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Challenges of tourism industry in Sri Lanka

Tourists in the company of an elephant

Tourism is travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes.

The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people who "travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for more than twenty-four (24) hours and not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited".



Tourism has become a popular global leisure activity.

In 2008, there were over 922 million international tourist arrivals, with a growth of 1.9 percent as compared to 2007. International tourism receipts grew to US$ 944 billion (Euro 642 billion) in 2008, corresponding to an increase in real terms of 1.8 percent.

As a result of the late-2000s recession, international travel demand suffered a strong slow down beginning in June 2008, with growth in international tourism arrivals worldwide falling to 2 percent during the boreal summer months.

This negative trend intensified during 2009, exacerbated in some countries due to the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, resulting in a worldwide decline of 4 percent in 2009 to 880 million international tourists' arrivals, and an estimated 6 percent decline in international tourism receipts.

The World Tourism rankings are compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as part of their World Tourism Barometer publication. In the publication World tourism is ranked both by number of visits and by tourism revenue generated.

The top international destinations in 2009 are:

Out of a global total of 903 million tourists in 2007, there are the 58 most visited, as of June 2008. It is ironic to note that Sri Lanka is not among the 58 most visited countries while recently rejuvenated Vietnam possesses the 46th rank.

The situation demands pragmatic approach to uplift the tourist industry in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is an island country in South Asia, located about 31 kilometers (19.3 mi) off the southern coast of India, a nation with which it shares a common culture, language and religion. Historically, Sri Lanka has been known by many names.

The existence of the island has been known to the Indic, Chinese, Arabic, and Western civilizations for many millennia and the various names ascribed to the island over time reflect this and a whole host of international travellers had visited and written incredible details of this tiny island.

Tourism is inherently based on curiosity and interests of the individual. Tourist attractions are varied and multifaceted which are also basically dependent on the comprehension and the attitude of the respective individual.

There are countries which are attracted by its natural beauty, some are for its historical value and some are gleaned with leisure opportunities and so on, which construed that tourism, essentially, based on purpose of travel.

Purpose of travel could be broadly categorized into following segments.

Pleasure, education, pilgrimage, archaeological sites, cultural heritage, sports, world renowned heritages, business and family visits.

If considered in the above terms of major tourist attractions, potentiality of a country, could be limited to few segments in most cases.

Source: Sri Lanka tourism

In view of the purpose of travel, which generates tourism, Sri Lanka stands a highly favourable and advantageous position among the other countries as it could be boasting of almost all of these attractions which have been naturally and physically bestowed on our country.

The most dynamic questions automatically posed at this very juncture, are that, have we fully taken hold of this natural phenomenon and provided potentiality in its full force.

Have we fully utilized and exploited these potentials? This situation could be dramatically illustrated by the fact that certain countries that attract lot of tourists and presently play a foremost role in the tourism industry, could merely be boast of their natural beaches and they have fully utilized its incidental features energetically and that they have managed to exploit the limited resources to the hilt.

A burgeoning fact that attracts many tourists into these countries, based on solely gained reputations.

If cogently planned and masterfully guided tourism could definitely be the chosen foreign currency earner for Sri Lanka along with garment industry, foreign remittances and traditional exports. One need only to lucidly understand the coherence of the entire scenario.

We have to fully understand and utilize the full potential of cogency, power, potency, conviction, strength and force of Sri Lanka tourism. With the dawn of peace, as always envisioned, it is the optimistic onus of the authorities to enhance tourism in its full potential.

Sri Lanka is strategically located in a most favourable naval and aerial spot on the world map. As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes and aerial routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and South East Asia and a strategic air link between West Asia, Africa and East Asia and Oceania.

It has also been a centre of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times and is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia with a highly acclaimed cultural heritage.

The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka's tropical forests, beaches and landscape, as well as its rich cultural heritage, make it a world famous tourist destination.

Sri Lanka is famous for its tropical ecosystem.

