Drive a new positioning for Sri Lanka at CHOGM

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tourism has now become one of the world’s largest foreign exchange earners with the industry set to cross the one trillion dollar mark and visitor numbers crossing one billion globally. This growth has been ignited with the launch of e-commerce, where a holiday can be booked and paid for from the comfort of one’s home. Top search engine Google has revealed that tourism has now become the most traded item on the internet. With this new insight, the implication to Sri Lanka is that in the key markets of UK, France and Germany, we need to have a strong internet-based communication strategy using possible platforms, be it FB, Four Square, Pinterest and Instagram given that almost 70% of people globally tend to book their holidays online. The key challenge now for Sri Lanka is to identify the most compelling reason we can offer a global traveller given that we have moved from ‘Land Like No Other’ to many others on the way and finally come to ‘Wonder of Asia’. The problem at hand Given the issues that Sri Lanka has been up against in the recent past in the global media and many resolutions passed at the UN, not forgetting the recent visit of the UNHRC top official, I guess it’s time that we re-look the proposition that we want to announce to the world given that the world will be in Sri Lanka due to CHOGM. Whilst it may be true that Sri Lanka can showcase the beautiful beaches of Arugam Bay and the best wildlife in a square kilometre of land area in Asia in Yala to whale watching just an hour out to sea, these are not direct comparison product features given that every country can have unique attributes, be it the Ranrabae tigers of India or the Asian rhino once again in India. In my view, we need come out with something that is directly comparable so that Sri Lanka cuts out of the clutter. In this light the cutting edge noticeable difference of Sri Lanka is the clean environment that we can offer visitors. This can be justified with the Carbon Dioxide Emission report by the UN Human Development Report. Sri Lanka – Less developed but less polluted If we analyse the Sri Lankan economy, it has experienced accelerated growth over the past three years despite adverse shocks that keep hitting the economy such as the Greek crisis, EU economic debacle and now the Indian economy under pressure with a current account crisis. Growth has yet averaged at 7-8% during the last three years. The higher economic growth has been accompanied by a declining unemployment level to less than 5% but a point to note is that average annual growth rate between 1983-2006 was around 4.5%, whilst the economy recorded a 4.4% growth rate during 1961-1982. This means that overall Sri Lanka’s economic growth has been below threshold level given the performance of 8-11% GDP growth registered by economic giants like India and China. Hence it can be responsibly said that Sri Lanka’s development has not been in line with the changing global landscape of development in the last 30 years. If we link development with pollution, we can come to the conclusion that due to Sri Lanka’s development being low mainly due to the 30-year conflict, it could be said that the pollution level which results due to development is also low. This is confirmed by the latest UN report on climate change where we register an MtC02 emission of a low 11.5. Hence it is fair to say that against the backdrop of economic engines in the Asian region like China, India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka will emerge as a ‘less polluted country’. It is a positioning opportunity that is fast emerging for our beautiful little country. The challenge is if we get together and recognise this emerging new positioning and if we want to drive our communication strategy on this platform, maybe we can use CHOGM for the benefit of Sri Lanka. The UN human development report on climate change very clearly justifies the positioning opportunity which is emerging and it will become stronger in the years to come as countries like India, China, Malaysia and Singapore have a robust development agenda which is going to add to the pollution of their respective countries. Currently Sri Lanka’s total emission (MtC02) is at a low 11.5 whilst per capita CO2 emission is at low ebb of 0.6 as against China at 5007.1 and India at 1342.1. ‘Treasures of Sri Lanka – the Ethical way’ We now need to develop on these insights with the new trends we see in climate change, which Sri Lanka can capitalise on. One proposition that is coming up strongly is ‘Treasures of Sri Lanka’ can be seen in an ethical way. This idea is getting more fuelled with Nobel Peace prize winner Al Gore driving up the climate change agenda and the recent climate change debacles we see globally like the Indian tsunami, the devastating cold spell in East United States and the violent storms in East Asia. Drive awareness of Sri Lanka A world tourism survey done on a brand tracking exercise has stated that only 4% globally are aware of Sri Lanka whilst only 3% consider the country as a possible vacation hot spot. When I did desk research via Google trend, this information was confirmed. If we once again look at this data positively, we can take advantage of it. Since the current positioning is not registered, we can now create awareness of the new positioning for Sri Lanka, ‘Treasures of Sri Lanka – the Ethical way’. If can push our market share to 4%, we can make this industry a 200 billion industry for Sri Lanka. What is now required is to develop a short term objective in our key markets of India, UK, France and Germany and increase awareness of the new position to 10% and the consideration score to 7%. On the proposition that Sri Lanka is an island of treasures, we can cut away from the competition given that we are a small land area – an island. Next steps A recent UNWTO report states that over 200 million travellers have visited Asia and 10 million of them have come to South Asia. This means that we have just over a 10% market share of the South Asian market. The reason for this choice of South Asia has been the ability of exploration and discovery that no other region can offer. Sri Lanka can exploit this opportunity big time by creating awareness of the new positioning ‘Treasures of Sri Lanka – the Ethical way’. After all our treasure trove includes culture, beaches, sporting, wildlife, adventure, agriculture – i.e. tea, night life, off beat tracks, nature trails, ethically manufactured garments, good accommodation, wrapped around with smiling warm people. This can trigger a hook onto the all-important emotional reason to visit Sri Lanka. The proposition of ‘Treasures of Sri Lanka – the Ethical way,’ we can set ourselves apart and take the high ground as at the end of the day we are fighting with giants like Singapore and Malaysia that invest over 20-40 million dollars annually to attract top end travellers to their destination. Maybe with this strong proposition we can beat the fat budgets of the competitors by way of differentiation. The reason why I am proposing that we target only the Western markets for the launch of this new positioning is because the average income of a traveller from UK, France and Germany (which are the top three markets for Sri Lanka) is around US$ 21,000. This gives us an indication of the purchasing power of a visitor to Sri Lanka and in turn the earning potential for the country. (The author is a Best Marketer award winner (twice), Business Achiever Award and a Global Leadership Award winner with the most recent being from the Association of Business Associations globally and World Education Congress. The thoughts are strictly his personal views.)

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