September 24, 2019
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    Reviving tourism

    May 14, 2019

    Soon after the war ended in 2009, Sri Lanka received millions of tourists as a result of peace in the country. Indeed, post-war tourism brought changes to the traditional tourism markets; the government also recognised the tourism sector as one of the key sources of income for the country and introduced various strategies to attract, retain and develop the sector.

    According to data in the 2017 Annual Statistical Reports published by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), we were able to attract 2,116,407 tourists and tourism became the third-largest foreign exchange earner for the country, recording Rs. 598,356 million in foreign exchange earnings. Therefore, it is clear that post-war tourism developments made a significant contribution towards the national economy.

    However, it is unfortunate that exactly a decade after 2009, Sri Lanka experienced a horrific terrorist attack by Islamic State (IS)-backed terrorists, in which over 250 were killed in three churches and three luxury hotels located in the heart of Colombo city. Later it was identified that nearly 37 foreigners from some 10 countries were among those who lost their lives in the blasts. Consequently, many countries, particularly European and Eastern Asian, announced travel advisories on Sri Lanka.

    Although Sri Lankans have unfortunately experienced terrorism for nearly three decades, they did not think the country would ever be linked to the current wave of global terrorism based on religious extremism. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that Sri Lanka is not the first or the only country which has experienced such horrific terrorist attacks by an IS-backed terror group or any other group of terrorists.

    Soon after this horrific attack, the image as a safe and peaceful destination that the country had rebuilt after the war was damaged. Thus, the consequences of the terror attacks for the tourism industry are woeful.

    Terrorism and its impact on tourism

    Tourism is highly vulnerable and diverse to both internal and external environmental challenges, threats such as natural disasters, epidemics, economic downturns, national and international conflicts and so on.

    Terrorism aimed at tourism is a disaster for a destination. Indeed, safety is a prerequisite for the success of the tourism industry. Hence, terror attacks adversely affect tourists’ perceptions of destinations and as a result, travel behaviours, as tourists are free to avoid destinations associated with risk.

    Although countries may have experienced terrorism differently, most tourism industries across the world share similar challenges in rebuilding a damaged sector. Due to any form of terrorism particularly, the destination image and the overall reputation for safety will be negatively affected and as a result, tourist influx to the country would sharply decline; such adverse incidents would cause high economic downturns both in terms of tourist arrivals and expenditures.

    Consequently, the local tourism industry and stakeholders will suffer a lot due to hotel and airline booking cancellations and so on. In effect, the cost of terrorism includes huge economic loss involving property destroyed and the cancellations.

    Especially, previous SLTDA statistics clearly demonstrate that travel risks alter tourist demand patterns.

    Strategies to re-establish stability

    Since international demand is sensitive to the threat level depicted by the travel advisories, government and businesses alike should take measures to re-establish peace and stability of the country to boost the tourism industry once again.

    Establishing high-security protocols and being proactive

    It is important to have a strong security protocol for the country and in the meantime, the country should have robust contingency plans, disaster recovery programmes, and risk management protocols in order to help and to restore public faith in the safety and normalcy of the destination.

    Further, having more international collaborations would be also effective in the long run to sustain the tourism sector. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces were strong enough to defeat the brutal terrorism which lasted for three decades. Therefore, Sri Lankans as well as the world may have that assurance of safety established by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

    Role of ICT and media in crisis recovery In fact, we witness more terrorism across the world than ever before due to the media’s improved ability to report on various terrorist incidents. Therefore, every single happening in and around the world today will be communicated and delivered to the people across the globe within a few seconds.

    After this kind of crisis, one of the fundamental responsibilities of the ICT sector and the media is to change the perception of the people and tourists by creating impactful communications campaigns and collaborating to develop strategies to attract and retain tourists. Presently, social media plays a vital role in tourism marketing and promotions. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are very popular social media platforms among tourists. Therefore, hiring a full-time social media manager working across the popular social media platforms would be an effective way of providing comprehensive and accurate information to tourists across the world. For instance, following the 2015 terrorist attack in France, they effectively used Facebook as a tool to announce their safety status. Moreover, the hash tag ‘#pray for France#’ was another effective way of responding with speed and efficiency towards terrorist attacks and gained much attention across the world. Sri Lanka Tourism could also use these kinds of social media platforms, including Facebook, blogs, and YouTube to generate positive sentiment through creative online campaigns featuring the best Sri Lankan attractions and tourist activities. In addition, expanding press activities such as press trips and partnerships with airline carriers is another approach to attract visitors to the country. The media industry should collaborate with external communication platforms such as Expedia and Trip Advisor or host media groups to re-boost tourism. Adaptation of high technology To ensure the safety of the country and incoming tourists, it is essential to introduce smart technology-based products. Sri Lanka can now think of introducing automation to certain services such as passport services. It will help to control visitors from countries with approved biometric passport identifications. Installing CCTV cameras both at public and private places, enabling high-security checks at airports, ports and tightening security with the help of technology would be also beneficial in ensuring overall safety of a destination.

    Enabling free Wi-Fi at popular tourism attractions across the country would assist in speeding up e-WOM publicity, while encouraging tourists to share their authentic experiences and actual situations in the destination during a crisis. This will be a powerful tool to spread positive messages to a wider global community within a short time.

