Ruchi Gunewardene, Managing Director of Brand Finance Lanka, provides a unique perspective on how to position Sri Lanka Tourism during this global pandemic
Thaji – Pic courtesy Luxshman Nadaraja
As the pandemic takes firmer hold across the world with ever-increasing numbers of infections and deaths, the outlook for tourism is bleak. With governments forced to implement more severe lock downs and with no silver lining of a vaccine in the near future, people across the world are getting restive, frustrated and despondent.
Under these circumstances it would seem to be of little use to adopt conventional marketing strategies for tourism, in an industry which is in turmoil. However paradoxical this may seem, there is indeed an opportunity to reach out and proactively engage with future travellers.
The COVID window makes tourism marketing less competitive with reduced expenditure and lower media presence, enabling countries which do invest to stand out and be noticed. A different approach however is required because the mindset of the traveller is very different in these circumstances.
With the objective of establishing a winning brand position, a digital platform under Sri Lanka Tourism consisting of a unique set of product offerings enabling an interactive global marketing initiative to be undertaken is being envisaged. This is a collaborative approach, harnessing Sri Lanka’s creative talents.
Changing the mix and redefining Sri Lanka’s offering
The strategy requires Sri Lanka Tourism to build new products that will be relevant to the varied interests and passions among would be travellers across the world. These could be opportunities providing them with experiences in food and drink, entertainment, hobbies or interests, education on various subjects, amongst others.
A robust mix of unique online experiences are to be created, with interactive engagement, social media marketing and online purchases to uplift the lives of the future traveller in just a little way.
A range of experiences could be created by local digital studios including a virtual museum or online experience hub on contemporary Sri Lankan art and sculpture. We are not talking about the usual virtual museum tours here but specifically made for online viewing and an immersive and interactive experience.
Another could be to present our history, by digitally recreating the splendour of the Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Sigiriya eras. All of these have some wonderful stories which has interest to global audiences. This may even be modified into an online game to engage with the younger traveller.
Other initiatives could encompass fashion shows featuring Sri Lankan designers, combining contemporary music through a unique theatre production suitable for online broadcasting, show casing the Chitrasena dance studio amongst others.
A series on Sri Lankan architecture or say a local drum concert using contemporary music are the types of productions that could be created. An online Sri Lankan film festival is another possibility. These could be broadcast through exclusive YouTube channels in collaboration with established global institutions supported by sponsors or endorsers.
An educational lecture series could have topics of discussion around a variety of subjects such as animals and plants that are endemic to Sri Lanka or unique geographic terrains. Imagine a series on whales or birds, being introduced by globally-renowned Sri Lankan experts, providing a truly world class presentation. These could be pre-recorded or interactive live events. Books could be made available on Amazon for online purchase on these subjects from Sri Lankan authors.
The challenge is to refine these ideas and find the right creative talent and collaborators all of which would be facilitated by Sri Lanka Tourism. We have an abundance of young talent in Sri Lankan and across the world, Asha De Vos (whales), Gihan Cooray (music and theatre) are just two such people. By tapping into these resources, compelling content could be developed. All of which would be integrated on to the Sri Lanka Tourism digital platform.
The recent announcement that Sri Lanka Catering is venturing into a new business, providing frozen Sri Lankan food that will soon be available in global cities would be another great initiative to support. Once launched in supermarkets in key countries there could be active marketing so that a Sri Lankan meal can be ordered online.
Culinary channels could also be used to teach Sri Lankan cooking either using well known personalities or those having unique recipes or specialities. For example Peter Kuruvita has a bank of excellent material that could be adapted or used. Online recipes or cook books will encourage experimentation. Sri Lankan tea brands can be encouraged to develop their own content to showcase their brands through gourmet events.
There are many other Sri Lankan food and beverage brands who are interested in taking their products to specific markets who would be interested in the cross promotional opportunities these initiatives could offer.
Taking a strategic approach
In implementing it’s important to take a strategic view to ensure success. Brand Finance’s Global Country Soft Power Index sets out a framework to select the right initiatives to maximise the impact of the investments that are made. The right experiences would need to be targeted to relevant countries through a system of focus and prioritisation. In addition, tools to track engagement levels could be deployed to further fine tune the product mix and optimise the return on investments.
Differentiation through empathy
The approach set out here harness the skills and talent of Sri Lankan youth in building an experiential tourism product. It’s about creating a contemporary Sri Lankan voice to engage with global audiences. The integrated and immersive approach being proposed is unique to anything that is currently being implemented by any other country.
Many of the proposed initiatives are existing in some form and may only require a few enhancements to improve its presentation with a global audience in mind. A few high quality signature initiatives will need to be developed. The real value addition comes from integrating them all on to one digital platform.
This is a radical shift in thinking, as it changes the emphasis from the usual conventional tourism marketing by leveraging home grown creative talent and building on Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. It involves creating “treasures” of our country which can then be taken beyond our shores. Doing so will bring unique experiences to an anxious world, thirsting for some inspiration!