By Cheranka Mendis
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, which saw a 30.8% growth over the previous year in 2011, has been driven by key markets India, UK and Germany and is likely to be the foremost contributor in 2012 as well.
Named as ‘Visit Sri Lanka year,’ 2011 saw the industry taking a major leap from the previous years marking a historical 855,975 arrivals, 105,975 more than the targeted sum for the year, which was 750,000.
While growth was seen across all countries and regions, only Eastern Europe failed to meet the expected 76,000 for 2011 as noted in the Five Year Tourism Development Strategy launched last year.
However all other regions showed signs of growth, with the biggest regional growth coming from Latin America and the Caribbean which posted a 67.1% increase from the previous year.
Percentage wise Africa posted the second highest arrival increase, 56.6% from 2010 followed by Middle East with a 53.2% growth. Sri Lanka Tourism industry is eyeing Middle East as a potential high growth market with key focus on the growing middle class and the high spending travellers and tourists coming in from the oil rich gulf.
When analysing the highest number of arrivals from the regions, Western Europe, South Asia and East Asia are the biggest contributors to the local tourism industry with 315,210, 237,647 and 96,194 persons respectively coming in from those locations.
The three markets were the key contributors in both 2010 and 2009 as well. Africa as well as Latin America and the Caribbean rest at the bottom of the contributors list with just 3,614 and 1,036 arrivals. Coincidentally the two regions have been in the same position for the past two years even though the numbers have grown from a mere 1,549 and 617 respectively to the present state.
Country wise growth
When it comes to country-wise growth, India takes the lead alongside UK and Germany. The status has been the same in 2010. In 2009, even though India and UK were on top of the list, Maldives scored the third highest after which Germany came in place as the fourth largest contributor.
Over the past two years, Maldives has fallen down to the forth place in 2010 pushing Germany up to fifth position in 2011, giving France the fourth place on the arrivals list.
Sri Lanka in 2011 welcomed 171,374 tourists from India (35.1% growth from 2010), 106,082 from UK (0.6%) and 55,882 from Germany (22.2%). France sent out 48,695 tourists during the year followed by Maldives (44,018), Australia (41, 728), Canada (24,671), USA (24,386), Netherlands (23,966) and Russia (21,285). This makes up the top ten markets for tourism 2011 in Sri Lanka.
Percentage wise Belgium, Finland and Russia posted the highest growth percentages with 87.5%, 87.1% and 1.1% respectively.
The Five Year Development Strategy which acts as the roadmap till 2016 identifies five key emerging markets, Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism Dr. Nalaka Godahewa acknowledged to the Daily FT on a previous discussion.
The five markets he listed were India, China, Middle East, Russia and Japan. In 2011, 16,308 tourists came from China, 57,501 from the Middle Eastern region, 21,385 from Russia and 29,586 from Japan. All identified markets remain as the top 11 markets in 2011.
While the growth in 2011 remains s such regionally and country-wise, Sri Lanka embraced the most amount of tourists in December last year. Surpassing all prior records, December 2011 saw 97,517 coming into the country during which the country celebrated the arrival of the 800,000th tourist to the country- John and Nadia Chamabi from UK.
November which recorded the second highest arrival figure for the year welcomed 90,889 international travellers. In November the country received the 750,000th tourist to the country which was the original target for the year. Mohomad Albordiny and his wife from Palestine were noted as the 750,000th and 750,001st tourists to the country.
The month of July recorded the third highest arrivals to the country followed by March and January. The respective arrival figures were 83,786, 75,130 and 74,130.
Expectations for 2012
With 2011 being marked as a historical one for the country, industry stakeholders are looking forward for a better year in 2012. Even though the Five Year plan looks at 950,000 arrivals for the year, riding on the latest developments and the high growth trend industry stakeholders have expressed an expectation to surpass one million arrivals by the end of the year.
The country marked the beginning of the year with the launch of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for visa on midnight 31 December. Even though the process faced a few hiccups in its initial stages, the online visa system is said to be running smoothly. Within ten hours after it was launched the country earned Rs.1.5 million from online visa arrivals from 1,252 visitors.
In 2012, Sri Lanka Tourism is expected to launch a joint marketing program to further promote the country globally. In 2012, Sri Lanka Tourism will work on language translation on the website and will even open separate web pages for the likes of China and Russia, new emerging countries of focus.
It was agreed by Dr. Godahewa that the process for this has already started. More hotel rooms are expected to be added to the country’s portfolio as well. Key hotel projects are also expected to start its construction work in 2012.