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Just so you know, FYI, Ministry of Tourism


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 10 July 2018 00:00


By Badly Affected Small Hotelier 

Around four years ago I have started a guest house in Kandy simply by accident. This turned out to be my lucky break. Small guest house with just five rooms which I started giving just above $ 50 became a hit! 

In years 2015, 2016 and 2017 we pretty much enjoyed 100% occupancy. I even left my full-time job. If one room becomes vacant, this was unusual for us. I ranked on the top five on TripAdvisor, I was regularly listed on first few pages of Booking.com, Agoda and you name it. We never experienced what’s called “off season”. We were full every day. Yes, sadly I did say “were”.



The new normal

Starting April 2018 things started getting weird. There were number of empty rooms. Even staff was getting slightly panicked. Then came May. We experienced the first day after about three years where all five rooms were empty. And on regular basis, we were hosting one or two. In simple terms there were lots of empty rooms. 

I had a target in my mind. Even if there are 100 tourists in town, I should be the first to get filled. My pricing, my reviews, my communication were all aligned in a way that I will fill my rooms. Sadly I failed, and this continuing to date (late June). Empty rooms became the new normal!



What was wrong?

Initially I thought surely there are no tourists in the country, then I thought that it is because of the Kandy riots, seeing the after effect only now. And I started looking around and later I realised ‘no tourists’ is just an easy excuse. There had got to be something wrong with my guest house. So I started digging. There was no apparent issue with my rank, my reviews, contents, travel agents or anything. However I did notice that in 2015-2016 about 35% of my guests were Chinese. But in 2018 it was below 5%. 

Then I looked up specifically on Chinese reviews, how a Chinese national would see my guest house. I went to the disparate extent of even running through Chinese social media and Chinese travel forums and blogs. Again no apparent issue. My place was highly recommended across the board. Then after talking all my hotel-owner-friends around Sri Lanka, I realised that the problem indeed is ‘no tourists in the country’. Sadly their hotels were going through a worse time than me. 

Let me repeat, there are tourists, and yes hotels rooms have gone up significantly over the last few years. But if someone is looking for a hotel, I am on top. So point is there are very few tourists in the country since April 2018. I know, I know, statistics say otherwise!



The informal sector 

I see lots of articles on papers talking about the ‘informal sector’. I guess they are referring to places like ours. In my personal opinion we have no voice and also feels that everyone looks down on us. ‘Established’ players and names have a bigger voice. But in reality we are suffering and I feel that if we are suffering, you got to be suffering more. 

For example, there are new big hotels getting opened in most parts of Sri Lanka. Just because they have a wealthy background doesn’t mean that the hotel will run smoothly without guests. So if I’m correct big players too must be going through really tough times because of the very reason that I’m suffering. Same goes to every ‘formal,’ ‘informal,’ ‘big,’ ‘small,’ ‘established,’ ‘respected,’ ‘not so respected,’ practically all. This is an industry crisis. 



What can we do?

That’s the scary part. The reason why we had the influx until early this year was probably because of the good done by ‘someone’ about two, three or four years ago. That good carried us this far. The widely-accepted inaction at present will likely to have the same effect and we are likely to be in this mess for atleast another 1½ years. But I’m still convinced that we are in the right industry. 

Looking at the growth in tourism in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar we have another good 20 times growth left. Even if you leave out Thailand’s infamous tourist reason and Malaysia attracts almost half of its tourists from Singapore, we are still a good 10 times less that we can be. 

The world has moved on, there are very low cost but effective branding, promotional activities we can do on platforms like YouTube, Google, Baidu, Weibo and weChat at a fraction of cost. I feel that we are looking in the wrong direction. The biggest tourist numbers are coming from China and not the West. China is a low-hanging fruit. I will not write the numbers as I can’t verify them but what I read about the Chinese outbound market is unbelievable. 



It’s a crime!

I see a lot of news and airtime spent on the bond scam. In my opinion the opportunity cost of tourism is 50 times more than what we collectively lost on the bond scam. And imagine the money, jobs, construction, indirect jobs that it can create. I don’t honestly know how long I can keep all the jobs and how long that I can survive. But I have done my country proud in my small capacity by being an example to incoming tourists, making them happy and earning quite a lot of money into the country. And yes I pay tax. 



Who am I?

I’m the messenger. I have a message. I can’t reveal who I am because in an age of inaction, they are likely to hunt the messenger than the message. May be all what I have said is not true, it’s for you to judge. But every person I have spoken to endorses my message. I’m writing this so that others can either endorse or reject my claims. 



What am I expecting?

I’m hoping that someone influential will see this and talk to someone equally influential to ‘do something’. Actually thinking about it, how difficult can it be? If I put Rs. 2,500 advertisement on HitAd, I’m guaranteed to get few calls and I will almost always close two to three sales. So I recover my cost. The same goes to running an email campaign, I spend about Rs. 3,000 but I always get few calls and I always close a few sales.This is because I have a good product and I have faith in what I sell. And I’m passionate about it. In a much bigger context our country will be ‘theproduct’ you will have to sell.


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