Tropical plants and animals are those species native to the tropics. Tropical ecosystems may consist of rainforests, dry deciduous forests, spiny forests, desert and other habitat types. There are often significant areas of biodiversity, and species endemism present, particularly in rainforests and dry deciduous forests.(Wikipedia Encyclopedia) Recently seen Slender Loris (Unahapuluwa) (Loris Tardigradus) is a splendid example of unique bio diversity of Sri Lanka.

This particular species thought to have extinct for the last 72 years is seen prowling in the Horton Plains and photographed in July 2010.

Sri Lanka is a developing economy based largely on agriculture services and light industry. The service sector is the largest of the Sri Lanka economy, employing 45 percent of the workforce and contributing roughly 60 percent of GDP. Tourism, banking, finance and retail trade are the major components of the service sector.

HSBC Economic update -2009 report says that stronger growth in tourism would lift overall service sector contribution to GDP; visitor arrivals increased 16 percent y-o-y in December 2009 and 20 percent in November. Planned and ongoing investments and expenditure over the next few years, estimated at nearly 12.5 percent of GDP, are likely to create a structural shift in GDP growth and goes on to conclude that they view the 7 percent GDP growth forecast for 2010 as being on the upside.

According to the Central Bank Report- 2009 Hotel and Restaurant sector has only contributed 0.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Sri Lanka is now on the growth phase and the government and the administrative authorities need to position themselves to be geared to forge ahead to the new level of development, for the mere fact, that the country has to overcome the impediments of conflict that had strangled and stalled the country's development and economy for over thirty years.

Post war conditions for Sri Lanka have been remarkably conducive and has created a unique climate for development activities of all aspects, hitherto been deterred and denied by the three-decade long conflict with terrorism.

As the entire nation is gripped with high expectations over development prospects, it is inescapable and inevitable obligation of the authorities to fulfil the aspiration of the subject of the country, who brought them into power with an unprecedented majority.

They must bring about lasting development models and must integrate core activities in order to be more development-oriented and productive oriented. Sri Lanka, the beautiful country, blessed with great potential in tourism, thanks to the cessation of the hostilities, expects a tourism boom.

The inevitable question raised is - Are we fully geared to involve into this phenomenon. The term 'geared to involve' should be considered in a broader spectrum vis a vis macro aspect of comprehensive planning to micro aspects of transport etc.

Due to the peaceful situation prevalent in Sri Lanka most western countries have withdrawn restrictions imposed over travelling due to the volatile security situation in the past.

Tourist arrivals have been gradually picking up at a healthy pace.

In the first three months of 2010 tourist arrivals increased by 50.3 percent over the corresponding period in 2009.

The Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) described that the first three months as quite positive for tourism with arrival standing at 160,409 while tourism earning for the same period increased by 69 percent to US$141.2 million compared to US$ 83.3 million last year.

This is definitely an indication of potential accrual of higher yields in the industry.

Meanwhile investment and construction projects are afoot in several places of the country.

In the Eastern Province, development projects such as Pasikudah Resort, Kuchcheveli Resort and the East Coast Action Plan are due to commence soon, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report for the Pasikudah resort is awaiting approval of the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) for construction of a pilot hotel project consisting of 40 chalets to begin with.

Likewise there are number of projects awaiting approval of the authorities and there are numerous potential investors awaiting their turnoff investment.

Amidst all these appealing signs, there are several questions that appear on the horizon of tourism in Sri Lanka. Are we really geared to accept the increase inflow of tourists? Have we properly and correctly understood the challenges posed by other tourist destinations in the world? Have we identified the ideally potential scenario of Sri Lanka as a tourist inescapable destination amongst the mostly visited destinations in the world? Have we identified our specialties which make Sri Lanka a unique destination?

Sri Lanka has a great potential as a tourist destination in terms of its strategic location as it is situated in a centre stage location en route to the Far East, Central Asia, Europe and Africa, a notion that should be emphatically carried out in our propaganda strategies which is an advantageous situation for the travellers as well because Sri Lanka is located in a centre point of crossing routes of several continents.

