Tourism can be Sri Lanka’s oil well if we drill with the correct marketing tools

Monday, 29 August 2016 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Branding is a promise that will persuade tourists to come to Sri Lanka. It must be based on meeting the needs of the tourists from our target markets.The real challenge is to really understand these needs

Success depends on using good processes, and good people to implement them.

Tourism is a private sector industry. The knowledge of good processes and good people are both in the private sector. It has struggled for a long time to wrest from the State sector the right to be the major players in formulating the strategy for tourism.

Many years ago to resolve this issue the tourism cluster of the NCED succeeded in getting a new Act. The Tourism Act No. 58 of Untitled-42005 provides for a Tourism Promotion Bureau with a majority private sector presence. Sadly things did not work out as hoped for, and it has continued to be difficult to get a collaborative approach, with the private sector playing the major role.

The problem

Promoting tourism is felt to be something that anyone with a little common sense can do. Politicians have not really understood that it is essential to find people with the right marketing experience. As a result, over the years there has been a string of political appointments for the top roles in tourism.

The way forward

The private sector must create its own tourism institute. It must take on the role of developing the promotional strategies and executing them. The State should play two roles. It should provide the funds for promotion, or remove some of the taxes and let the private sector collect its own funds, or create a fund with taxes collected. The other key role of the State is to provide the infrastructure that is essential.


Marketing is the most relevant management discipline that must be harnessed to develop tourism.

Marketing is a consumer oriented methodology of business. It will identify the needs of consumers, develop goods or services that that meets these needs, make consumers aware of these products/services and then facilitate consumers to acquire them.

The whole methodology is based on understanding the needs of consumers. Market research is the vehicle that provides the facts. It is the Siamese twin of marketing. They have to work in tandem.

The consumer is complex

The consumer has evolved over the years. The goods and services that meet their needs have also evolved. But right through time marketing is the methodology that has been used by manufacturers to develop and sell their goods and services.

In the early days of structured marketing, consumers had basic identifiable needs. Kolynos, the toothpaste manufacturer, identified that consumers did not like their teeth looking yellow. So they launched a new toothpaste with the headline ‘Kolynos takes away the yellow’.

Roads were bad and the cars were noisy. Rolls Royce came to the conclusion that buyers of premium cars wanted cars that made less noise. Ogilvy, their ad agency, came out with an ad that said: “At 60 miles per hour, the only noise you will hear is the ticking of the clock.”

Then the consumer became more complex. The consumer’s perception of a product became important. Marketing had to address perception. After World War II when Japanese products entered the US market, consumers would not buy them. Research indicated that they were perceived as inferior products.

The US naval fleet was in Pearl Harbour in World War II. The Japanese made a surprise attack and destroyed the greater part of the US fleet. To address the perception that Japanese products were inferior, Jerry Dela Femina, the ad agency for Japanese products, ran an ad with the headline: “From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbour.”

Emotional benefits

With development in technology it has become virtually impossible to develop and sustain unique products. The competition in a short space of time is able to replicate them. Marketers needed a new tool to sustain a competitive edge. They realised that a consumer derived two benefits from a product, a functional benefit and an emotional benefit.

The man who buys a Rolex watch does not buy it solely to find the time (he can see it on his mobile phone). He buys it for the emotional benefit. The feel good emotions it creates when wearing the Rolex! If what creates the emotional benefit is nurtured carefully, it will give the best protection from competitors.


To help marketing navigate through the spectrum of needs that influence a consumer’s buying decisions, many years ago Maslow developed a template of a hierarchy of needs. He presented it as a triangle with the broad base representing basic needs, going up to self-fulfilment at the apex. Here it is without the triangle:

Self-actualisation (self-fulfilment)

Ego needs (e.g. self-respect, status)

Social needs (e.g. affection, love, friendship)

Safety needs (security, protection)

Basic needs (e.g. food, water, air)

His concept was that the more basic needs must be satisfied before people move to the higher needs. Maslow’s work created awareness that a consumer’s decision is determined by a whole spectrum of needs.

Destination branding

A simple branding going through the various stages of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would be to say Sri Lanka has great hotels, the country is very safe, the people are friendly, and as it is a prestigious location visiting will improve your status and its many features will make it an educational experience.

Good marketing needs more

The needs of consumers must be assessed for each target market. Using Maslow merely for guidance, a schedule of the hierarchy of needs must be identified for tourists from each target market. A branding proposition must be developed for each target market that relates to the needs of the people in that market. That is the optimum approach.

It is not uncommon to see a common branding that has relevance at some level in most markets. If this approach is used, a sub branding should be used in the individual markets, linking it to the more important needs of people in those markets.

Branding is not the end of the marketing process. It is the beginning. There has to be good creative communication of how needs are met, research to ascertain the response to what is delivered (was the need satisfied), and all facilities have to be put in place to enable the target customers to buy the package and come to Sri Lanka.

Branding is a promise that will persuade tourists to come to Sri Lanka. It must be based on meeting the needs of the tourists from our target markets. The real challenge is to really understand these needs.

(The writer has done this that and the other here and abroad, including being a Main Board Director at Reckitt Benckiser UK for the marketing of pharmaceuticals worldwide. Also Chairman of the Tourism cluster at the NCED, and a founder member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing.)

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