Earning credit

Tuesday, 23 August 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

TOURIST arrivals to Sri Lanka hit an all-time high in July this year. The number of arrivals, which clocked 209,351, represented a growth of 19.1% compared to July last year and is the highest number recorded in a single month since records began in the sixties.

What is significant is that the July arrivals figure is higher than even the figure recorded last December, which is traditionally Sri Lanka’s highest grossing month in the tourism calendar. Last December too was a record at the time with 206,114 arrivals but the July performance has eclipsed this mark. 

Predictably the Tourism Ministry has been quick to claim credit for what has largely been growth from a combination of organic and private sector initiative-led expansion. From the Government’s perspective there have been recent attempts to evaluate the quality of the sector and assign it a star-system and roll back the mandatory room rate in Colombo. But these are just the starting steps to ensuring growth is sustainable.  


For starters, one of the key problems repeatedly highlighted by the industry is the lack of accurate data. For years the Government has been releasing numbers that do not differentiate between the formal and informal sectors adequately enough to understand how many foreigners are tourists, where they stay, how much they spend and their level of expectations. Without in-depth data, policymakers cannot understand the direction the industry should take, which affects the entire value chain.

Sans in-depth data, Sri Lanka has been floundering around for years without a solid branding and marketing strategy. Sri Lanka lacks a cohesive marketing strategy and campaign which should be a mutually-agreed private-public partnership. There are various promotional exhibitions that have taken place in foreign capitals in the past but they are not based on a master plan to promote the market destination. There is much more work that needs to be done in this area.  Even target group marketing is lacking and the country’s slogan has veered from ‘Small Miracle’ to ‘Wonder of Asia’ to ‘Land Like No Other’ without clearly communicating the island’s competitive advantage. 


Singapore, for example, changed to ‘Yours Singapore’ to underpin its strengths as a destination. The rebranding was accompanied by a change in the offerings to tourists with the introduction of Formula One racing, casinos, and other night entertainments. The rebranding focused on the experience of a tourist that could be personalised – sound, tastes, sights and user-centricity.

Branding a destination has to be a carefully thought-out exercise based on the competitive strength and strategic position vis-à-vis that of the competitors. It is on this basis that countries have branded their tourism. 

Moreover, the pulling out of SriLankan Airlines from lucrative routes in Europe could have an impact on tourism, which remains to be seen.  July’s growth, indeed this whole year’s growth, has been largely dependent on Western Europe.  

According to data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) for the period January to July 2016, 380,725 visitors are from this region, up from 321,472 in 2015. But this region is likely to be most affected by Brexit, with a weaker currency and economy discouraging travel. 

Such realities make it all the more imperative for the Government to earn its credit.