Sri Lanka is universally known as the teardrop-shaped island off India's coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendours.

The New York Times describes Sri Lanka as the island, with a population of just 20 million, feels like one big tropical zoo: Where elephants roam freely, water buffaloes idle in paddy fields and monkeys swing from trees. And then there's the pristine coastline with miles of sugary white sand. Although an war hindered the industry, visitors love Sri Lanka for its glorious beaches, the tea estates and rolling hill country and even the great archaeological sites.

Expedient programs must be afoot to exploit the hitherto unexploited scenarios of tourism.

What we have not fully utilized as tourist attractions are-Endemic heritage of Sri Lanka (birds, fish and other ecological heritage), Ayurveda, Buddhist doctrine and meditation Meditation as a healing process of ailments, Exclusive tourist sites like Eiffel tower in France ( Cultural heritage monuments, Nilaveli, Pasikudah, beaches, golden sand on coast, thousands of jungle camping sites adjoining small streams and so on). Honeymoon tour package for foreign couples and wild life.

Birds watching, Short Buddhist discourse courses, Local food (hopper, strings, Jaggery, bee honey, treacle) and Medicinal food value, Shopping, Local made garments to suit tourists, Develop a fashion scene in Colombo to attract shoppers, Green Tea as a medicine, wind Surfing, Whale Watching (Mirissa), Hiking and Countryside trekking, Mountain Biking, Ayurvedic Beauty Therapy.

Within the context of global post recession and growing prosperity in Europe, the US and the most East-based countries, particularly, Chinese prosperity, tourist trade should be a effective contributor to the exchequer.

Sri Lanka Tourist Promotion Bureau has cited ten good reasons to visit Sri Lanka and this list should be enhanced with the above untapped resources.

01. Diversity, 02. People, 03. Culture and Heritage, 04. Events and Festivals, 05. Wildlife, 06.Adventure and Sports, 07. Hotels, 08.Food. 09. Ayurveda and Spas , 10. Shopping.

New York Times has ranked Sri Lanka as the Number one tourist destination in the world, which is a most welcome sign, evident in the recent past.

It is upto the authorities to exploit these notions with an uncompromising propaganda campaign especially in the American continent. New York Times empathically states that the end of the conflict, ushering in a more peaceful era for this teardrop-shaped island off India's coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendours would definitely secure the number one spot.

National geographic magazine has cited Sri Lanka among the best 25 tourist destinations in the world. They have been selected on the basis of explicit, naturally heritage and adventurous nature of tourist attraction.

In keeping with the trend in the tourism arena, there is a new itinerary, which combines surfing at Hikkaduwa (Sri Lanka's answer to Costa Rica's Tamarindo-minus the tourists), hiking 7,362-foot Adam's Peak (considered sacred by four local religions), and mountain biking the same trails that tea farmers have been using since Sri Lanka first began producing the crop 250 years ago.

At 25,000 square miles, the island lets you cover a lot in a short amount of time. "Within a half day we move between vastly different topographies, climates, and wildlife zones," says Bolger, a travel executive in a local firm.

Rare is the place you see rice paddies from the back of an elephant in the morning and ocean views from a mountain top by midday. (Best places to go - National Geographic Magazine)

When reading the list, one may infer the notion that most of the reasons are common with other attractive tourist destinations in the world.

In a promotional campaign instigating factors should be exclusive and explicit as against the other destinations so that prospective tourists would be attracted to such factors over the other destinations. And Sri Lanka, which is a unique tourist destination, could boast of such exclusive factors.

The bureau in its effort in promoting tourism has initiated a branding campaign which is a mandatory in today's context of tourism industry.

They promote Sri Lanka as the Asia's most treasured island but definitely Sri Lanka could be a world's treasured island with diversified benefits it has derived naturally and an unprecedented cultural heritage, through the historical evolutionary milestones of Sri Lanka, which most countries cannot boast of.

