Tips from foreign diplomats to revive Sri Lankan tourism

Wednesday, 21 June 2023 00:18 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



  • Thailand Ambassador Poj Harnpol shares most suggestions on overall tourism industry 
  • Takes a dig at ‘So Sri Lanka’ tagline, says connotation can often be more negative than positive
  • New Zealand High Commissioner Michael Edward Appleton opines thriving domestic tourism industry important for growth
  • Australia Deputy High Commissioner Lalita Kapur says critical to focus on achieving inclusive development based on immense natural, cultural diversity
  • India High Commission First Secretary (Economic and Commercial) Dr. Rakesh Pandey outlines wedding, MICE tourism as potential areas to boost arrivals, revenue
  • Maldives Ambassador Ali Faiz says more investment opportunities for young SL entrepreneurs

By Charumini de Silva

In a seemingly buoyant discussion, foreign envoys from five different countries shared their observations on ways and efforts to rebuild Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.

Themed ‘Resilient, innovative and sustainable tourism industry for Sri Lanka’, insights were shared by New Zealand High Commissioner Michael Edward Appleton, Australia Deputy High Commissioner Lalita Kapur, Thailand Ambassador Poj Harnpol, India High Commission First Secretary (Economic and Commercial) Dr. Rakesh Pandey and Maldives Ambassador Ali Faiz. 

The discussion was held in parallel to the 10th edition of the Sancharaka Udawa, organised by the knowledge partner University of Colombo together with the Alumni Association of Tourism Economics and Hospitality Management (Alumni ATEHM).

Thailand Ambassador Harnpol spoke extensively on the overall tourism industry which includes learning lessons from other destinations, preventing negative publicity globally, measures to ensure equitable income distribution, promotional activities and human capital development.  

“We were partly victims of mass tourism and sex tourism. In 2019, Thailand received 30 million tourists. Don’t over mass tourism,” he said, adding that they are now exploring ways to combat natural disasters and sustainable solutions.

He also shared how Thailand counteracted any political upheaval or internal pressure that might affect their tourism industry via international PR agencies appointed around the world, implying it should be something that Sri Lanka can consider in rebuilding a stronger industry.

He also took a dig at the tourism tagline ‘So Sri Lanka’ describing it as one of the worst in the region. “Thailand’s tourism tagline is ‘Amazing Thailand’, in Indonesia it is ‘Wonderful Indonesia’, in Malaysia it is ‘Malaysia: Truly Asia’ and in India it is 'Incredible India’. My personal humble opinion is that ‘So Sri Lanka’ was the worst among all – it is not wonderful, not amazing or incredible,” he said.

Ambassador Harnpol explained that the current Sri Lanka Tourism tagline can often be misleading and be used as a negative message. “For example, if there is a protest people can say ‘So Sri Lanka’ as the connotation can often combine more with negative than positive,” he explained.

Therefore, he suggested that authorities can rather come up with a new tagline which can explain the essence of the beautiful island nation, as it is a critical component in building Sri Lanka tourism. 

He also encouraged the Government and the private sector to create more value for the tourists coming to Sri Lanka, adding that it is a significant aspect to upscale the experiences. 

Pointing out that more equitable income distribution is also necessary to build a sustainable tourism industry, he suggested that policies be implemented to tackle income inequality and distribute it more equitably to the grassroots levels as well. In terms of human capital, Thailand's Ambassador said Sri Lankan hospitality personnel lack efficiency and young people at expensive hotels.

“If tourists pay a lot of money they only smile but there’s no efficiency. It is quite frustrating and annoying. Hope the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management will address it,” Harnpol added.

New Zealand High Commissioner Appleton said it was important to make the product offerings more environmentally friendly and take a sustainable approach, as globetrotters are willing to pay extra for countries that have preserved the most natural state of their destinations.

“New Zealand Government has taken measures to retain the geographically diverse landscapes, including subtropical forests, beaches, glaciers, mountains and plains in its most natural ways; as it had been the key crowd puller for the tourism industry,” he added.

Noting that Sri Lanka is also rich in natural resources High Commissioner Appleton emphasised the need to preserve it taking into account the global climate change.

He said a thriving domestic tourism industry is also important, citing that it helps the growth of the sector. 

Australia Deputy High Commissioner Kapur said its economy heavily depends on tourism, which includes both domestic and foreign travellers, noting they too missed out on getting income from the tourism sector due to the pandemic.

She said the right marketing done by Australia was a key factor for their success in creating quality and not quantity. “We have targeted high-value travellers in the markets and tourism segments that we believe will deliver the greatest returns,” she stressed. 

Kapur also noted the inclusive approach Australia adopted including all stakeholders to build its industry into a lucrative one is an example that Sri Lanka Tourism can work towards.

Noting that Australia has been supportive of the formulation of a national tourism strategy for Sri Lanka, the Deputy High Commissioner stated that it was critical to focus on achieving sustainable and inclusive development based on the immense natural and cultural diversity in the country's compact ecosystem.

India High Commission First Secretary (Economic and Commercial) Dr. Rakesh Pandey highlighted that proximity boosted connectivity, and cultural ties were key factors why the neighbourhood giant is always the top tourist source market for Sri Lanka.

He said the policy decision to accept the Indian rupee at tourist establishments was a progressive decision, whilst outlining MICE tourism and wedding tourism as potential areas Sri Lanka Tourism can explore further to boost numbers and revenue.

“Following the two successful roadshows during the past couple of months, we see there is a boost in numbers and once the ferry services start from the second half of the year, it will increase further,” Dr. Prakash expressed confidence.

Maldives Ambassador Ali Faiz explained how the island nation built its strong tourism industry to cater for 7-star plus products which are sold at around $ 80,000.

“With a 400,000 population and over 180 islands, the private sector developed tourism industry is the driving force behind the economic boom in the Maldives. Last year we managed to reach our pre-pandemic arrival levels,” he added.

He said with the new airport development, the Maldives will have the capacity to cater to around three to four million tourists each year to get over seven million arrivals in another three to four years' time. 

Emphasising that there are well-established Sri Lankan brands operating, the Maldivian Ambassador said there is more room for investment opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

The panel discussion also had University of Colombo Department of Economics, Faculty of Art and Founder of Masters in Tourism Economics and Hotel Management Prof. Suranga de Silva who shared observations from an academic point of view to tackle the brain drain and what Sri Lanka Tourism must do to encourage innovation to make the destination offerings more attractive, while SLAITO President NIshad Wijetunga spoke on the resilience of the stakeholders and how strategies be implemented to avoid overcrowding and inculcate sustainable tourism practices. The session was moderated by Dr. Rohantha Athukorala.