Sri Lanka tourism looks to roar again

Sri Lanka, always considered as an exotic, must-see destination by travellers despite the scourge of terrorism marring the beautiful island nation, is gearing up to boost its tourism sector, which is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner for the country.

Faiszer Musthapha, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Sri Lanka, told Emirates Business: “It is a sad thing that terror is a global phenomenon in today’s world and you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time anywhere in the world. We are in the final phase of conflict. The Tigers have been caged, and restricted to a four-km area in North Lanka. They are using a human shield of 6,000 people to stop us from going in. As we work on a no- civilian casualty basis we have slowed down our efforts for now, but we will do it expeditiously. The Tigers have lost their teeth and the LTTE is not in any position to hurt anyone anymore. Peace is dawning and Sri Lanka is as safe as any other country in the world.”

Talking about the impact the activities of the LTTE and the economic recession had on Sri Lankan tourism, Musthapha said: “Tourism is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka and the earnings from tourism make up two to three per cent of our GDP. Last year whatever the Tigers did had an impact on tourism and created a very negative perception. Also, this was compounded by the economic recession. Whereas in the past the number of tourists arriving in the country had gone up to more than 600,000 [per year]. Last year it was more in the region of 400,000 to 450,000.

“We would certainly like to boost the numbers given the new dawn of peace that we are experiencing, but given the present economic crisis we will be happy if we can sustain last year’s numbers. We are being realistic as globally tourism is declining and all nations are looking at sustainability.”

Given the new-found peace, the island nation is raring to give its tourism sector a boost, and a number of initiatives have been launched for this.

One of them is the new brand, which was launched during the recent Arabian Travel Market 2009 exhibition in Dubai, with a new tagline and logo. The new tagline, “Sri Lanka Small Miracle”, will replace the current “Sri Lanka, Land like No other”.

As part of the communication campaign, many promotions, road shows and press conferences have been planned across the 15 cities in 10 countries – a move that is expected to attract and generate more tourists into the island.

As a result all communication materials have been revamped. The website has been re-launched with a new look and feel in keeping with the brand strategy. Brochures with eight different themes unique to Sri Lanka, posters, stationery and memorabilia have been revamped in addition to the new print and electronic campaign that would be seen in prominent international trade magazines as well as TV campaigns.

Destination representation companies have been appointed in key markets – namely in the Middle East, France, Germany, Russia and India to implement the creative execution of the new brand positioning.

Giving more insight into the country’s efforts to boost tourism, Musthapha said: “Earlier tourism and all decisions and policies related to it were dictated by the government and the Ministry of Tourism. Recently, a new Act was passed that has brought in private sector participation as well. So all stakeholders involved in tourism like the Tourism Development Authority, aviation etc are now involved in the decision-making process and working closely with the government to make Sri Lanka a preferred tourism destination.

“This rebranding is also part of this process. With the onset of peace we have decided to rebrand ourselves as a miracle offering as development is now taking place in the areas that were earlier ravaged by war. Sri Lanka is a small island boasts of a huge diversity. Be it beaches, hills, wildlife, one of the unfathomable mysteries of Sri Lanka is how it manages to squeeze so many different features and cultures in such a small country. So we decided to rebrand ourselves as a ‘small miracle’ as no other tagline would be apt for the country.

“Despite the economic downturn we hope to see an upturn in Sri Lanka’s tourism in the next six months because of these efforts and also because Lanka is positioning itself as a value for money destination during these times when money is tight.”

Talking about the country’s plans for wooing tourists from the GCC, he said: “We have a large number of tourists coming in from the GCC, despite the fact that we have invested in this region only in the past three years. We have been focusing on the West for the past 30 to 40 years. We have seen a 30 per cent growth in tourism from the GCC last year and the year before that.

“Our efforts to woo people from this region are part of our strategy to rope in more short-haul tourists as the Western market is down. The number of tourists from other countries was down by 10 per cent last year. We are trying to learn from Malaysia and Thailand and replicate it in Sri Lanka.”

Asked if the country will also try to get on the medical tourism bandwagon, Musthapha said: “No, we are not focusing on medical tourism right now, but we are more intent on the Wellness part of it.

“Wellness is a growing industry globally as well as here and we are focusing on the Ayurvedic side of it because it is a part of our roots and tradition. We have a name for it as it is practiced here extensively and we are now building on this reputation.”

Source: Emirates Business 24/7

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