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Top 10 tourist source markets and marketing of Sri Lanka tourism niches

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The tourism sector is a significant that contribute to the economy of the country. Sri Lanka received over two million arrivals in 2016. This was 14% increase compared to last year 2015. In the case of foreign exchange earnings, Sri Lanka’s earnings increased by 18.5% in 2016. 

The employment generated in the sector irrespective of direct and indirect increased by 5.1% in the year 2016 (Annual Statistical Report – 2016). When looking at the contribution to the economy of the country, there is an opportunity to the destination marketing organisations to improve further the tourism products in terms of marketing.

Sri Lanka tourism is growing progressively with the huge assistance of the Government of Sri Lanka. Destination marketing organisations need to focus on the branding strategies to promote an attraction as tourist destination. According to the tourism strategic plan 2017-2020 of Sri Lanka Tourist Board, Sri Lanka is working on the tourism destination planning and to make them sustainable through facilitating the destination management. This will help allocate resources easily and minimise the cost. 

Destination of branding is an important strategy to market the destinations in other countries. This will create a positive attitude and influence on tourist behaviour (Ritchie and Ritchie, 1998). In order to be successful in the destination marketing, destination brand identity is a requirement for destination brand loyalty. This may guide for marketing activities of Sri Lanka tourism. 

Sri Lanka is in need of creating such loyalty for its niches. Further, this will lead to build destination brand image. It is due to the fact that destination marketing organisations are really marketing a dream that is perception is reality (Pike, 2008). Therefore, Sri Lanka tourism should create destination brand identity and destination brand image among the international tourists. 

Thus, the objective of the paper is to provide analysis of tourist arrivals and identify major source markets and suggest strategies market the tourism niches of Sri Lanka tourism. This may help the policy makers to strategise the tourism niches in Sri Lanka. 

Analysis of tourist arrivals

Sri Lanka is receiving many tourists from all over the world. For this study only the top 10 markets for Sri Lanka are taken into consideration. Tourist arrivals to the country from the top 10 countries market is shown in Table 1.

A large number of tourists are entering into the country from India. However, there has been a substantial increase from 2015 to 2016 in tourist arrivals from China. According to the strategic plan for Sri Lanka Tourism 2016-2020, 50% of total tourist arrivals for the country is from India, China, UK, Germany and France. Therefore, it can be concluded that China will also have future considerable growth of tourist arrivals despite the fact that we received a huge number of tourists from India. 

Although the United Kingdom and Germany are in the third and fourth rank of the top 10 markets, Australia and Canada have 17% growth rate and hence there is likely future growth these markets. 

These tourists to the country visit for various purposes. Table 2 provides the purpose of the tourists entering Sri Lanka. 

According to Table 2, tourists from various countries of origin arrive in Sri Lanka for various purposes like pleasure, business, visiting friends and relations, convention and meeting, religious and culture, health, sports, official visits and education. Although the travellers pay a visit for various reasons, a substantial portion of tourists i.e. 83.4%, arrive in Sri Lanka for pleasure/holiday. 

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, there is emerging and growing market for convention/meeting, health for which the destination marketing organisations should attempt to promote those areas to the potential and existing markets. However, it is very important to promote further the pleasure/holiday to the existing and potential market all over the world. It is because of the fact that the major portion of tourist arrival is due to the pleasure.

Since the top 10 markets for Sri Lanka is focused in this article, it is necessary to analyse the purpose of those 10 markets’ visit to Sri Lanka. Table 3 gives the details about the purpose of tourists’ arrival by country of top 10 residence. It is observed that substantial number of tourists from top 10 market for Sri Lanka tourism are for the pleasure or vacation. Therefore, it is to confirm that there is growing market for pleasure for those top 10 markets. 

It is also noted here that there is good market for MICE tourism from India, UK and from China. Further, it also worthy to note here that there is a potential market for medical tourism from Germany. The analysis also reveals that focusing on the pleasure/vacation is most important for Sri Lanka. In addition, focusing on medical tourism and MICE will also give additional income and employment generation to the economy of the country. As such, it is very important to market MICE tourism and medical tourism for the potential markets. MICE tourism should be further marketed to the markets such as India, UK and China in the first instant.

Marketing Sri Lanka niches of tourism

Sri Lanka needs to be marketed as a destination for international tourists from all over the world. Thus, destination marketing organisations in Sri Lanka should attempt to engage in destination marketing of tourism products available in Sri Lanka. In particular, Sri Lankan destination marketing organisations are in need of engaging destinations brands to the potential country markets.

It is vital to understand the concept of destination marketing at this juncture. In order to be successful in the destination marketing of Sri Lanka tourism, Sri Lanka’s tourism niches need to be branded and positioned in the mind of existing and potential tourists in their source market. When it is branded, it is easy for destination marketing organisations in Sri Lanka to engage in destination marketing. Therefore, it is imperative for Sri Lanka tourism to brand the niches in Sri Lanka. Specifically, the niches like MICE, medical tourism and sun and beaches may unquestionably be branded and marketed all over the world after successful implementation of brand marketing strategies in the top 10 country markets.

Destination branding strategy starts from the identification of target market. As far as medical and MICE tourism are concerned, they are growing smoothly and capturing a share of market in Sri Lanka. Of top 10 markets, Germany, UK and India may be a potential market for Sri Lanka medical tourism, which could be observed in Table 3. It is also observed that India, China and UK are the potential growing market for MICE tourism of Sri Lanka. As an initiative, Sri Lanka can maintain those markets as a key market for medical and MICE tourism. This has also been mentioned in the Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020 of Sri Lanka Tourism. 