    Moreover, developing new travel specific information apps (info apps) would be another effective way of promoting tourism after a crisis. Providing reliable and accurate information quickly and responsibly would be the prime objective of such info apps. France also introduced free Wi-Fi and apps at popular tourism locations like hotels and airports targeting tourists. Moreover, Sri Lanka Tourism could think of using focused messaging for selected tourist markets. While analysing travel demand patterns for Sri Lanka, the NTOs and the government can think of formulating new efficient and effective ways of issuing visas, accepting hotel bookings and so on. Promote aggressively

    Apart from the traditional marketing efforts tourism authorities, stakeholders and the policymakers could think about modern-day marketing with the help of e-commerce and m-commerce. Stakeholders could design their marketing or promotional campaigns while fully integrating with crisis management activities at different levels such as domestic, regional and global.

    For instance, Northern Ireland, after the terrorist attacks, tried to overcome its negative image by formulating new strategies to increase tourist influx supported by heavy promotions, such as providing comprehensive information to international destination management companies (DMCs), tour operators, and travel agents while guiding tourists away from high-risk areas.

    Framework for crisis management

    It is essential for every tourist destination to incorporate crisis management planning into its overall tourism planning, including tourism marketing and management strategies, while providing necessary actions and recommendations in terms of the pre-disaster, onsite and post-disaster stages.

    A crisis manual serves as a tangible guide with checklist and details of various responsibilities delegated to task force members to avoid confusion, control the situation and ensure safety of people and the destination.

    Further, Sri Lanka Tourism could think of formulating a group for crisis management as a special unit. Task forces with experienced local government officials, local travel and tourism industry professionals and community frontrunners and tourist police should be formed.

    This may be helpful for achieving crisis management objectives and minimising the negative impacts caused by such activities. Moreover, it would be effective in accelerating the recovery process of a crisis situation. Hence, development of a crisis management plan and manual and partnering with law enforcement officials would be an effective way of managing the uncertain crisis situation affecting the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.

    Simultaneously, lack of preparation for these types of situations in the future would also bring unexpected negative impacts such as low visitor confidence, destroying destination image, economic losses and heavy advertising costs, to regain public confidence and revitalise visitor interest to the country.

    Promote a warm welcome

    Perhaps the best ambassadors for a country are mainly tourists and diplomats. Hence, creating a warm welcome and safeguarding guests should be a primary concern of a tourist guide throughout their vacation in the country. Failure to do so would negatively impact on the country’s tourism industry as word of mouth (WoM) publicity comes first in selecting a holiday destination. Hence, the role of both licensed and the non-licensed tourist guides are invaluable in creating positive first image of the country.

    Moreover, establishing better information centres and delivering promotional and other essential messages in various international languages are also helpful in attracting more visitors to the country and speeding up the recovery process.

    Initiating safety training and workshops

    Safety training initiatives for hotels, travel agencies, tourist guides and other responsible authorities is another aspect to assure both passengers’ and the country’s safety. Providing hints on identifying suspicious persons and goods and how to act in such kind of crisis situation without panicking would be highly beneficial for the respective organisation’s staff to handle the situation with less complexity.

    Sharing similar experiences

    It is quite helpful to share news on similar kinds of terrorism attacks which affect tourism and the kind of approaches other countries have practised to recover from such crises and to bring back confidence in tourists. Case studies of destinations that have experienced aforementioned challenges offer various crisis management strategies.

    For instance, France, United Kingdom, United States of America, New Zealand, and Egypt also faced these horrific terrorist attacks at different levels. Almost every country has tried to deal with its terrorism problems through increased security, aggressive marketing and promotion efforts that eventually helped them recover soon.

    As part of crisis management efforts, Sri Lanka Tourism could include recommendations and distribute videos of other destinations that suffered a similar fate, demonstrating their return to peace and stability in the country to support recovery efforts.

    Offering incentives

    Following the conflict in Chiapas, Mexico, the then tourism minister employed aggressive recovery efforts by increasing domestic tourism, re-establishing confidence in Chiapas. One million letters were sent to businesses in Mexico requesting them to hold their meetings and conferences in the city’s new convention centres while offering incentives for businesses such as tax breaks for using Chiapas hotels; hotel prices were reduced to attract more businesses.

    ‘Visit Sri Lanka to witness Humanity’

    Finally, to manage the crisis, it is not only enough to enhance the current framework in which we operate today, but also it is essential to encourage creative and innovative solutions, ideas and new concept models to uplift the country’s travel and tourism responsibilities in assuring a safe journey to the visitor. Further, it is important to take necessary action collaboratively, specially the government and private sector and community leaders, when formulating new rules, regulations and policies to ensure the safety and security of the country and the tourism industry.

    Sri Lankans take pride as one of the best-known destinations for its traditional hospitality. Regardless of race or religion, Sri Lankans lined up in the thousands to donate blood for the injured. They collected dry rations and other essentials goods for the affected families Buddhists donated the upcoming Vesak Poya donations and collections to the victims of the tragedy. This would be the ideal time for Sri Lanka to show its human qualities to the entire world. These living examples would definitely help to create a positive image of our little island once again, while demonstrating that Sri Lanka still ranks as the best tourist destination to visit in 2019.

     

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