The Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance returned with the sixth edition of its ‘Resilience’ webinar series aptly titled ‘How to Attract and Gain Repeat Local Visitors Right Now’ featuring a panel consisting of industry experts – Jetwing Hotels Director Operations Jerome Auvity, Classic Destinations Manager Rajiv Welikala and Antyra Solutions Chairman and CEO Niranka T. Perera as well as new entrant Ceylon Haven Co-Founder Dilshan Rabbie – who shared some immensely insightful learnings from their experience of engaging with the domestic market.
Sharing key learnings from the past three months Niranka stated that there was a notable spike in booking demand as soon as the lockdown was lifted in June 2020 possibly fuelled by pent up demand and heavy discounts offered by local properties. This trend has slowed down in recent months with data indicating a 36% decline in bookings from June to August 2020.
While discounting has worked to some extent during this period the sustainability of the discounting approach remains questionable especially given that the tourism industry would need to survive on domestic travel for considerably longer than initially anticipated.
In this context targeting the existing local client base with specially curated experiences remains as important as ever. Rajiv and the team at Classic Sri Lanka have understood that the Sri Lankan audience sees value in paying full price for a well organised, interesting, hosted experience that is specially curated for them. As a result, Classic Sri Lanka has not felt the need to offer discounts for any of its tours. Instead, the team’s focus has been on curating different types of experiences that are appealing to multiple segments of the local audience, and ensuring that they are hosted by experts on the subject matter.
It is also important to utilise this time to better understand the many segments within the domestic market and tailor make packages and messages for each segment. Businesses need to think local and pay attention to the nuances and preferences of different types of travellers within the domestic market.
Dilshan highlights that one of the key aspects Ceylon Haven emphasises on is personalization. A concept that is possibly rather new to the local market. When it comes to the domestic market, local operators have always gone with standard options that are pre-made and off the shelf. Hardly any effort has been made to create opportunities specifically for local travellers. Ceylon Haven looks at personalisation in myriad ways, from tailor made menus for each group to special amenities based on the needs of the individuals within the group. Every conversation that a potential client has with the brand is a personalised one.
The Jetwing Group attributes 25% of its overall audience to the domestic market. The group has always considered the domestic market important, and has made an effort over the years to cater to this market with special offers and packages. According to Jerome, Jetwing has used this time to create different types of experiences for local guests who visit its properties.
The group has developed experiences for each hotel, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the special brand of hospitality offered by Jetwing. Another interesting offer being promoted by Jetwing is a curated tour of one or more destinations, hosted by Hiran Cooray. The response for these tours has been phenomenal, indicating that having a recognisable and expert host makes an experience that much more attractive to a local audience.
With all tourism businesses competing for the limited domestic audience, those who put in the time and effort to develop the right value added products and communicate them effectively will inevitably find themselves with a larger slice of the pie. Businesses need to spend time crafting tailored messages for domestic travellers and focus on compelling and evocative story telling.
In closing the panel also highlighted the importance of not waiting for business to come to them and the importance of pursuing every opportunity that is out there. Love Sri Lanka Locals (https://locals.lovesrilanka.org/), the latest initiative by the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, is a perfect example of an opportunity that is available to businesses to showcase their offers specifically targeting the domestic market for free. Tourism businesses should use this time to identify what they are good at, curate great experiences, grab the opportunities present with both hands and actively go after customers.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance is a free membership-based organisation, formed after the 2019 Easter attacks, whose mission is to build a resilient and strong private sector that embraces international sustainable tourism best practices, and where tourism benefits are driven to communities and people across Sri Lanka at every level.
Soon after the COVID-19 crisis broke, the Alliance launched its hugely successful Resilience Webinar Series featuring global and local experts sharing knowledge and expertise relevant to the whole industry including hoteliers, DMC’s, freelancers and other tourism-related service providers on a range of pertinent topics. The sessions have had over 40,000 views.