the Easter bombings differs based on experience so it is the case with Sri Lanka, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (WTO) Special Advisor to the Secretary General Anita Mendiratta said addressing the opening session of the summit on the topic of “Rising Above – Emerging Stronger Through Crisis.”

She noted that the resilience of the travel sector is a result of the resilience of the travelers and pointed out that travel advisories issued must be specific about geo-location, which means that it should highlight where in a country it is safe not to travel to or be cautious.

The country that is impacted needs to inform those markets that issue these advisories as “governments also forget to take it off.”
At times of crisis, Ms. Mendriatta pointed out it is easy to resort to quick fixes which she said could become problematic later like sharp discounts offered in order to pick up on the numbers.

Speaking on the possibility of bouncing back she insisted that “every crisis is unique” and in this respect they needed to recognize the humanity behind the crisis.

The length of recovery could vary because every country and crisis is different like the situations faced by Egypt, Kenya, Sri Lanka and other countries, the special advisor said.

Some of the reasons for a quick bounce back could be due to the familiarity of destination, hit rate and traveller experience.

E – Tourism Frontiers Founder and CEO Damian Cook speaking on a similar vein observed that today there has been a shift in travel pattern and noted that people believe that incidents could happen literally anywhere in the world.

Relating the Kenyan experience to make a comeback he explained that there was a shift from images of terror to more positive messages and pictures and tags like “We shall Rise” that dominated social media.

The key element, Mr. Cook pointed out was to communicate the situation and give out the right message to the travellers.

In Quest for tourism’s future

TV host and CNN’s celebrity business journalist Richard Quest opined that the future of tourism would be “worrying” for Sri Lanka since the environment would be the next big issue they face and in this context concerns related to carbon footprint with long haul travel.

In the future, guests at hotels may not be having a choice regarding how often their sheets or towels are changed; on the contrary “You will end up making the choice for the guest,” Mr. Quest said to the travel industry.

Another key concern going forward is the issue of “over tourism” and in this respect; he questioned whether Sri Lanka was equipped with adequate accommodation to put up the Chinese and Indians as they continue to drive the numbers.

While pointing out that there was no one solution for “over tourism” it was also not possible to deny people’s right to travel either, he said.
An interview with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe highlighted the government’s plans to cut bureaucracy, measures taken to heighten security, relevance of a national carrier and youth development.

He noted that following the Easter attacks the government is now “taking a close look at ISIS” compared to their earlier stance of looking at terrorism in general.

Talking about the issue surrounding the incident he noted that the threat had been discussed but it remained with officials and though letters of warning had been sent out there had been no follow up carried out in that regard.

In fact, on the request of the head of the Catholic Church Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith the government would go ahead with another independent commission in addition to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). “We should have a public inquiry,” the PM said.

Speaking on the future of tourism, he noted that there should be less regulations brought on by the government for the sector and pointed out that ever since the late 1960s the government had played a leading role in this industry but the industry should take it forward.

However, he insisted that the state should be out of regulating how tall a structure should be or in issues concerning the local authorities.

In respect of the national campaign to boost tourism in Sri Lanka the PM agreed that it had taken too long to get underway mainly due to issues of bureaucracy.

As a result, the state called on the private sector to engage in a public private partnership outside the bureaucratic state apparatus to carry out promotions but noted that this should involve participation of all in the industry and not be excluded for a select few.

Skills and training was an area where the state could get involved by providing funding and easy payment schemes and no interest loans to ensure the people are equipped to work in the sector, Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

Queried on the need for a national carrier, the PM insisted that the country does need one but that does not mean it should be owned and managed by the state. In addition, he pointed out that the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines should enjoy the right to operate on a “few routes” and allow others to come in as well.

Mumbai experience

The 2008 Mumbai attacks on the famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel showed the “Tajness” of its people that continued to assist others who were going through a traumatic experience while the incident occurred, TATA Group, Taj Hotels CEO and MD Puneet Chhatwal said.

The key aspect was that communication within the hotel was established and a PR reached out to all markets with a dedicated helpline and real time media management.

“It’s important to feel safe and secure and do the right thing,” he said adding that within 21 months they relaunched the Palace wing to show the progress made and opened on Independence Day.

Talking about the crisis

During the panel discussion Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Kishu Gomes pointed out that the key issues faced during the crisis was that this body had to go through a procurement process and the marketing expertise was lacking at the bureau.

He noted that it was imperative to have a marketing agency to start the ball rolling to get ahead in the next five years.

JKH Brand Marketing and Vice President Dileep Mudadeniya said that it was time the private sector got up and went ahead redefining the way tourism marketing and planning could be carried out to ensure sustainability of its own future and the Tourism Alliance is a result of this togetherness of the industry.

SriLankan Airlines CEO Vipula Gunatilake believes that given the measures taken by the carrier they should be able to bounce back and insisted that in the course of the crisis they did not look at big things but targeted campaigns.

At the second panel discussion later in the day Jetwing Hotels Chairperson Shiromal Cooray said that Sri Lanka had a lot of opportunity and hopefully by 2020 they would be able to regain its glory since 2018.

“Holding onto rates is somewhat difficult but some have,” she said explaining that one needs to create and add value and insisted that it was the experiences gained by travellers visiting the country that sells the destination.

Ms. Cooray continued to insist on streamlining government taxes since hotels were compelled to pay even local government and provincial taxes.
Santani Resort Founder and CEO Vickum Nawagamuwage said they were looking at expanding within and outside Sri Lanka and believed that doubling the numbers in 10 years is a possibility.

Resplendent Ceylon CEO Malik Fernando said it is imperative to focus on bringing down the high spender as building more hotels is not a cheap thing to do in this country. The industry requires a strategy and management of the eco system, he said.

JKH Chairman Krishan Balendra believes that welcoming 5 million visitors in 2025 is an achievable task and pointed to the issue of rates that has become problematic right now; but in 10 years with better entertainment and complex retail there is an opportunity to attract the high end traveller.

The conference concluded with most speakers looking at the future of tourism in Sri Lanka to be one with achievable numbers; but the industry needed to take the right advice in respect of discounting and not try to cash in on just one or two markets. Engaging a diverse segment is required as travel patterns and lifestyles continue to change that would be a telling point in the demand for travel to a destination like Sri Lanka.

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