Monday, January 14, 2013

Sri Lankan tourism on an upward spiral

Critical commentary by Philip Fernando

The solid performance of Sri Lankan tourism in 2012 signaled a steady transformation, a metamorphosis. With some fine-tuning we may see the onset of a paradigm shift. Here is a close look at the state of tourism in the country.

The fierce competition emanating from Sri Lanka’s closest neighbors seemed quite daunting. Sri Lankan hotels should have the flexibility to adjust room-rates to fit the fluctuations in demand that beset the industry. Global economic conditions are still in a state of flux. Most tourists are inclined to rely on ideal travel links when planning vacations. They seek the best bang for their buck.

In order to ensure that Sri Lanka remains “a must see destination” our room rates have to be creatively adjusted. The maximization of the duration of stay by most tourists is vital. There has to be suppleness in adjusting room rates in order to reap optimum gains.

It is re-assuring to note that Sri Lanka had quite astutely positioned tourism around several attractions. That formula brought in a fair degree of success. The beaches, historical places, wildlife, scenic beauty, mind and body wellness outlets, festivals, sports and adventure were packaged: the X-factor, the epitome of Sri Lankan experience exemplified the best in relaxed vacationing.

A tourist could within matters of few hours watch gem mining, mountain hike amidst the luscious tea greens, surf the awesome waves in the East coast or just relax at the Corral gardens by the beach close to the Southern highway.

It is also good to know that capital ouylay in tourism had covered multiple areas of the hospitality business. Hotel room capacity would increase to 45,000 by 2016 to accommodate the expected 2.5 million arrivals by that time.

As foreign exchange earnings increase exponentially we would see a steady increase in tourists trying to avail themselves of the best deals in store. By 2016, exchange earnings would most likely increase to US $ 2.75 billion, tourist arrivals to 2.5 million, the tourism employment to 500,000. The word of mouth endorsements by the large visiting tourist clientele would be matchless in a competitive world.

Economic windfall
Globally, tourism brought in roughly $1.2 trillion in receipts in 2011 as international tourism ranked as the fourth-largest industry in the world, after fuels, chemicals, and automotive products. The developing world is now part and parcel of international travel.

The change in global destinations is amazing. There were only about twenty major hot spots worth mentioning 60 years ago. That changed as the developing countries like Sri Lanka sharpened their presentation skills and attracted more arrivals.

However, few key challenges must be addressed. Besides the room-rate issue mentioned above, good hospitality business encompasses accessory services that are indispensible in ensuing traveler satisfaction: reception at point of arrival, easy Custom processing, travel facilities, safety on the highways, a hundred percent theft-proof baggage handling, food safety, easy access to electronic services and medical facilities in emergencies.
Northerly destinations

I observed during my visit to Jaffna that attractive destinations are lined up for the tourists in a way that provided maximum benefits for even those making a short stop stop-over in that region. Bed and breakfast places had sprung up after the war and there was an intense desire to cater to the needs of the visitors. The beaches are bound to be crowded year round.

Bookings were being made available months ahead and many visitors were signing up for repeat trips, a sign that travel agencies were well-geared for increased arrivals ahead.

There was no red tape and the tourist industry personnel had planned every detail of the packages offered. They also seemed not unduly restricted by cumbersome government regulations, a vital ingredient to ensure the health and safety of the tourists. Local and foreign tourist agencies had close liaison when working out details of packages. Glitches were few.

Locally, areas of investment, marketing and operation of tourist enterprises had deficiencies that were near insurmountable few years ago. Post-war exuberance must have worked as an elixir. It is fair to say that those responsible for delivering the basic services were well trained. I notice that tour guides at Sigiriya were fluent in many languages.

Hotel room services in most places were prompt and near flawless. That augurs well for the long-tern sustainability of this foreign exchange earner that Sri Lanka could not afford to lose. The fleet of vans operating through out the country had guides who knew what they were doing. Drivers made everyone feel safe—the best tonic the industry provided to a travel weary tourist.

Entrepreneurial opportunities in tourism offered opening for the diverse segments of society that included management opportunities, travel planning, tour guides and language training offered by tourism, catering and food and many other areas where expertise is the key word.

Finally, the on-going awareness about changes in international tourist landscape, productivity and mindset were being watched with hawkeyed intensity. The fingers of the policy makers and operators should be on the pulse of sustainability.

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