October 17, 2019
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    Potential of coastal and marine tourism in Sri Lanka Featured

    December 11, 2018

    Sri Lanka is blessed with plentiful and diverse coastal and marine resources having a high potential value for tourism. Around 1,000 miles of coastal area in the country are extensively utilised for tourism product development. About 75 percent of the graded hotels in Sri Lanka and 80 percent of the hotel rooms are located in coastal areas. The waters around the coastline are filled with valuable aquatic resources including over 1,000 varieties of fish.

    With such an inventory of world-class resources, we should have by now gained a big stake in the growing global market for coastal and marine tourism, with significant potential for further growth. However, in spite of the comparatively high resource base, our earnings from coastal and marine tourism still remains below true potential. Of course, the beach holiday in Sri Lanka is popular among the predominantly Western European winter season tourists. It is evident from the high occupancies in the beach-oriented hotels in winter. Yet, more could be done.
    The majority of our tourists tend to fall into one of three market segments based on their needs and motivations: on shore, off-shore and inland. Coastal and marine tourism covers the first two segments. In other words, if we view through a broader sense of tourism, coastal and marine forms part of a tourist’s experience rather than offering a separate experience of itself. That’s important to understand and to accept it before examining the elements of an appropriate development agenda.
    But we also want tourism sector -on shore, off-shore or inland - to grow on a sustainable basis. For that reason, we need to concern ourselves with four sets of conditions:
    (1) Contented visitors – leaving Sri Lanka with expectations met or exceeded and coming again or recommending the country to others, (2) Profitable enterprises – large and small, capable of satisfying our tourists competitively but at a profit to sustain operations and to reinvest in the business, (3) A nurtured environment – sensitively develop and manage our natural environment, (4) Engaged communities – sustainable tourism proactively engages with local communities for economic benefit and through its actions should enhance a location as a place to live as well as a place to visit.
    Our whole tourism policy must align with satisfying these four conditions.Coastal and marine tourism is big business. It’s common knowledge that most of our tourists are concentrated along our coastline. When we ‘geo plot’ the places in which tourists actually visit, we find that over 70% of Sri Lanka’s tourism is concentrated within a small segment of our landmass – west coast and east coast.
    To quote the numbers, however, we do not have official statistics for tourism in coastal and marine areas, but estimates indicate is probably two third of the tourist income comes from coastal tourism. When considered with the associated employment both direct and indirect sustained locally in hospitality, the dividend is significant but there’s also considerable potential for further growth from international markets in particular. Within an international coastal and marine tourism context, Sri Lanka is part of a mature South Asian market with growth rates well behind those of the new and emerging Asian markets.
    Most of our business today actually comes from within the West European and Asian market and in reality, for the foreseeable future most of our business will come from there. This means Sri Lanka should seek to develop a foothold in the newer growth markets in Australia, Africa, East Europe and Middle East. In reality, that will take time.
    New ways
    Dependent as we are on mature markets, this means if we are to grow steadily, we need to capture part of the competitors’ markets. Not an easy task! As an initial step, we need a thorough understanding of our competitors’ markets and specifically about the consumer segments who are looking for what we have to offer.
    What can we really offer? To answer this question, we have to re-segment our tourist arrivals in a different angle. (1) Urban tourism experience or city-breaks. These tourists spend few days in major cities and hotels and maybe take couple of day tours and leave. (2) Great Escapers. They’re often young families. interested in rural holidays and travel to remote places. They want to connect with the landscape and feel the country. They take part in exploration on land, on-shore and off-shore but not strenuous ones. (3) Culturally Curious. They’re slightly older, 50 and over. They travel to broaden their minds and expand their experience by exploring new landscapes and seascapes, history and culture. They are independent ‘active sightseers. They are unlikely to return home for some time. They travel as couples, maybe with grownup children. With the resources we have we can satisfy the needs of the last two groups needs by leveraging our areas of comparative advantage. Coast and sea would be added highlights for them.
    With the sea surrounding the country all our activities should be based around water. The greater territorial waters having a larger area than the land itself, the potential for water-based activities are greater.The areas that could be further developed along these coastal lines would be whale and dolphin watching, surfing, sailing, kayaking, sport fishing and a variety of water sports.
    We also have an untapped market potential for more yacht marinas.There was a proposal of creating one in Galle harbour but it became the focus of criticism from some interested parties, claiming it would damage the harbour and Rumassala Mountain. With the availability of Marinas, the geo-strategic location of Sri Lanka can provide an advantage when attempting to entice cruise ships and other vessels, to include Sri Lanka as a destination or stop-over point. This will open another potential market of having activities for cruise passengers such as excursions, cultural shows etc.
    With the region promoting regattas and other activities could bring in higher quality of tourists. It is obvious Sri Lanka can increase its coastal and marine tourism earnings, by using appropriate strategies with the focus on the long-term potential.
    From a broader coastal tourism perspective this writer wishes to identify some broad areas for improvement:
    We need improved access to our shoreline, particularly using existing infrastructure or even through new ways of working so that public resources such as ports, harbours, piers, marinas etc, are shared with private enterprises.
    Secondly, there is a need to move away from a focus on the delivery of hard infrastructure alone as a mechanism for generating coastal tourism demand. We must also focus on developing supports for communities, particularly, who play a key role in the visitor experiences and in their engagement with the visitor. Towns and villages which are picturesque and welcoming are nice places to live, and somewhere that is nice to live is somewhere that is nice to visit.
    Thirdly, we need to provide for a complete visitor experience and not just of an activity or a product. Visitors who come here want a fully immersive experience. If the tourism sector is to provide this experience then more activities, attractions, our unique cultural experiences, pubs, restaurants, hotels etc, need to be working together to deliver this, and need to reconnect to each other.
    We maybe a small island but we have a rich and authentic culture unique which is warm, welcoming and engaging. If all the interested parties involved work harmoniously and together, there is no reason why we cannot enjoy significant growth in tourism within coastal and marine areas within the next ten years.


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