Combined publicity programme
The Government’s plan to formulate a combined publicity programme to build a unified brand for Sri Lanka tourism is well timed and one of the brilliant steps taken in the right direction. It is noted that the project is to be named Tourism Promotion Programme (TPP).
Currently Sri Lanka is at the zenith in the field of tourism as one of the most sought after destinations. This does not mean that Sri Lanka has the monopoly on tourism. It is true that Sri Lanka is an exceptionally beautiful country no second to any other. But that alone will not be sufficient to attract tourists.
Why do tourists love Sri Lanka? They like Sri Lanka for beauty, waterfalls, climatic conditions, nice and cheap hotels, friendly staff, warmth, places of worship, historical significance amounting to over 250,000 historical sites such as Sigiriya and Anuradhapura, wildlife, greenery, varied climatic conditions in a few hours’ drive , beautiful and sandy beaches, beautiful blue sea, Kandy Perahera, Nuwara Eliya as cold as Wales, villages, elephants, the Temple of the Tooth, Ayurveda and alternative medicine, mountains, natural beauty, precious stones, the Sinharaja forest, national parks such as Yala, Kumana and the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, and more over the warmth of the people.
No second to any other
There is nowhere in the world with such a selection in one nation for tourists. But there are competitors who are in the market with vast amount of experience, infrastructure and networks.
Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore get approximately 24 million, 15 million and 12 million tourists per year respectively. Vietnam and Cambodia are tourist attractions due to their virgin lands and competitive pricing. EU and the West including UK are still tourist destinations. Dubai though a desert is depending on tourism, not necessarily on oil and natural resources. They are making the best use of the desert for desert and Dubai is one of the main tourist destinations.
It is noted that the key target areas for tourists in Sri Lanka are UK, Germany, India, France and mostly Western countries. It is time for Sri Lanka to target Russia, China and the Middle East as the economies in these countries are growing rapidly and the tourist output is more than before.
It is time that Sri Lanka concentrates on the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates which is the jewel of Middle East where tourist output to Sri Lanka is increasing rapidly due to its reputation, short distance and compatibility of cultures.
One must make hay while the sun shines. This is the peak of our reputation and the goodwill. If we do not strike when the iron is hot, there are others waiting to grab the opportunity.
Currently there is absolute peace in Sri Lanka which is one of the most secure and undisturbed destinations. The world is in turmoil in all the areas including tourist destinations. Tourists who venture to the Middle East, Britain, EU and other hotspots are looking for new destinations to tour. Are we ready to meet them? Do we have sufficient infrastructure, rooms and staff? If we haven’t we should know to plan out short-term and long-term schemes.
Tourists from the Middle East love tea estates. Tea tourism is one aspect that we should promote, which is easily promotable. The medical system in the UAE is expensive and privately funded. We can easily improve medical tourism in Sri Lanka with the least effort as we are reputed for one of the best health services and education systems.
Vibrant and aggressive
In these circumstances introducing a new brand is one of the best steps taken for promotion. It seems that Sri Lankans are not as aggressive and vibrant as its competitors. Sri Lankans have not fully made use of the diplomatic missions worldwide which are the best ambassadors for tourism.
Every embassy should be armed with a tourist attaché to promote tourism with the network of the hotel traders, national carrier and the business community with state/private partnership.
It is nice to hear that the Colombo Hotels Association, media, the Tourist Promotion Bureau and the other statutory private partners have got together on unified branding, which to our view should be coupled with short term and long term plan and a ferocious and aggressive promotional scheme.
We have observed a number of leaders and stakeholders have expressed their views and spoken out with positive indication aiming at an achievable object based on their knowledge and experience.
Image building and unified branding
They have discussed image building, preparation of infrastructure, marketing, recruitment, establishing new links with unified branding. In doing so it is sadly noted that we have hardly explored the priceless wealth we have been bestowed by the nation, the experiences and skills of the labour and the contacts and expatriates worldwide.
The best ambassadors and the contacts for promotion are our expatriates who are eager to help the nation. They should be armed with information for distribution among their friends which amounts to over 1.6 million worldwide.
This is a proposition that we have put forward to the expatriates in the UAE to take over the promotional activities to themselves by promoting their employers and well wishers. They have happily taken up the challenge and working on this direction.
It is pleasant news to hear that the tourism in Sri Lanka is leading towards the right direction by setting up Sri Lanka Tourism, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka Institute of Hotel Management and Sri Lanka Convention Bureau with new life and vigour headed by young and educated professionals. The Tourism Development Authority has the main responsibility in promoting and implementing the concepts laid down in ‘Mahinda Chinthana’. They have to look for innovative methods of achieving the targets.
They must try to upgrade the existing hotels, convert good houses to motels, give incentives for training, improve railway to make it more attractive by reintroducing first class and observation compartments as the quickest mode of conveyance which the tourists will like will be the train where the tourists will love travelling through Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and down south with wonderful views around.
What is left for us is purely and simply to be cautious and catalyse the existing infrastructure and resources towards the tourism boom with immediate effect to avoid disappointment. We should not blame others for a possible failure as responsibility is entrusted to us and us alone to create the boom and to give priority to tourism to make it the main source of income of the nation.
(The writer – LL.M (London) Solicitor – is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.)