Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:25
Numbers can drive home a point as no words can. Sri Lanka Tourism believes that tourism arrivals for 2013 will slow down from the expected 1.25 million arrivals ambitiously targeted at the start of this year to 1.1 million, which is just marginally higher than what was experienced in 2012.
The inevitable has happened in the sense that arrival numbers seem to be bottoming out. Given the increasing challenges it is imperative that the industry and Government set aside trading brickbats over high room prices and lack of subsidies to focus on the sustainable development of a significant revenue earner to the country. This is all the more important as exports continue to dwindle and tourism becomes the main attraction point for foreign investment.
However, Sri Lanka has earned nearly half a billion US dollars from its booming post-war tourism industry, which is an increase of 21.9% for the first five months of this year. On a cumulative basis, earnings from tourism during the first five months of 2013 recorded a growth of 21.9%, to US$ 484.3 million, the Central Bank said in its recent external sector report. This growth is compared to the cumulative earnings of US$ 397.1 million received from tourism during the first five months of 2012.
So many would argue that promoting destination marketing and attracting higher paying tourists should be the goal. Sri Lanka’s tourist businesses are charged a ‘cess’ by the State tourism agency and the industry has been calling for a well-funded destination program since the end of the war. Industry heavyweights even made the suggestion to Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera ahead of the 2013 Budget, but received no positive response. This ‘wait-and-see’ policy has raised fears that Sri Lanka could lose ground to more competitive emerging destinations such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
Authorities have generally said that with a strong influx of tourists, a large marketing program was not needed at that time, especially since Sri Lanka did not yet have enough rooms. Instead, tourism promotion has relied on internet campaigns and promotions targeted at specific markets, which cost less money. Tourism authorities have been focusing on expanding infrastructure as the target of 2.5 million tourists by 2016 required more resources and many felt that the natural publicity generated by the end of the war would be sufficient to keep numbers afloat.
Mentions by Lonely Planet and the New York Times aside, the island has struggled to remain in the media for positive reasons. The lack of a destination marketing campaign could also mean that Sri Lanka will continue to lag behind in the race for high-end clients. This would mean that the returns on tourism, on which the Government has high hopes, would take longer to materialise – or may not materialise at all.
The growth and sustainability of such numbers is largely dependent on the vibrancy and continuity of arrivals. Earnings of local players also leaves limited funding for large-scale marketing programs, resulting in sporadic or limited exposure. A comprehensive destination marketing project would assist all players in the industry – from the small to the large.
Great expectations can only bear fruit with great commitment. This means that both the private and public sector need to work together so that the industry achieves its full potential.