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Understanding the current industry trend towards bespoke tourism

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The current trend within the tourism industry in Sri Lanka is leaning towards bespoke tourism, which hints at growing opportunities and challenges for the tourism sector in general

Bespoke tourism is growing in popularity around the world. The reason for this is because it’s similar to choosing between off-the-rack suits over tailor-made suits. No matter how good the design is, a bespoke version is going to fit you much better.

To elaborate further, nowadays, travellers look for something more than the traditional organised tours centred round famous attractions. They search for more unique and authentic experiences, which will connect them to the values and cultures of the country they visit.

 According to Phocuswrite, 57% of travellers feel that brands should tailor their information based on personal preferences, and they would be far likelier to pay more for their services if the brand meets these requirements. This is something that is pertinent to the Sri Lankan market as well, since this tendency to request specific experiences and luxuries, minus the inconveniences, is something that Viluxur Holidays has seen with regard to bookings.

It is open knowledge that Sri Lanka is catering to mass markets like India and China. This has led to price wars, which have negatively affected Sri Lanka by cheapening its overall offerings. For example: compare the average room revenue for a hotel and an average selling price for a travel agent – you will observe that the value keeps going down, even when the number of arrivals are increasing.  

At present, there is only a small minority of tour operators and hotels that are willing to cater to tourists who desire a bespoke experience that borders on customisation and luxury. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, it is largely millennial travellers that are looking for a bespoke tourism experience, compared to other generational travellers. The shift in this trend seems logical, given this day and age where information is freely available. The millennial traveller is looking to garner a connection at a deeper emotional and personal level by experiencing a country’s history, culture and people. In other words, they are looking for authenticity.

It is this proclivity towards authentic experiences that has led to the rise of initiatives like Cook like a Local. This noteworthy shift led Viluxur Holidays to develop its own online platform – Taya Finch – that focused on the online traveller; this was a valid and potent decision, since business has increased for Taya Finch over the 2 years that it has been in operation. This brings us to another topic, which are online bookings, and its incessant rise in terms of usage.

Technology has now advanced to a level where you can get whatever you want with a click of a button. From ordering food to clothes to even medicine, everything is available online, and it is far more informative than it was 10 to 15 years ago. The internet has become the biggest marketplace to sell goods and services.

Recently, I came across an article published on a recent study carried out by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) for their holiday habit report in 2017; approximately 80% of travellers from the United Kingdom book their holidays online, whereas only 17% make the same transaction via a phone call or a travel agent. Moreover, the fact that 50% of our holiday bookings are made through mobiles, which is expected to increase next year, gives rise to the increasing importance of assimilating technology when it comes to user experience. Needless to say, the need to make websites and booking systems mobile friendly is indisputable.

Thus far, I have spoken about the importance of shifting the focus towards bespoke tourism, and while there have been discordant whispers from certain quarters that Sri Lanka doesn’t have the infrastructure to cater to such discerning needs from luxury-hungry tourists, let me assure you that this is an erroneous fact. To prove my point, Sri Lanka is one of the most culturally-rich destinations, having many UNESCO World Heritage Sites; within a few days, you can cover Kandy, Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, and Galle Fort, etc. Sri Lanka also possesses 26 national parks with a great degree of biodiversity, not to mention the availability of marine life in locations like Mirissa.

What was lacking in the Sri Lankan tourism industry is the lack of awareness amongst travellers. Most of them did not know of Sri Lanka, what to do in Sri Lanka, or what it has to offer as a nation. However, at present, we see a concerted effort by the Government, along with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotional Bureau, in taking necessary steps to promote Sri Lanka, by creating awareness campaigns in countries such as China, India, Germany, France, UK, and Australia, amongst many others, while also concentrating on creating awareness using the necessary social media platforms. This also has made it possible for Sri Lanka to get highlighted globally, which has given rise to these niche market segments.  

With tourism being one of the main contributors to the country’s GDP, value additions like crafting bespoke experiences that cater to the requirements of a new generation of travellers are mandatory, to say the least.

Moreover, current trends are indicative of tourism increasing exponentially, which could serve as a warning to the tourism industry in general: a warning because evolving according to the business climate of today is imperative. To drive this point home, I will leave you with a pertinent quote from James Cash Penney of JC Penney — “No company can afford not to move forward. It may be at the top of the heap today but at the bottom of the heap tomorrow, if it doesn’t.”

(Shaleen Shanthikumar is General Manager for Viluxur Holidays Sri Lanka & Taya Finch.)



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