- Rs. 65 m campaign to attract more tourists with packages that start at $ 99
- SriLankan, Emirates and Qatar signed on for special rates, more to follow
- Minister says no to complete removal of minimum room rate but Sept-Nov exempted
By Charumini de Silva
Sri Lanka Tourism, in collaboration with industry stakeholders, yesterday launched ‘Island Escapes’, a new travel campaign to promote the country as a year-round destination to boost arrivals during lean months.
This is the first time that a planned and comprehensive country promotion is being launched in the country with an investment of Rs. 65 million and with the active participation of 33 industry stakeholders. The official launch of the campaign will take place on 15 September. The campaign will be operational from September to November and April to June in order to increase arrivals.
Island Escapes is initiated and implemented by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotional Bureau (SLTPB) along with three associations representing airlines, hotels and destination management companies (DMCs). The participating airlines, which include SriLankan Airlines, Emirates and Qatar, will be offering special rates on airfares as well.
The campaign introduces tourist packages starting from four days/three nights at $ 99 per person and encourages Colombo city hotels to give rooms at prices below the contentious floor rate, thus driving up occupancy and profits.
The gazette giving legal power to the minimum room rate lapsed on 31 March and has not been reissued by the Tourism Development Ministry. SLTPB, among other stakeholders, has backed the removal of minimum room rates.
Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga, responding to questions on how the minimum room rate would apply to this new campaign, acknowledged there may be selective application.
“At the moment minimum room rate regulation has lapsed. During these couple of months we cannot have the minimum room rate. We are not completely abandoning the minimum room rate, but it will be implemented at different times of the year. With this campaign we are just having a trial to see how this will work and after that we will take a final decision,” he added.
The Minister also said that an exemption had been granted during this period on the minimum room rate.
“I have given a letter to the hotels that this period (September to November) will be exempted from the minimum room rate,” he stressed.
Citing countries within the region that had initiated such a campaign with fruitful outcomes, Amaratunga expressed confidence that ‘Island Escapes’ would also be successful.
“We have seen countries like Singapore and Dubai do these kind of programs very successfully and based on the success of the campaign we will fine-tune it next year,” he added.
He said that if the Sri Lankan Government was expecting tourism to be one of the main foreign exchange earners then the industry had to look at ways and means it could achieve those objectives.
“We have to adopt this type of methodology to attract tourists. I hope by November we will be able to increase our numbers to 2.5 million to 3 million. We will experiment. We will see what gains the country will receive from this. I am quite confident that these types of initiatives will be successful,” the Minister said.
According to industry sources, the Minister said that these rates offered during a lean period were a 40%-50% discount on current rates.
“We are highly encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by the industry and the Tourism Ministry is pleased to have been able to implement this program. The special promotional campaign will offer visitors attractive incentives at participating hotels countrywide with the objective of attracting visitors during low occupancy,” Amaratunga pointed out.
Despite some parties disagreeing to launch the campaign, he said the majority could not be selfish.
“No one should object. We are only thinking of the country. It is the country which has to benefit, not a handful of people. The objective of the campaign is to boost the tourism industry. We have to look at the country as a whole. The benefits must trickle down from top to bottom and for that more tourists need to come. The numbers must come in. If we cannot reach three million at the end of the year, it will be a shame,” the Minister stressed.
Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau Chairman Kumar De Silva said ‘Island Escape’ was the first stage of this campaign which will be reintroduced with improvements and lessons in May and June next year providing tourists with an improved value proposition.
He stressed that removing the perception of Colombo being an expensive city to visit was also a key objective in designing this promotional campaign.
Outlining more of the campaign’s details, J. Walter Thompson CEO Alyna Omar said that ‘Island Escape’ was an immediate tactical strategy to increase room occupancy during the lean period.
“It is important to understand that this is the first step in positioning Sri Lanka as a year-round destination in our key markets which include India, China and the Middle East. The campaign takes on a very strong millennial length. Asia is the number one destination for inbound millennial travellers, especially from long-haul destinations. Come 2020, millennials will account for 50% of global travel revenue. So in building up to that, this campaign is a first and important step,” she added.
Omar noted that there would be a carefully curated set of packages that covered everything from 3-, 4- and 5-star hotel offerings to travellers during this campaign from September to November and April to June.
“We have options from four days right down to a seven-day package starting at $ 99,” she stated.
Saying that the campaign was a volume driving strategy, she said it boasted the collective offerings of Sri Lanka which were diverse, authentic and compact.
“The digital extension is vitally important and that is really the mainstay of this campaign. The strategy has been essentially to fill out the markets and those touchpoints with clickbait. It is a visually-led campaign and has a very experiential feeling. Social media will be very powerful throughout this campaign and all this material is mobile friendly,” Omar pointed out.
Mindshare General Manager Erosha Tennakoon said they hoped to reach an audience of over 10 million through this campaign.
According to her, 80% of the media spent has been focused on driving the visual beauty of Sri Lanka.
“We worked on three main countries that will have potential travellers to Sri Lanka during this lean period, to drive the visual beauty of Sri Lanka throughout this campaign to the target audience while delivering results and reaching the numbers. The individual country’s demographic and media viewership habits, including video, print, search, social and mobile, have been considered,” she added.
Tennakoon was optimistic that the ‘Island Escape’ campaign would attain the ultimate objective of reaching an audience of 10 million through this promotion.
SLTPB Managing Director Sutheash Balasubramanium said that those who were not on the bandwagon during this lean period would join next year.
“We need to bite the bullet and launch this initiative. Some of the stakeholders may not like it but there is never a perfect time. We have invested Rs. 65 million in this campaign.”
The campaign strategy includes the development of four microsites within the Sri Lanka Tourism portal in English, Hindi, Chinese and Arabic. The campaign will also include media-buying on all platforms, including social media, video blogs, booking engines, search engines, mobile app advertising, direct mail campaigns and print media.