Tourism yearns for high-spending visitorsView(s):
By Renishka Fernando
Sunny beaches, lush green forests and mountains offering breathtaking views have long been among the many natural attractions of Sri Lanka. The hospitality of Sri Lankan people, the rich flavour of our food and the timelessness of our art have also been drawcards. too.
As of March this year, more than 270,000 tourists – mostly Russians – have visited.
“We are slightly ahead of our target,” commented Priantha Fernando, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
Data from SLTDA shows that Russia made up 23% of the market, down the previous 27%. However, the Western European markets are gradually picking up with Germany, France and the UK showing signs of improvement.
Mr Fernando said these markets generate a higher yield. Meanwhile the Israeli, Swiss and Dutch markets are also showing an increasing trend.
Presently, tourist concentration is seen in the Southern region as Russians take to the beaches.
“Tourists in the region presently are of the residential type,” noted Senaka De Silva, the southern region representative of The Hotels Association Sri Lanka (THASL). Their patronage helps homestays operators and shops. However, frequent high-end tourists are integral for a solid recovery. In pre-crises years especially in 2018, there were many high-end tourists who contributed to greater revenue to the industry.
“We need peace for tourism to thrive,” said Mrs Goonetilleke, the CEO of THASL. Owing to covid, the political, economic crises and the protests that sprung up as a result, the industry has had to deal with unfavourable publicity. She said that the strikes this week could affect the industry adversely.
Mrs Goonetilleke noted that competing destinations have performed well and have experienced marginal growth in comparison to Sri Lanka, in the wake of the coronavirus disease pandemic. Tourists travel to destinations that are safer and enjoyable.
Mr Fernando said foreign diplomatic missions have a responsibility to be transparent and provide accurate information regarding Sri Lanka for potential tourists. “If we try to counter the truth, that will only affect our credibility,” he remarked. For the most part, the strikes have not affected the industry negatively.
According to Mrs Goonetilleke, there is a 90% retention of the foreign exchange brought into Sri Lanka. “Tourism has a trickle-down effect,” she said. The vegetable seller, fishmonger, craft maker, and the ‘achcharu’ seller depend on tourism. The industry creates direct and indirect jobs in hotels and jobs as tour guide lecturers, and tuk tuk drivers. She said 12% of Sri Lankans are directly dependent on tourism.
Mr Fernando told the Sunday Times that many tourists have shared positive thoughts of their experiences in Sri Lanka and that it has been greatly beneficial. Unfortunately, harassment of tourists by tuk tuk drivers has generated bad publicity. Measures are being taken by the SLTDA, the tourist police, and police stations to counter these.
Meanwhile, the SLTDA along with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and other industry stakeholders are launching promotions in nine markets.
Roadshows in China will kick off in April in three cities. In addition, 1,000 bloggers will be encouraged to promote the island. Local bloggers and influencers will also be involved.
The Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) together with the THASL also engaged in a campaign in the UK from November to January. This was supported by Sri Lankan Airlines and flew in several journalists from the UK which led to positive, first-hand reports for newspaper and magazine readers.
A new digital campaign targeting young Indians was also launched by the private sector.
“It focuses on less popular destinations, highlighting activity-based and adventure tourism with the tagline, ‘And you thought you knew Sri Lanka’,” Mr Nishad Wijetunga, president of SLAITO told the Sunday Times. This campaign targets the 18 to 30 age group and is supported by Dentsu Grant advertising along with Dentsu India which will drive the campaign, starting from Bangalore.
Industry suffering debt hangover
Although prospects for tourism have appeared to improve the decision by banks to end the debt moratorium looms large over the industry. Granted from April 2019 and extended many times, a further extension was not granted and it ended on June 30, 2022.
Amid pleas from the industry in a high interest rate environment, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka has requested commercial banks to be flexible in dealing with commercial debts.
Businesses are in the process of restructuring their debts.
“Increasing costs have made it difficult for businesses to operate, therefore the interest rate needs to be at an amount that stakeholders can pay,” Priantha Fernando, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority told the Sunday Times.
As for assisting small and medium enterprises (SME) tourism, Amal Goonetilleke, the CEO of THASL, said: “For SMEs to survive, it is necessary that commercial banks are flexible to restructure debt.’’ Many hotels and establishments have been unable to renovate their premises.
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