Buoyed by positive arrivals Sri Lanka has upgraded its tourism targets for 2011 from 700, 000 to 800, 000. Even though the industry is presently riding high there are several considerations to be taken into account to ensure that this growth is sustainable.
Last week Sri Lanka welcomed the 250,000th tourist for the year, a historical milestone for the country as it was the first time Sri Lanka was able to get such a number within the first four months of the year.
The closest in number was seen in 2006 where the first quarter arrival figure was recorded as 209, 312. In 2010, also a record breaking year in expectations, the first four months saw 198, 709 tourists while in 2009 the number was only 102, 056. Backed by such hype and good news it is clear that Sri Lanka Tourism could very well reach the 800,000 mark before the end of the year, if the present trend continues.
In January and March arrival growth was listed as 46.2% and 43.5% respectively, setting a trend for arrival figures to cross the 40 per cent mark for the year. February was the only disappointment so far according to tourism officials, with 14.8%. However they are confident that for the next few months the growth rate will remain within 30%-40%. With increasing arrivals anticipated the industry hopes to see a 45% average monthly growth by the end of the year.
All this is great news for the country and the economy. Nonetheless there are several structural considerations that have to be taken into account. One point is that accommodation could be a challenge during the latter half of the year when visitors traditionally increase. However with another 400-500 rooms being added onto the city hotels this should be mitigated.
Even though volumes would increase revenue, per capita earnings from tourists are still at a low point in Sri Lanka with high paying customers eluding promotional clutches. Despite increasing numbers the average expense of a tourist per day in 2010 was US$ 90.3 and this is expected to increase to US$ 97.1 this year. Since most tourists still enter the country on package deals, there is little expense distributed to grass root level contributors. This also means that dissemination of income is also limited and the real benefits of the tourism boom are not being spread to all levels.
Moreover attempts to increase regional tourism beyond India are important as a sustainability measure and increase numbers as well. Countries such as Singapore are targeting regional tourism with their highest number of visitors hailing from countries such as Indonesia rather than western markets that Sri Lanka still depends on for large spenders.
Finding a sustainable tourism tag line and defining the country’s tourism product is also a necessity. Even though it seems to be defining itself by default there is still a concentrated need to tie different experiences together so that tourists will return to Sri Lanka. It is important to keep innovating different products so that the mostly first time visitors that are flocking to Sri Lanka at present continue to return. Making a good first impression and investing in future attractions need to be concentrated on in such a scenario.