Does terrorism actually affect tourist arrivals?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 00:23 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • New research reveals that natural disasters are a bigger concern for travellers
Latest research emerging is revealing that global travellers of today are more sensitive to natural disasters like earthquakes, typhoons and floods and diseases than the threat of terrorism when planning their vacation, which means that the real challenge is how a country communicates a strong proposition like ‘Incredible India’ or ‘Uniquely Singapore’ and then lives up to this promise so that travellers will make this a preferred destination to travel. This approach tends to negate the impacts of adverse publicity that a country can get due to terrorism provided the brand promise the country communicates is strong. Incidentally, global travellers state that Sri Lanka’s awareness around the world is at around 3% among potential global travellers whilst countries like India command an awareness of 21%, which explains the visitor flow into the country even with the ongoing explosions and rape issues that has been hitting the global media on India, which is interesting.  Terrorism – Rs. 6,000 b loss to SL The United States Department of Defence defines terrorism as the calculated use of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or intimidate governments of societies in pursuits of goals that are generally political, religious or ideological. From a back of the envelop calculation, Sri Lanka has lost over Rs. 6,000 billion due to the fear and violence unleashed in the last 25 years by the LTTE. To explain this point, for instance Cambodia which attracted a mere 0.2 million tourists in the 1980s is today registering two million global travellers, whilst Sri Lanka is at a million tourists, four years after the cessation of hostilities, when way back in the 1980s we registered a similar number of tourists just like Cambodia. This clearly explains the cost of the war on tourism and the impact to a country. New research: Natural disasters a bigger issue However, some recent data reveals that in countries like Germany where sensitivity to safety is very high with every household car being secured with four airbags rather than the conventional two airbags, the threat of terrorism when planning a vacation overseas is declining substantially and in fact has weighted down to only 52% getting influenced due to terrorism; the logic being, natural disasters are so rampant like tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, and only create destruction but also colossal loss of life, more so than terrorism. The best case in point is that some years back the heat wave in France killed over 5,000 people while 9/11 killed 3,500. Apparently the Indian tsunami killed more people this year than the war in Kashmir has done for the last 10 years. The study in Germany also revealed that new diseases that ravage the face of the earth like dengue are also top of the mind among global travellers than the threat of terrorism, which is a point that Sri Lanka must note. Awareness: 3% globally A key point to note is that the current awareness of Sri Lanka is at around 3% among global travellers. Let’s accept it post 2009, we as a nation have failed to generate the relevant positive stories to hit the global newsstands of the world even with super power brand personalities visiting Sri Lanka and some of the best brand names also coming into the country. In marketing terminology, unless we have a strong ‘consumer proposition,’ we cannot get into the consideration set of a consumer and if one does not get into a consideration set, there is no chance to get a trial even with an internet preview of Sri Lanka by a consumer. In this light Sri Lanka must develop a strong proposition so that top end travellers can be attracted to visit our country. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya, Maldives and India with a fat marketing budget of 20-60 million dollars drive cutting-edge propositions which have resulted in attracting the top dollar tourists into a country. This is an area that I guess Sri Lanka needs to focus on. Way forward: Nation branding A best practice seen across the world, the recent being the USA, is roll-out strategies like nation branding. The synergistic effect of national branding if properly done can match the fat advertising budgets of the competing countries that were mentioned above. However, a point to note is that we cannot brand nations. A nation needs to own a distinctive brand imagery over time by behaving in a particular way globally. In this light, we have seen Sri Lanka getting highlighted in the global media due to agitations in prisons, shootings in villages and time and again attacks on reporters, which does not augur well for Sri Lanka. If we take Turkey, even with the constant attacks from the terror unit PKK, the country practices strong communication from different facets of the country like politicians, sports, exports and tourism that has resulted in attracting almost two million visitors into the country. Apparently Turkey in the German market exposed people to Turkish cuisine on the streets, Turkish politicians are featured on German media, sports personalities of Turkish origin are interviewed on TV, and if a German visits a department store, one gets exposed to products made in Turkey. This together with the marketing spend by the Turkish Tourism Ministry has created a synergistic effect that results in record visitors coming in to Germany from Turkey. Sri Lanka needs to take a cue from Turkey and test this concept in a focused market like may be Saudi Arabia or a city in China like Beijing. South Asia – Only 1% share globally A point to note is that the whole of South Asian tourism authorities must ask the question why it attracts only 1% of global travellers even though it boasts the best tourism sites in the world, be it the Taj Mahal, Sigiriya and the Himalayas in Nepal, not to mention the most exotic beaches of the Maldives and vibrant cultures it possesses. It is a fact that South Asia is offbeat to what a global traveller wants. The best case in point is East Asia, where an 18% global share is attracted into the East Asian countries which means more than 150 million tourists but they posses only half the beauty that South Asia boasts. Maybe the consumer propositions that East Asia has to offer are exactly what a global traveller wants – theme parks, artificial game parks and shopping. It’s time that South Asia bites the bullet and maybe changes the product range or refocuses the strategy to travellers who will be satisfied with what South Asia has to offer. This is the new attitude that Sri Lanka also requires. The good news is that we see many private sector leisure properties doing this but now as a nation we have practice this. Next steps for Sri Lanka We must invest on a customer research study to understand what a global traveller wants, maybe in focused markets, and then understand how Sri Lanka is currently perceived and what the current awareness is as a country and on the product attributes that we have to offer. Let’s also understand the competitor set so that we are clear the marketing mix of our competitors as against Sri Lanka. We can then put to rest the current debate on pricing of city hotels on the minimum rate. Thereafter may be its time we architecture a global communication campaign targeting the focused markets. The good news is that the Sri Lanka Tea Board has taken the high ground and following this best practice. But now what is required is the policy support to make Sri Lanka unleash its true potential. (The writer is a Board Director on many private and public sector organisations in Sri Lanka and serves the international public sector on infrastructure development and project management. The thoughts are strictly his personal views.)

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