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Why does Sri Lanka need more tourists from China?

Jan 12, 2012 2:29:12 PM - www.ft.lk

In Sri Lanka we have population close to 21 million. According to China Tourism Academy (CTA), 57.39 million Chinese tourists travelled overseas in 2010! Global Trends Report 2011, which was released at World Travel Market in London, highlights the fact that Chinese tourists contributed US$ 57 billion on accommodation in 2011, third in the world behind the United States and Germany.
UK and US
Now we can see countries all over the world competing to attract more tourists from China, not from the US, not from the UK. Even the US and UK are competing to attract Chinese tourists. It can be observed by current effort being expended by UK stores to target high-spending Chinese tourists.
There was a promotional tour of Beijing and Shanghai led by the Visit Britain tourism organisation which included representatives from London’s Westfield shopping centre, the luxury goods emporium at Bicester in Oxfordshire and even Gretna Green, which now has its own similar retail park, as well as Harrods and Selfridges.
China accounted for just under 110,000 visits to Britain in 2010, a 23 per cent annual increase. And more importantly the overall spend by Chinese nationals rose even faster, by 57 per cent.
This is same in US as well. In 2010, Chinese tourists contributed $ 877 million to New York City’s economy, with the average spending of $ 3,297 per tourist per trip! According to Mark Aaron, Vice-President of Investor Relations for Tiffany & Co, “Roughly half of our US sales increase in the quarter came from higher spending by foreign visitors, increasingly led by Chinese travellers.”
What about in Australia? China is Australia’s fastest growing inbound tourism market, currently ranked fourth behind New Zealand, Britain and the US. Despite ranking fourth, the TRA (Tourism Research Australia) report highlighted that Chinese tourists outspent the other four in 2010 to the tune of $ 3.3 billion. This will give you interesting evidence that Chinese tourists are wealthier than other nations.
By looking at the statistics I wondered whether we in Sri Lanka calculating the spending by different nations to map out the spending patterns of tourists. Further, it can be questionable whether we are taking more on numbers but not value.
Figures released by Sri Lanka’s Tourism Authority confirmed that 68,830 Indians visited Sri Lanka between January and May last year, up 54.5 per cent over the same period in 2010. But we need to identify the average spending per tourists per trip in order to understand the real contribution in this context.
These are the assignments universities in Sri Lanka (especially those conducting programmes in tourism) should be given for the students to test their knowledge in order to add value to the sector. That is the very reason why universities in Sri Lanka find it difficult to cope up with the expectations of the private sector.
Even countries like Australia are conducting special programmes to attract tourists from China. Tourism Australia unveiled its China 2020 Strategic Plan in June 2011, aimed at nearly doubling the number of Chinese visitors to 860,000 over the next eight years.
Some hotel chains, for instance, have even rearranged the furniture in its rooms across the country according to the principles of feng shui (pronounced fung shway), an intuitive art. Designers and decorators claim that they can “feel” positive energy – called ch’i), assuring guests will have a harmonious stay!
Even professors in Australia are conducting research to understand the buying behaviour of Chinese tourists. According to Sam Huang, a lecturer at the University of South Australia, “Chinese tourists want to return home from overseas trips with luxury goods as a symbol of their wealth.”
This is a classic example of having better partnerships with industry and universities. The professors are closely working with the industry and both parties benefited while uplifting the economy of the country.
It is really interesting to see the figures of Maldives in terms of Chinese tourists as well. The Maldives received more than 65,000 Chinese tourists in the first five months of last year, a 56.7 per cent increase over the same period of 2010. Numbers from the Maldivian tourism authorities illustrate that the number of Chinese tourists to the Maldives accounted for 16.6 per cent of the total foreign tourists from January to May 2011, ranking top of foreign visitors, followed by Italy with 47,900 tourists, Britain, Germany and France.
It is clear that Maldives too understands the importance of going in line with the globe.
Sri Lanka
What about Sri Lanka? According to records, tourists from China grew by 71 per cent to 13,889 in the first 10 months of 2011. If we compare Sri Lanka with Maldives we can see the difference. But potential of attracting tourists from China is enormous.
Now we have the important ‘peace dividend’ and Sri Lanka equipped with more places to be seen, from mountains to beaches to cultural places like Anuradhapura, food to sports and entertainment as well. Recently Condé Nast Traveller, one of the world’s leading travel magazines published in Britain, predicted that Sri Lanka would be among the hottest new holiday destinations this year.
In order to attract more Chinese tourists, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau conducted a Road Show in three Chinese cities, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Xiamen, and also opened a page on the Chinese social networking site – www.renren.com – to attract more Chinese tourists to the country. But again it is not clear whether the effectiveness of such programmes has been measured or not.
There is a need for better understanding (research, etc.) on this as well as networking and tie-ups with global players to cope up with the expectations and to exploit the market.
(The writer is a Chartered Marketer and Consultant, Senior Lecturer in Marketing – Open University of Sri Lanka and a certified trainer for tutors and mentors in online learning. He holds an MBA (Colombo), B. Sc Mkt. (Special) (SJP), MCIM, Dip in MKT (UK), MSLIM, MAAT and Dip in CMA, Chartered Intermediate from ICASL.)