Government expects to bag US$ 4bn from 2.5mn tourists this year

„Arrivals need to record 22% annual growth to meet target
„Last year’s arrivals grew only 14%; this year arrivals have grown 3.4%
„Govt. banks on promotional campaigns running into billions to achieve growth

By Chandeepa Wettasinghe

Sri Lanka’s tourism authorities are hoping to attract 2.5 million tourists and generate US$ 4 billion in foreign exchange for the country this year, backed by a short-term Rs.500 million digital media campaign, which is currently being planned.

“Last year, we ended up close to US$ 3.5 billion and this year we should reach about US$ 4 billion if all goes well and there’s no world war and disruption. And that is an estimated figure. There may be more,” Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said. He added that the government is aiming to attract 2.5 million tourists, compared to the 2.05 million tourists that visited the country last

year. This is an expected annual growth of 22 percent, compared to the 14 percent growth in 2016.

So far in 2017, tourist arrivals have grown by just 3.4 percent compared to the same period last year, due to the partial airport closure resulted by the revamping of the runway of the country’s main international airport in Katunayake.

“Of course in the first two months we had the issue of airport disruptions, and pulling out Srilankan (Airlines) from popular destinations, but nevertheless we see the trend is now increasing again,” Amaratunga said.

The airport in Katunayake became fully operational after the runway refurbishment in the first week of this month.

Amaratunga had initially set a goal of 2.5 million tourists for 2016, although the target was revised down to 2.2 million later. Arrival targets for both 2015 and 2016 were not achieved.

The absence of a coordinated destination promotional campaign, coupled with global terror attacks may have contributed to Sri Lanka failing to meet its targets in the past 2 years. However, word of mouth and the usual efforts of the government and the private sector contributed towards the growth of tourist arrivals at a diminishing rate, a trend which has persisted since 2010. Leading private sector hospitality industry figures have also been observed to endorse the overly ambitious targets of the government instead of advising for more realistic goals.

Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau Managing Director Sutheash Balasubramanium explained that Sri Lanka must utilize social media tools such as Instagram and Facebook, as well as leading bloggers in the social media sphere to promote the island as an attractive destination in order to boost arrivals. He said the proposed social media campaign will focus on Europe, China, India and the Middle East and they will be targeted in different phases.

Balasubramanium went on to say that the campaign will cost between Rs. 300-500 million, and a capable media agency will soon be selected through calling expressions of interest. “This will be in the short-term. What we have after this is the global campaign (which) will be running for 3 years up to 2020, and that I think amounts to a Rs.3 billion campaign.” Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa chipped in, saying that a Rs. 800 million media plan is also being formulated.

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