In the absence of tourism recovery efforts by the Sri Lankan government following the Easter Sunday terror attacks, the country’s private sector industry is ploughing its own resources to woo visitors back to the country.
One such company is Aitken Spence Travels (AST), which is the largest DMC in Sri Lanka. Parakrama Dissanayake, deputy chairman of Aitken Spence Group, which controls AST, said the DMC and its chain of hotels are spending “a lot of money” to boost inbound tourism.
The travel firm is 50 per cent owned by TUI, which is also stepping up promotion efforts, he said, declining to give details of their marketing budget. AST said in an earlier statement that in the 12-month period ending March 2019, it invested over 250 million rupees (US$1.4 million) to promote the destination in overseas markets.
Dissanayake said the government should have commenced their tourism recovery promotion immediately, instead of delaying action. “It’s too late now for the winter promotions, which should have been in April to June,” he said, adding that their marketing efforts are now focused on India and China, which are the country’s largest source markets.
However, arrivals from China have dropped sharply since the April 21 terror attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels, which killed more than 250 people, including 50 tourists.
While arrival numbers are now on the mend, the normally busy winter season from November is expected to see a 30 per cent drop in arrivals.
In the meantime, tourism authorities have run into problems with launching an emergency PR and marketing campaign in key markets.
“We need to look at the campaign anew as there were delays in its launch and now the (two-month) PR campaign is of no use. We are looking at a new marketing campaign which would take three months for an idea to be transformed to reality,” said state-owned Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau chairman Kishu Gomes. The problems arose because proper tender procedures were not followed, industry officials said.
Hiran Cooray, a veteran hotelier from Jetwing Hotels, said that proper procedures should be adhered to even if it takes another two months for approval. He added that even if the plan is not ready to launch ahead of the winter season, advertising and promotion should continue, apart from this recovery plan initiative.
Cooray said companies like Jetwing were investing their own resources into marketing the country, while many foreign journalists and travel magazines were complimentary of the destination. “There is a lot of PR taking place now, urging people to visit Sri Lanka,” he said.
Devindre Senaratne, managing director at JourneyScapes, said that his inbound travel company has spent US$35,000 on marketing promotions across many markets and fam tours for agents from Germany, Belgium and Australia in the aftermath of the Easter attacks.
“We are a small- to medium-sized company so our investment is nowhere near those of the big DMCs,” he said, adding that such promotions should have been carried out by state tourism agencies.
He added that small companies, which form the bulk of the industry, find it hard to spend money on promotion, and that they need state support.