Sri Lanka Tourism gearing up for new marketing push

Athukorala assures de-politicisation of SLTPB, professional approach to marketing

29 marketing professionals hired; appointments of advertising, public relations and digital marketing agencies to follow
Good work done under previous regime compromised by poor governance
Unpaid promotions bills in China spark protests outside
Sri Lankan Embassy
Current push strategy insufficient to build
Sri Lankan brand image

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) announced plans to strengthen its marketing capacity through a recruitment drive and appointment of an international advertising agency. Speaking at a graduation ceremony for career diplomats to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, SLTPB Chairman Rohantha Athukorala stated that 29 marketing professionals had already been appointed to the bureau under the direction of Tourism and Sports Minister Navin Dissanayake, reiterating that such appointments had been purely on merit.  Elaborating on further efforts being taken to improve Sri Lanka’s tourism branding, Athukorala stated that new advertising, public relations and digital marketing agencies would also have to be appointed prior to undertaking a more concerted promotions campaign.  “Currently it is like we are going to war without a proper armoury. Merely attending trade fairs, inviting journalists and engaging travel agents to come to Sri Lanka might generate the numbers but it does not build imagery and brand equity in targeted travellers.

“There must be a healthy balance between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategies. We have been skewed towards a ‘push strategy’ for the last four months. To be honest, I feel sad for Sri Lanka Tourism where the private sector has invested billions of rupees on infrastructure whilst global brand building has not happened in a balanced manner but that’s the reality. But I commit to you that I will make the Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau the best destination marketing unit in the world,” he assured.  Meanwhile, commenting on allegations of financial misappropriation to the tune of Rs. 750 million in the bureau under the previous regime, Athukorala acknowledged that certain positive steps had been taken to develop Sri Lankan tourism, particularly in terms of promotions in the fast-growing Chinese market in the past, but argued that unpaid bills and poor governance had nevertheless taken the shine off such positive initiatives.

“Last Saturday we had suppliers banging on the entrance to Sri Lankan Embassy in Beijing in protest of overdue payments. We are now trying to reconcile the situation and neutralise it before the world’s largest travel fair begins in Beijing next week. There is a threat that a banner will be put up by the suppliers who are demanding their dues.

“Amidst all this chaos I salute the current heads of marketing at SLTPB for driving the ‘push strategy’ in our current markets. It has not been easy working without a permanent finance director, given that the previous director had his passport impounded due to governance concerns, which means a contract renewal for him will not be taking place. I therefore commend the work they have done over the last few years,” Athukorala stated.

In that context, he noted that a “top official” from the Ministry of Finance had been selected to fill the current vacancy.  “I see a light at the end of this tunnel. I together with the Board of Directors will work to make the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau one of the best destination marketing government entities in the world. To do this the private sector needs to have patience with us for another three to four months, given that it has already waited six years to put in a private sector savvy operating model,” Athukorala asserted.

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