Is Sri Lanka really the small miracle?

(By Kumar Senaratne) – Travelling to tourist destinations in most countries, anyone can get extremely bored due to the long distances that have to be passed in between locations. Where there are no air links, there should be good roads and comfortable vehicles otherwise road travel becomes cumbersome and also uninteresting. Monotonous landscapes, somewhat similar cityscapes for hours and hours do add frustration instead of the thrills of travel one expects. The destination may offer high attraction and could be unique, but the fact of the matter is, journeys are arduous to get there! Sleep is the best form of temporary solace one could find to pass these big gaps.

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For that matter what Sri Lanka offers has no easy comparison. It is undoubtedly the small miracle on earth! One can go on any of the highways or main roads or on any road anywhere in Sri Lanka, the frequent change of landscape is god given for the traveller. Whether for the motorist or for the cyclist isn’t the charm of the land invigorating?

There are few countries that offers such a high density of tourist attractions in a smaller area. Leave aside hidden gems off the beaten track, Sri Lanka is one country that offers an attraction at least before the next 25th mile post, magically embedded in its landscapes. Advantageously, Sri Lanka is a country that can be easily be seen without air travel.

Mention the word Sri Lanka to any westerner and watch the expressions change to an awe-inspiring delight. For those who have been there, “Oh it’s a beautiful country!” and for those who have heard about it, “It is one place I want to be!”

Sri Lanka’s smallness makes it the ideal size location for the holiday seeker. Especially for the majority of world’s working population who has annually about 2 to 3 weeks holiday from work, Sri Lanka fits in well to be explored fully as against many destinations that will take a longer duration to cover simply due to the extra time that has to be spent on the road between attractions. In Sri Lanka one can easily tailor make their holidays with a right balance as per their time availability with a combination with beach, countryside, archaeology, nature, culture or even adventure to their best fit than most other destinations.

Sri Lanka tourism’s marketing campaign, “Sri Lanka-Small Miracle”, that has been quashed after much research and investment would have done wonders to entice the magical figure targeted of 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2016. The slogan matters to the buyer and not to the seller. Sadly in this case vice versa. However much the seller wants to have his way to boast about his product or service it should have the ability to capture the mind of the buyer who decides. Before any other product information is looked at, it is the slogan that hooks the buyer for further exploration of more information.

The surprising statement the then tourism minister has given following the reasons for withdrawal of this campaign is not worth reproducing due to its ludicrous nature. He tends to compare the greatness of our ancient irrigation system we have as well as the recent great-war victory over LTTE and sees unsuitability of the word small for the tourism promotion campaign. Sadly the Gentleman does not realize tourists don’t come to Sri Lanka for any of the above greatnesses which are truly great to we Sri Lankans, but for different reasons that appeal to them. Sri Lanka is the 117th small country by land mass in a list of 239 countries and 260 times smaller than the largest country in the world, Russia. Even during our great past this country has been always identified with similar descriptions. “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, “The teardrop of the Indian Ocean” etc. and both these descriptions depict uniqueness in smallness.

One does not have to go much further, the description by Sri Lanka’s most honoured citizen, the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke gave sufficient justification for the ideal tagline rhymed by Sri Lanka Tourism. “The Island of Sri Lanka is a small universe; it contains as many variations of culture, scenery, and climate as some countries a dozen times its size . . . I find it hard to believe that there is any country which scores so highly in all departments – which has so many advantages and so few disadvantages.” Lovely beaches, beautiful landscapes, impressive ruins, a vibrant culture and charming people.

Bernard Goonetilleke, then chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau has made this fitting description of this island at the official launch on 23rd June 2009, “Sri Lanka Small Miracle denotes the mysteries of Sri Lanka and how it holds so many different features in such a small geographical area. The positioning strategy was arrived at based on the key aspects of the destination – Diversity, Compactness, Authenticity and an Island which differentiate the destination from other competitors. Sri Lanka truly combines rich and diverse treasures so amazingly concentrated to provide the most pleasant diverse and authentic holiday experience no other Asian destination could so conveniently offer”.

Looking at Sri Lanka from outside, especially someone living in a larger country feels how sensible this marketing approach would have been. A few years back once again after wasting a large sum of money Sri Lanka Tourism had to drop a campaign due to a surprising product the agency presented at the end; a documentary film that was more culturally damaging on the lines of “Kama Sutra”.

Then it was “Land like no other” tagline that had emanated both positive and negative vibes but yet had a greater appeal. Sri Lanka: Small Miracle is the next effort Sri Lanka Tourism undertook with much enthusiasm, research and for obvious good reasons. Sri Lanka would have established a stronger presence among its competition for its benefit at the all important World Travel Mart in London in November and the recently concluded ITB with the new campaign.

Sri Lanka is once again without a proper marketing development program and is compelled to go ahead with the routine things that were done in the past like lack luster road shows and attending travel fairs having to compete with strong campaigns such as Malaysia’s, “Malaysia truly Asia”, Thailand’s, “Amazing Thailand”, India’s, “Incredible India”, Maldives, “Sunnyside of life”, Singapore’s “Uniquely Singapore” etc.

One could argue that Sri Lanka does not need a marketing campaign as the hotels have good bookings for winter, after the recent peace that was established after the war ended. However for the mid and the long term growth and with targets as previously mentioned to be achieved and tourism to be a strong contributor to the economy in a climate of uncertainty on GSP+ and obviously with more and more countries joining the competition, it is time Sri Lanka is branded right and without a delay.

The industry suffered long enough and waited for better times. Better times having arrived the industry should be allowed to take on the challenges ahead without political bungling this country is so famous for. The key industry should have an equally effective minister who knows the subject well than having apprentices being allowed to experiment!

If there is a marketing campaign to be introduced for the country’s cabinet, sure that has all the rights to claim to be the “Biggest Miracle.”

(The writer is a well-known hotel industry personality. He can be reached at kumarsenaratne@gmail.com).


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