One could find everything expected of an exclusive tourist destination, in a small island like Sri Lanka within a short spate of time, be it culture, beach, climatic change, gems and serene village beauty. It is a matter of 45 or 60 minutes time span to enjoy the hot condition in Colombo and the freezing climate in Nuwara Eliya, which is unique in every sense.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority was conducting a survey to collect information about all major attractions and lesser known places in Sri Lanka which is a very positive step as there are potential areas which could be promoted. Most crucial fact would be to carry an exercise to study and collect information on exclusive and exhaustive tourist requirements. For the potential tourist who is attracted by Asia's ayurvedic treatments or spiritual meditations are naturally attracted by India. In Sri Lanka there are number of traditional 'Paramparika' Ayurveda centres and some attend to incurable diseases with positive results. Sri Lanka is renowned for its Theravada Buddhist meditation in consequence to the services rendered by the Sri Lanka Buddhist reverends who propagate Buddha Dhamma in the western world.

For exploitation of these opportunities, needs greater attention of the authorities. Medical tourism is a rapidly-growing practice of travelling across international borders to obtain healthcare. Over 50 countries have identified medical tourism as a national industry.

Tourism industry should be redefined as an export commodity and should be given equal status of export development incentives and inducement, since tourism earns much needed foreign currency for the country, thus induce greater investment in the industry. Tourism as an export component could carry a two-fold approach.

1. Facilities afforded to tourist industry enjoyed by other commodity exporters

2. Hard propaganda machinery

Present outlook on world tourism industry

Brazil, Russia, India and China, the world top emerging markets which represent 40 percent of the global population are the focus of the all travel professionals looking for more clientele with money to spend.

But the industry is still trying to recover from the disastrous year in 2009, when wealth generated by global travel and tour fell by 4.8 percent.

According to former American Express CEO James Robinson and ex President of World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) the industry accounted for 9 percent global GDP and employs 235 million people.

The financial crisis and H1N1 virus hit the sector hard in 2008-9 and 2010 has already brought its negative surprises, the European debt crisis and huge air traffic disruption caused by ash spewing volcanoes in Iceland. The eruption and subsequent shutdown of European air space caused a global loss of 4.7 billion dollars according to Oxford Economics Consultants.

It is imperative that the industry authority make a concerted effort to assess the overseas market by compiling very reliable database on tourism. The driving impetus behind establishing this information system is the fact, that it is possible for decision-makers to assess the tourism field based on the information available and to gain an overview of the American market, European market, Asian market or any overseas markets, enabling direct comparison of aspects such as the volume and structure of outbound trips taken by the Germans, Americans, British, Russians and Chinese. In the line of the World Travel Monitor and European Travel Monitor, we also must maintain a comprehensive database which would virtually possible to make comparative studies and to measure out development plans.

A comprehensive database would definitely help the authorities to assess the tourist sentiments, preferred destinations, individual tourist expectations and likings etc. All the important parameters of travel must be included in such a database. This would help in both a determination of travel volume (number of trips taken abroad) as well as numerous individual trip characteristics. The following parameters are identified for such a detailed database which would ultimately help make plan outs, adjustment and desired arrangements.

Global tourism faces a challenging year due to a down turn of the economies.

But the future is bright with the growing middle calls in the merging markets eager for travel which will see middle income class explode.

This very fact should be a pivotal strategic argument in preparation of marketing strategies. There will be two billion more with middle income in the world by 2030 according to Goldman Sachs economists, a full-service global investment banking and securities firm.

This was revealed at the Global Travel and Tourism summit held in Beijing on May 25 2010. "As people get rich, move to the middle class, they spend less money on necessities and would prefer to travel and enjoy life thus tourism sector explodes."

Goldman Sachs emphasized the pivotal importance of developing a cohesive approach as part of an overall strategy not only to travel but other aspects of economy as well.

Foregoing estimation should definitely make a strong point in the future tourism industry in Sri Lanka

(Various resources were used in compiling this article)

Courtesy: DailyNews

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010 @ 01:34:19 LKT by

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