“Sri Lanka has an enormous potential particularly in the tourism sector because it is a virgin market.” Dr. Nalaka Godahewa
- Created on Tuesday, 08 May 2012 14:00
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Tourism seemingly has begun to play an essential role in energizing economic development and thereby enhancing the living standards of the people in many countries. It keeps opening up huge markets and investment opportunities as more people choose to travel out of their countries and in to the world. Countries blessed with the miracles of nature and many other unique aspects compete to attract visitors. Sri Lanka with its distinctive diversity and compactness has returned to the competition after many years of troubles, with a ripen potential. Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, the Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism thus expressed his views regarding the rising tourism industry of Sri Lanka at an interview done by the Official Government News Portal of Sri Lanka, www.news.lk. Dr. Godahewa also revealed the strategies and measures made by Sri Lanka Tourism for the year 2012. Following is the complete interview.
1) Achievements and achievers seem to have become a common trend in the recent history of Sri Lanka. What are the achievements of Sri Lankan tourism industry in 2011?
2011 was a very important year for us because that was the year which we have dedicated for tourism, which is called ‘Visit 2011 year’. During that year we were able to achieve all our tourism targets particularly the arrival target which was 750,000, the target that we have set at the beginning of the year. But we ended the year with 855,000 tourists which is almost a 30.8% growth, one of the highest growth rates recorded in the year.
2) Less popular segments of tourism, new markets, prospective competitors and potential to compete: How does Sri Lanka Tourism expect to synchronize these aspects?
In the Sri Lankan tourism promotion strategy one thing we have got very clear in the recent past is that we have to market Sri Lanka as a diversified destination, not just a beach destination or a heritage destination. It is a destination which can offer a variety of things which can be covered within a short period of time. For an example, heritage, nature, wild life, sports and adventure: all these things are the products that can be offered in this country. Essentially all these become rich markets. So what we are doing right now is giving the right prominence for each category and promoting it. And looking at the arrivals of tourists for different segments we can see we are doing the right thing. As you all know the main competition for Sri Lanka is coming from the Asian region and particularly emerging markets like china, Malaysia, Cambodia are the key competitive markets for the country at the moment. Of course Maldives was considered as a key threat for us sometime back but I do not see it as a threat for us any longer because we offer a diversified product and Maldives is restricted to beaches. Our competition is primarily with the countries that can offer similar products. And the real advantage of Sri Lanka comes from its three key aspects. Firstly we have a natural or an authentic product. Secondly we have a small country: 65000 kmsq in size. So one can cover the entire country within a short period and it is called compactness. Third one is the diversification. We normally market our products under eight product categories that include wildlife, heritage, scenic beauty, ayurveda, yoga and meditation, festivals, sports and adventure and essence: essence is basically being Sri Lankan: our spices, gems, costumes etc. No other destination in the world can offer this variety.
3) How prepared are we to meet the increasing tourists arrivals especially in terms of service industries?
In 2011 the government published a document called ‘Sri Lankan Tourism Development Strategy 2011 – 2016’ which is basically a five year master plan developed based on lot of discussion on lot of thought. In that we have very clearly identified all the key areas which are necessary for tourism development: the policy frame work, the infrastructure, service standards and right market segments: all these things have been identified and that was approved by the Cabinet. Now what we are doing is implementing this strategy gradually, step by step as per our plan. And the key challenges that we have identified in this strategy document: a) the room capacity which we have to increase up to about 45000 which is basically doubling within five years, secondly, the man power requirement which will come to about half a million people by 2016. In addition to these two areas there are other targets like the foreign direct investment target and promotional targets. For all these things we have a plan and we are working according to the plan. So far we have been able to achieve our targets.
4) What does Sri Lanka has to offer to potential investors and what would be the strategy to ensure accommodative opportunities and benefits?
If you look at investment opportunities around the world Sri Lanka has an enormous potential particularly in the tourism sector because it is a virgin market; it has not been exploited so far. Because of the issues we had in the past for about twenty years our development was somewhat slowed down which is again an opportunity for the investors who are coming now because they can come and explore those. What we are doing right now is creating a frame work and infrastructure to facilitate investment. When investors come how we can make sure that their approval processors done faster, how can we assist them from government line agencies etc, all these things have been thought through and we have put systems in place. As for local investors, we are looking for possibilities to assist them with bank loans and various other types of guidance including policy. All these have been worked out at the moment.
5) What are the possible challenges that Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Tourism may encounter in its journey to be one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world? How such issues should be addressed?
There are two aspects: firstly we have to create an environment in the country that is conducive for tourism. When a tourist come to the country the product must be ready, the service quality must be excellent, the tourist must get a fantastic experience which they will go out and talk about. Second one is once we indentified our right target markets we have to do our promotions. For that we need to be very clear about what are the promotional methods, channels and tools that we can use. In this case, the global perception matters a lot as a tourism destination. Unfortunately we are having problems; still certain world powers are trying to convey a negative message about the country which is not the truth. We all know it is not the truth so we have to work together to correct this perception and tell the world what is the real product of the country, what is the real situation in the country and the true positive message must be conveyed to the world.