Changing trends

Tuesday, 1 October 2013 00:22 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Is cheap really the best option for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry? The week began with a report that gauges the countries that offer the most in return for tourists’ holiday cash, rating Sri Lanka as an expensive destination for tourists. But should the industry be really worried? According to the latest Post Office Travel Money Long Haul Report, the Indonesian island of Bali has toppled Sri Lanka from the top spot as the ‘best value’ long-haul travel option in a new list of popular holiday destinations. Sri Lanka has slipped to the fifth place behind South Africa, Vietnam and Thailand and the decline is attributed to a 45% price rise in costs at Sri Lankan resorts. Resort costs have fallen in half of long haul destinations – in most cases because of the improving performance of the pound, but could Sri Lanka’s rise hurt its place in attracting the highest number of British tourists. According to the Daily Mail, the Post Office report found that prices in Bali for 2013 fell by 1% to give the Indonesian island a clear lead over second placed South Africa, while resort prices in Sri Lanka had risen for the second year running. The Post Office report calculated the cost of 10 tourist staples in the capital Colombo including items such as sun cream, insect repellent and a three-course meal for two with wine to come to a total of £54.45. Although the average price of a cup of coffee, at 26 pence, was the cheapest across the board, Sri Lanka displayed the biggest cost rise in any of the destinations surveyed, with prices for all 10 commodities 24% higher than in Bali (£43.91), the outright winner. Vietnam and Thailand took third and fourth place and there are other competitors for Sri Lanka in the Asia Pacific such as Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Yet should the industry really take a look at costs given the cheap rates that it had to endure during the difficult war period? The statistics, after all, come subsequently to a criticism from Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana that room costs have been artificially increased. A statement that has been roundly rejected by hoteliers. Experts have pointed out that Sri Lanka still attracts a type of tourists dubbed “flash packers”; these are usually young travellers who come on a limited budget, are keen to interact with the local people and have high expectations on experience. In fact this segment is the primary funders of Sri Lanka’s home stay ventures, which are threatening to outnumber the occupation in conventional hotels. At the same time, hoteliers who have invested in refurbishment, human resources and have to pay hefty taxes will feel hard done by if they are pressured into reducing costs. So one thing that the industry and the Government must do is destination marketing. As the first flush of post-war euphoria wears off, travel products showcasing new experiences is what will keep tourists not just returning but increasing. As a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s economy, tourism has to be given every support possible. It is clear that the cost of living which affects the common man is also spilling over into this essential industry. Basic items for tourists need to produced cheaply and failing that slapped with less taxes. The Government needs to gather its tax rupees from other sources, for example casinos, allowing basic items to be accessible.