Taking on the pandemic to rebuild Sri Lanka tourism

Tuesday, 19 May 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Cinnamon Future of Tourism Virtual Conference

“COVID-19 is the most abrupt shock to the global economy and society in modern history. The future will not be determined by hotels, resorts and boutiques ‘re-opening’ post-COVID-19, but by ‘reimaging’,” stated Special Advisor to the UNWTO Anita Mendiratta, speaking first at the discussion that took place on Monday. 

She elaborated that the concept of reimaging will focus on strategic planning and marketing campaigns to achieve sustainable recovery as the end of the pandemic is still unknown and an execution strategy is dependent on this. Defining its stages and source markets and focusing on the quality of travellers rather than quantity is going to determine how ready we are for the fundamental shift that is likely to happen. Purpose-driven travel is going to become critical for all destinations.

Commenting on ‘the light to the end of the tunnel in the near future’, Twenty31 Consulting Inc. – Toronto Partner Oliver Martin shared his research on the behavioural changes of direct consumers. Expressing that as Sri Lanka may see a ‘spark’ as opposed to ‘light’ in the near future, there will be a lag in travel, a flow in domestic travel (hyper local travel) will resume with limitations and restrictions enforced by governments to revive the economies and control the situation.

Minor Hotels Group and Minor International CEO Dillip Rajakarier shared his perspective from his experience in 60 countries, stating that the existing uncertainty of quarantine and proactive measures taken by each government has affected economies negatively and, in some occasions, positively. Nations such as Germany, Italy and Spain were quick to react, leaving cities such as London with a negative flow due to the delayed reaction to face the issues. Sweden, took a different stance of avoiding a complete lockdown, thereby limiting the damage to its economy. In the context of Sri Lanka, bouncing back within the next 6 to 12 months may not be impossible, given that cash flow and liquidity is maintained by taking a chance to come out of lockdown and reduce the economic impact.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairperson Kimarli Fernando shared her take on the situation and the steps taken to overcome this challenge. The Tourism Board with the support of the government set up a COVID task force prior to the diagnosis of its first patient in Sri Lanka. The Task Force will be enforcing a campaign management unit with the support of international experts, to see to varied procedures to enhance safe and secure travel from visa processes to medical insurance, immigration and check in policies, to traveling within the country. In this time, the national tourism body has established guidelines for national parks and other sightseeing locations; all of which will be implemented in the coming months alongside collaborations with other governments to welcome travellers to Sri Lanka.

Damian Cook, expert in Post Crisis Recovery taking on the final segment, addressed the participants with his findings from other destinations and brands to hasten recovery to ensure survival. It was emphasised that no country or government can resume a strategy used in 2019, the frequently seen mistake by destinations is treating this pandemic as a crisis (traditionally a crisis would be events such a natural disaster, terror attacks, etc.). “This is not an event, this is a phenomenon, it has a global effect, and Sri Lanka needs to look at the change it’s bringing about. The future will be focused on home stays, and new travellers and unexpected types of travellers varying from younger travellers who have the financial backing, to an unforeseen number of domestic travellers.”

Additionally, the government’s ability to be agile and actions taken in terms of testing, implementation of a gradual lockdown and action taken to bring back over 55,000 Sri Lankans home, were commended by the panellists. 

A recording of the Conference is available on https://www.facebook.com/331005526985246/videos/2641776942589237/. 

The Cinnamon Future of Tourism Virtual Conference took place on 11 May on the theme ‘Charting a Course for Sri Lanka’s Tourism Future’. The first edition on its virtual platform was a thought-provoking discussion with renowned speakers known globally for their expertise in the industry: Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairperson Kimarli Fernando, Special Advisor to the Secretary General, UNWTO Representative – CNN Travel Anita Mendiratta, CEO, E-Tourism Frontiers Expert – Post Crisis Recovery Damian Cook, Twenty31 Consulting Inc. Toronto Partner, Canada Lecturer at University of Hawaii’s Executive Development Institute Programme at the School of Travel Industry Management Oliver Martin, Minor Hotels Group and Minor International Chief Executive Officer Dillip Rajakarier, and moderated by Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts Head of Brand Marketing and John Keells Holdings Vice President Dileep Mudadeniya.

Cinnamon Future of Tourism 2020 is endorsed by United Nations World Tourism Organization and is in partnership with Xiteb as the Official Digital Partner.