By Cheranka Mendis
Achieving the targeted 1.25 million tourists by the end of 2013 is an attainable target, given that the industry and the authorities give priority to proper marketing and promotion for the destination.
Encouraged by surpassing yet another target in the yearly tourism expectations as recorded in the Five-Year Strategic Plan of Sri Lanka Tourism, the industry is confident of this year’s target and sees no reason why the country could fail to reach the number.
In 2011, Sri Lanka reached its target of 800,000 on 19 December, ending the year with a historic 855, 975 arrival count. On 18 December last year, the industry surpassed the original target of 950,000 and went on to break the anticipated one million tourist mark on 30 December. An Official of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau yesterday told the Daily FT that the total arrivals for 2012 were approximately 1,000,400 million.
The official noted that the targets had been set after analysing factors such as the availability of room capacity, State infrastructure development, hotel refurbishments, etc.
“Achieving the targets will gradually take us to realise the 2.5 million tourist arrivals by 2016. Sri Lanka is popular as a green and natural tourism destination and is gaining popularity among travellers,” the official said.
The Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) Current President Mahen Kariyawasam and Immediate Past President Nilmin Nanayakkara expressed that the hope is that Sri Lanka Tourism will hold more promotional campaigns to promote the destination in the coming year.
Nanayakkara noted that attracting 1.25 million tourists is not the problem for the local tourism industry, but how this number will be managed. “We will not be able to maintain the same growth percentage if we do not move towards right marketing and promotions,” he said.
“Even though it is a slightly bigger jump from the previous targets of 800,000 and 950,000, this is an achievable target.” If the industry fails to make the target, it would be due to high pricing and lack of proper marketing strategy.
Nanayakkara expressed that Sri Lanka Tourism is currently planning its marketing strategy along with the corporate and public sector. While looking for new markets is a must for the industry, maintaining the existing markets is also key, he said. “I endorse the thinking of looking out for greener pastures. However, we must also maintain what we have going.”
While promoting the feeder markets, we must also look at strategies to fill the existing accommodations, especially during the lean months of May to mid July, and September-October. “A new business model must be looked at where regional markets and new markets can play a major role in filling the occupancy during the slow months.”
The industry must also understand the global trends, regional pricing and be competitive in pricing the hotel rooms. He commented that the industry is oftentimes not price competitive, and hotels, especially in the city, must work towards balanced numbers.
“When two-thirds of the world is suffering from the impact of the recession, we cannot invite people and charge exorbitant offers that do not go along with the services offered. The authorities will have to identify and convince decision makers on how important it is to be competitive regionally.”
There is also a need to find ways to keep costs low in the hotel industry, Nanayakkara said. Infrastructure development cost in Sri Lanka is extremely high for hotel development, he acknowledged. “We must find a way to reduce costs at least with other expenses such as electricity, salary structures, etc.”
The authorities, hoteliers and the Destination Management Companies (DMCs) must collectively agree on having different prices for different standards of products.
Colombo City Hotels Chairman M. Shanthikumar added that achieving the target would not be a problem if the industry carried out consumer and trade promotions with immediate effect, concentrating mainly on the emerging markets and feeder markets.
The SLTPB Official added that the industry would take part in more travel fairs and road shows this year, targeting the likes of India, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, Middle East, and the CIS countries.
The bureau is currently compiling a plan for promotion which is to be launched in mid January this year. The plan has been finalised in consultation with the industry.
Nevertheless, the country will be able to handle the increasing arrivals as new hotels are expected to open this year within the city as well as in the outskirts, Shanthikumar said. He noted that two hotels were expected to open up before the end of the year in the city and some 10 more out of Colombo.
“This would add approximately 350 rooms to the city portfolio and approximately 600 more out of Colombo.” In 2012, however, no additional rooms were added to the city room inventory.
“With the closing down of the Ceylon Continental for refurbishment, we actually had 250 less rooms in Colombo this year. With the hotel being re-launched as The Kingsbury this year, the inventory will go back to normal.”
Shanthikumar further stated that the occupancy in 2012 was 70% and that the forecast for 2013 was a 10% increase from the previous year.
He stated that steps should be taken to maintain higher occupancy, while the industry should concentrate on human resource development, which is currently seen as a major issue due to the lack of skilled staff. “The Institute of Hospitality must provide more students and the private sector must be encouraged to invest in more hotel schools.”
Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism (ASMET) President Suresh De Mel added that the growth in the SME hotel sector was larger than the larger hotel sector.
“Most SMEs are informal. This is one of the key things we are concerned about. While most of the tourists are served by this informal sector, there have been no proper statistics on the numbers. We hope the sector could be empowered, encouraged, and informed on standards, ethics, etc., to deliver a better service to tourism,” De Mel said.