Tourism players, including the biggest operator of hotels in Sri Lanka, have urged the government to fast-track a much-delayed global marketing campaign to adequately compete with rival markets and boost arrivals.
Tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign exchange earners, was affected badly by terrorist attacks on three top Colombo hotels in 2019 followed by the closure of the airport during the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis in 2022. Arrivals in 2018 was a record 2.3 million, dropping drastically in the next few years, with this year’s target at 1.5 million.
There is a need for a well-executed global marketing blitz to woo tourists and elevate Sri Lanka’s position in the global tourism market, said Krishan Balendra, chairman of John Keells Holdings which has a string of hotels under the Cinnamon brand in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Speaking last week at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2023, Balendra expressed regret over Sri Lanka’s failure to launch a comprehensive global tourism campaign in the aftermath of the war, identifying it as a substantial missed opportunity to invigorate the industry.
“The industry has been requesting a global campaign since the end of the war (Sri Lanka’s internal ethnic conflict which ended in 2009) akin to those executed by Malaysia and India. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to implement one in over 10 years,” he told the meeting, stressing the importance of more promotions in India, Sri Lanka’s biggest source market.
Balendra referred to the active promotion of tourism destinations by countries like Thailand, Malaysia and China, with Indian citizens, adding that there was a lack of visibility for Sri Lanka in comparison.
Local authorities have been painfully trying to launch the 1.45 billion rupee-worth (US$5 million) global marketing campaign over the next 12 months, targeting markets such as the UK, Germany, France, Italy, India, Ukraine, Russia, West Asia, Scandinavia, South Korea, Japan and Australia since July this year. However, it has been delayed due to procurement procedures, call for tenders and other bureaucratic issues. A tourism tagline titled You will come back for more was launched at trade shows in France and the UK in the past few months.
At the same chamber event last week, president Ranil Wickremesinghe stressed the need to attract high-spending tourists who would spend a minimum of US$500 per day, compared to little over US$100 now, adding that the target for arrivals should reach five million in the next few years.