Juggling tourism

Tuesday, 6 September 2011 01:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The effort and policy may have been well intended but it was a case of bad and hurried execution.  That should sum up the official launch of the Tourism Development Strategy 2011-2016 last night with entertainment and cocktails.

Midst a gathering of the cream of the tourism industry, diplomats and media, the strategy document was unveiled with Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Deputy Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena officiating.

A quick flip through of the 36-page document put out by the Ministry of Economic Development is likely to leave any stakeholder confused as in the first half it refers to 2011-2016 strategy and in the second half the same publication focuses plans and targets until 2020. See table.

Less with concrete new action, initiatives or policies in term of strategies, the document in general is more a policy statement along with known and previously well documented inherent potential of Sri Lanka tourism.

Whilst it appears that the focus and targets up to 2016 are Economic Development Ministry-centric, the 2020 facets have come from the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

In fact from chapter 4.0 onwards it gives credit to the latter. It couldn’t be confirmed whether this combination is due to the fact that both Ministries having a common Secretary Dr.  P.B. Jayasundera, who wasn’t present though listed in the agenda to make the formal handover of the strategy document to Minister Rajapaksa. That task was done by Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa.

To be fair, Godahewa in his speech by default admitted that the strategy document wasn’t anything new but everything has been put together so that all stakeholders could focus and work together to achieve goals. “Tourism is a people’s industry as it benefits all. This strategy document will help align all to be focused on one direction with a common goal,” Godahewa said.

Though he revealed that the strategy had inputs from the industry, the substance doesn’t explicitly convey such a contribution from stakeholders.

The launch of the strategy though many months late from the previously announced release was however welcomed by the industry.

The document as well as Godahewa at the outset quoted Mahinda Chinthana Extended Vision 2010 (launched in January 2010), of targeting 2.5 million tourists by 2016.

With a tag line “Refreshingly Sri Lanka: The Wonder of Asia” and as world’s most treasured island the specific strategies related to the five year plan are, 1) creating an environment conducive for tourism; 2) attracting the right type of tourists; 3) ensuring that departing tourists are happy; 4) improving domestic tourism and 5) contributing towards improving the global image of Sri Lanka. The unique selling propositions of destination Sri Lanka are, 1) authenticity; 2) compactness and 3) diversity.

The document quoting the visit 2011 campaign, said that Sri Lanka Tourism will focus on eight product categories under the theme “8 wonderful experienced in 8 wonderful days” and they are Beaches (Pristine), Sports and Adventure (Thrills), Heritage sites (Heritage), Mind and Body wellness (Bliss), Scenic beauty (Scenic), Wild life and nature (Wild), People and Culture (Essence) and Year round festivals (Festive).

The fact that the specific strategies doesn’t go beyond 2011 is reflected by the fact that the 2016 strategy document lists basic information such as “Key monthly events” for 2011 and specific plans for the year. This gives the so called five year strategy document an annual plan flavour.

During his speech, Tourism Chairman Godahewa also said: “We won’t run the industry, we will only facilitate and support. We expect the private sector to take charge and identify opportunities. “We want to develop a comprehensive product.”

He said that the Government has already taken initiatives to assist the growth process. “The government has already committed to restore a simple tax regime and to simplify the land alienation policy.” Improved licensing procedures, reduction of high electricity tariff, duty concessions to sell branded product, establishing a one stop shop for tourism and promoting a city clean being among the others.

“New initiatives we hope to put in place very soon are the regulation for 22 product categories to align us with international standards, use technology as a tool for development, develop hotel school as a franchise network,” Godahewa said adding, “The main thing however is to realise the policies and plans through a sustainable method with minimum or no damage to the environment.”

500,000 tourists mark topped in 8 months

Sri Lanka has succeeded in attracting 500,000 tourists within eight months this year as opposed to nine months last year.

The surpassing of the half a million mark was happily disclosed by Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa last night at the launch of 2011-2016 Development Strategy document.

Due to lack of rooms, moderate growth until 2013

The 2011-2016 strategy document says that given the limitations in room capacity and time required to build new hotels, only a moderate growth in tourist arrivals is envisaged until 2013. However a much faster growth is expected thereafter. Up to July this year, tourist arrivals grew by 36%, on the back of 46% growth in 2010.

Longer wait for global ad campaign

Aggressive country marketing is widely felt within the industry as an urgent need but the wait will be longer.

The 2011-2016 strategy document states “a major international advertising campaign could be initiated during the latter period of 2012 or 2013 once the adequate room capacity and other facilities are fulfilled to target an exponential growth in tourism.”