Once the target markets are identified, the next measure of destination brand marketing is to identify the differentiation which may be unable to find in other countries’ medical and MICE tourism. This differentiation strategy should create a unique image in the mind of target market. Here it is important to ask a question why travellers choose Sri Lanka as a destination for MICE tourism. Hence, the answer for the question should be the factors that determine the differentiation of the country’s MICE tourism. 

The factors around the differentiation of strategy may be the cost of living, cost of space, quality of manpower, exhibition and conference space, location, airfare, infrastructure facilities, IT facilities, safety and prominence of destination (Khan, 2015). All these factors can well be attributed to Sri Lanka for MICE differentiation strategy. Destination marketing organisations can have one or combinations of these attributes to brand Sri Lanka as a MICE destination. Further, this could be the components of the MICE brand. These should also be the components of positioning of Sri Lanka as MICE destinations. 

Sri Lanka has a huge space for MICE. This should further be improved enabling to offer wide range of MICE services. For example, the BMICH and Nelum Pokuna Theatre. MICE is standing for meeting, incentives, conference and exhibition and therefore, programs can be arranged in collaboration with hotels in Colombo and surrounding the Colombo. Sri Lanka can focus on the costs, quality of manpower and safety in positioning the MICE tourism in the international tourists’ mind. 

The differentiation strategy along with strong positioning may create an image of the MICE of the Sri Lanka as MICE tourism destination. Tourism marketers of MICE of Sri Lanka should attempt to tangiblise the MICE tourists’ experience and try to reinforce the image. Subsequently, tourists will be satisfied. 

As far as medical tourism in Sri Lanka is concerned, it is at its infancy now but it is one of the lucrative opportunity to the tourism sector in Sri Lanka. It is observed that the major markets for medical tourism of Sri Lanka are India, China, UK, Germany and France since most of the tourist arrivals are from those countries. Sri Lanka needs to have more investment in the improvement of medical facilities. It is also believed that the medical sector in Sri Lanka has already started to work out on the medical tourism.

Analysis reveals that most of the tourists arrive the country for pleasure or holiday. Hence, other niches to be promoted are whale and dolphin watching and surfing. This can easily be promoted since whale watching can be done only with sea professionals. In Sri Lanka, this is being done by the Navy. Hence, safety is ensured and positioned. 

Arugam Bay is one of the top sea surfing place in the world. Thus, it can be positioned well and it should be done to those top 10 markets. This can be done only through promotional efforts to those top 10 countries and destination marketing organisation should ensure the consistency of the message in all media. 

Although the category of the sun and beach is considered as mainstream of the Sri Lanka tourism, it should be marketed as niche. According to the strategic plan 2017-2020 of Sri Lanka Tourism, the source markets are UK, China, Germany, France, USA, India, Russia and Canada. The differentiation attributes of the sun and beach should be positioned to those source market firstly. It is due to the fact that the largest portion of the tourists arriving to Sri Lanka is for pleasure and holiday purpose (See Table 2). 

It is understandable that Sri Lanka has many niches to promote to the international tourists all over the world. Therefore, it is important for destination marketing organisations in Sri Lanka to learn about international tourist behaviour and find the market segments with proper research and formulate marketing strategies for positioning the market niches in the tourism sector of Sri Lanka. 

In order to tap the source markets for tourism, it is recommended to firstly promote the niches to the identified target markets which are in the top 10 list of tourist arrivals. Therefore, destination marketing organisations should be engaged in digital marketing platform to promote the tourism niches effectively since the existing and potential tourist to Sri Lanka are now with digital technology. 

It is also important to provide the tourists with quality service and atmosphere. This will determine the satisfaction of tourists. Hence, providing first class hotels and restaurants and a relaxing environment along with the identified tourism niche products is necessitated. In order to maintain the standards in services provided to the tourists, international quality assurance standards can be used to benchmark.


The major objective of the analysis was to suggest important tourism niche products and recommend strategies for marketing them to identified source markets. Sri Lanka has potential to market MICE, medical and sun and beach tourism and it has all infrastructures including the safety, transportation along with road networks. 

Although Sri Lanka has already started to promote its niche products, needs to further attempt to promote its niche products all over the world through digital marketing. Hence, there must be digital marketing strategies to promote tourism niches like MICE, medical and sun and beaches to identified source markets. 

The brands for each niche like MICE, medical and sun and beaches may be given separate brands along with slogan that will help reinforce the brand in the minds of potential and existing tourists coming to the country. 

Although Sri Lanka has slogan for entire country (Sri Lanka – a land like no other and now wonder of Asia), it may be recommended to have slogan for each niche. This will help position each niche in the minds of tourists and will be able to differentiate well so that niche tourism will capture the top of minds. For example slogans for cities Michigan (Pure Michigan campaign), Sydney was promoted as ‘the world’s most sophisticated city’ were very successful in destination marketing. 


nAnnual Statistical Report – 2016, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority 

nPike. S., (2008), Destination Marketing: An Integrated Marketing Communication Approach, Elsevier.

nRitchie J.R.B., and Ritchie R.J.B (1998), The Branding of Tourism Destinations, International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism, Morocco.

nSri Lanka Tourism Strategic Plan, 2017-2020

nKhan M. A., (2015), MICE Tourism, International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 299-304.

(The writer is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing Management, Faculty of Management & Commerce, South Eastern University of Sri Lanka.)

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