Sri Lanka tourism industry must do ROI-based promotions

The need for the Sri Lanka tourism industry to carry out promotions based on Return on Investments (ROIs) was emphasised by the newly-appointed Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Dr. Rohantha Athukorala recently.
“The global market for tourism as per UNWTO is estimated at 1.1 billion travellers with Sri Lanka’s market share at 0.12%. In my view we must target a minimum 1% in the long term (seven to 10 year horizon) given the uniqueness of our product range but for this we must do Return on Investment (ROI) based promotional work whilst understanding the carrying capacity of the country like sewerage, environment and cultural impact,” said Athukorala, when he addressed the Foreign Ministry-governed Bandaranaike Centre For International Studies (BCIS) on the topic ‘Building Brand Sri Lanka’.

“We must also look at the financial health of the industry as currently the real value comes from asset enhancement,” he added.

Last year globally, tourism grew at 4.7% whilst Sri Lanka in revenue terms grew at double digit to touch $ 1.7 billion with India contributing approximately $ 350 m, UK $ 250 m, China $ 200 m and Germany and France $ 140 m dollars.
“The top five account for almost 60% of the revenue and this means the marketing spend must be in line with the current revenue earned and the market potential,” said Athukorala, who hails from a strong marketing background of 15 years working for top multinational companies in the Asian region where he twice won the ‘Marketing Achiever Award’ in Sri Lanka from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and during a five-year tenure in the UN system he secured the ‘Best Global Project for Sri Lanka’ award.
An interesting insight shared was that China was at number 15 in terms of source market for Sri Lanka in 2010 but today it is a strong number two with 200,000 visitors targeted for 2015.
“In my view, China has the potential to become the strongest tourism revenue generator for Sri Lanka as against the tea industry and apparel as per the global trends predicted by UNWTO. Last Friday, we had a cruise liner which docked in Colombo with 2,100 affluent Chinese visitors on board, which means we are now attracting more affluent guests into Sri Lanka given that cruise travel is done by the retired top end traveller profile,” said Athukorala.
What is important is to understand the key global best practices in the world of tourism and how Sri Lanka is adopting to these market forces so that we can make Sri Lanka capture quality tourists from global market place within three years, he commented, given that the room stock will increase substantially in the next three years due to supply chain development in the country with brands like Shangri-La, Anantara and ITC coming in.
One of the key trends shared by UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai is ‘community empowerment’ via tourism at the recently-concluded ITB conference in Berlin.  “In Sri Lanka, this will be the development of the handicrafts industry, villages around a hotel being part of the food supply chain, the SME transport sector and the SME food and service sector so that equitable development can take place in the country,” said Athukorala.
“In fact, if we take the total value chain of the Sri Lanka tourism industry, the value can be estimated at $ 6 billion, making it the number one foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka,” he added.
The next most-discussed best practice in tourism is ‘Sustainable Tourism’. This means connectivity of a typical traveller with the environmental challenges in each country and making them part of the solution, said Athukorala.  “The words of UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai are so applicable to Sri Lanka given that Sri Lanka’s forest cover has reduced from 53% to 29% in the last  two decades of development. This was one of the reasons Sri Lanka Tourism launched the one million tree story campaign with Miss World 2015 together with the private sector partners SLITO, THASL, ASMET and the City Hoteliers Association in association with Rotary and HNB. We intend moving the project to carbon credit certification and thereafter may be even supporting the Ceylon Chamber set up the biodiversity bank,” explained Athukorala. The biggest challenge for Sri Lanka Tourism is the linkage to digital media given that in key markets for Sri Lanka like Germany, almost 40% decision making happens via mobile technology, which explains the integration required between destination awareness at a national level and the linkage it must have with the tour operators and travel industry partners, without which conversion from awareness to a booking will not take place.
“But for tugs we need strong HR skills which is what we at the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau are focusing on,” added Athukorala.

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