Tourism expert urges need for proper marketing strategy

Sri Lanka tourism needs to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract the ideal tourists, and establish a think-tank for the sector, according to a leading tourism consultant in the country.

“What got us here will not get us there. There has been no strategic marketing t hrust i n the last 5 years, and we have got here from there primarily riding the post-war boom,” Srilal Miththapala spoke at the Institute of Hospitality Sri Lanka AGM.

He cautioned against getting excited over the growth figures, which have dropped from a 50 percent annual growth in 2010 to 19 percent in 2014.

“It appears that the euphoria of post-war boom is slowly petering out,” he said.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau in the past 5 years had been spending millions of rupees to take part in trade fairs and road shows, in addition to ad-hoc campaigns such vehicle branding in London and Shanghai.

However, the weeks following the change of regime had brought to light that some of the funds had been misappropriated. Meanwhile, the Tourism Promotion Bureau under the new leadership has been continuing the same pattern of trade fair promotions and, in a questionable move, it had invested heavily carrying out promotional campaigns in Russia during the country’s economic crisis in the recent months as well. However, a new promotional campaign worth Rs.200 million, in partnership with a global communications agency was announced recently, the results of which are yet to be seen.

Miththapala said that it is unproductive to embark on such campaigns since even the t ourism professionals i n Sri Lanka are confused over what Sri Lanka’s unique selling propositions are.

“We have meandered through many slogans such as Land Like No Other, Small Miracle, 8 Experiences In 8 Days, Refreshingly Sri Lanka, Wonder of Asia, One Island Thousand Treasures, and most recently, One Million Trees also. There has been no consistent message,” he noted. He added that a past consultative session with domestic and international experts had produced ‘Asia’s Most Authentic, Diverse and Compact Island’ as the key selling point.

Miththapala quoted QUO Global CEO David Keen, who during a recent forum said that Sri Lanka should focus on its culture instead of the 8 experiences strategy coined by the Sri Lanka Tourism, which is outdated and lacks the ingredients to attract the modern traveler.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Paddy Withana who spoke after Keen at the forum attempted to sell the 8 experiences to the international experts, though the exercise appeared unsuccessful.

However, during the AGM, Withana agreed with Miththapala. “I think what he is said is correct,” Withana said.

Meanwhile, Miththapala said that a think-tank is required to focus on entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability and marketing of Sri Lanka Tourism.

He said that tourists have been complaining about receiving the same round trip product for decades.

Miththapala further believes on the strategy outlined by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, which stipulates that Western tourists should be the core market, with everything extra ‘the icing on the cake.’

“Are numbers important? I am skeptical about China. As hotel operators, you know the rates we get from them,” he said. He said that the ‘flash packers’ who travel similar to backpacking budget tourists, but have significant disposable income to spend in experiencing local culture and environment responsibly are just as important as high-worth individuals.

Meanwhile, Withana, in contradictory statements, said that local resources must be protected, while the carrying capacity of the country must be increased to attract higher visitor numbers. Both increased numbers; also known as boosterism and carrying capacity are theories which have been outdated for decades in advanced economies.

Source :


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