Sri Lanka’s tourism players are urging the tourism authority to fast-track a global promotional campaign that will position the country as a much sought after destination, so as to fulfill the tourism ministry’s ambition to welcome 1.2 million tourists this year.
A global campaign to promote Sri Lanka has eluded the country for many years, and just as the authority was close to finalising one, the pandemic hit in early 2020. The destination has so far managed only one-off campaigns.
“We need an urgent promotional campaign to promote Sri Lanka as an all-round destination. We also need to convince foreign tour operators that Sri Lanka is a safe destination,” said Devindre Senaratne, managing director at JourneyScapes and a former president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.
Senaratne added that incentives to motivate foreign tour operators to market Sri Lanka are also necessary, as the same is offered by other competing destinations.
Sri Lanka is hoping to attract 1.2 million tourists this year, against a low 194,495 in 2021 and 507,704 in 2020 – both years hit by travel restrictions due to the pandemic. The destination welcomed 2.3 million arrivals in 2018.
The 2022 tourism target was mired in confusion. Initially, the state-run Sri Lanka Tourism said the target was half the 2018 figure, but that was replaced by the tourism minister declaring a goal of 2.3 million tourists. The target was eventually retained at 1.2 million.
“The 1.2 million target is a reasonable one. However, the government and the private sector-driven industry should speak with one voice and project one target. There shouldn’t be any confusion,” remarked Trevor Rajaratnam, an industry veteran and former president of the Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka.
Hiran Cooray, chairman of Jetwing Symphony Hotels, believes the government is firm in its focus on getting tourism back on track.
“We are one of the most relaxed countries in Asia – just like the Maldives, in terms of entry rules vis-à-vis the pandemic. We are also relatively well managed with Covid-19 guidelines,” he said, adding that given these scenarios people from Europe would want to travel and look at Sri Lanka favourably.
“2022 should be considered a Year of Recovery for tourism in Sri Lanka,” he opined.
Sanath Ukwatte, former president of the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, said that while Sri Lanka’s traditional source markets – India and China – have not performed to expectations due to pandemic constraints, an improvement can be expected once restrictions are relaxed.
Last year, Sri Lanka’s top five source markets were India, Russia, the UK, Germany and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s tourism recovery may be hampered by shortages in food, cooking gas and other essentials owing to a foreign exchange crisis. However, Rajaratnam said Sri Lanka would overcome the foreign exchange crisis once tourism thrives and more dollars flow into the country.