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Government's inaction on destination promotion retards Sri Lanka's tourism prospects

CLASHES among government tourism agencies, absence of an international marketing and promotion campaign, and overpricing woes are stifling Sri Lanka’s efforts to achieve 2.5 million tourists by 2016, up from 450,000 in 2009.

  26/06/2012 08:48

The government has not approved the usual overseas marketing campaign since 2011, although such an investment was made even during the conflict years. The inaction was due to tight cashflows and the belief that word-of-mouth would help swell arrival numbers. Arrivals hit 855,900 in 2011 but industry players questioned the figure, saying that half were backpackers, expatriates or NGO workers who stayed in cheap accommodation or with friends and relatives.

“They don’t add to the hotel accommodation numbers and foreign exchange returns,” said one veteran hotelier. Meanwhile, five-star hotel rates saw a sharp increase from US$60 per night in 2010 to US$180 in 2011.

The Ministry of Economic Development and the Sri Lanka Tourism, which comprises four units that handle promotion, development, conventions and a training school, had disagreed over a promotional budget and presence at key trade fairs.

 

Foreign public relation agencies in key markets like Germany, France and the UK were discontinued in early 2011, and promotional work was allocated instead to diplomats at Sri Lankan missions. While competing destinations were represented by competent tourism officials at trade fairs, Sri Lanka’s presence was represented by embassy officials.

A hotelier, who declined to be named, told TTG Asia e-Daily that state agency officials had been barred from attending travel fairs.

A state agency official added: “In one instance, an embassy forgot the date of a trade event and had to be reminded on the day itself. In another example, a key MICE event promoting Sri Lanka was headed by a private sector official because state officials who organised the event were not permitted to leave (the country).”

Throwing another spanner in the works for the destination’s pursuit of tourism development, Nalaka Godahewa, chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism, resigned last month after a long-drawn dispute over the need for a promotion budget.

However, ministry officials denied the accusations, saying that senior officials of Sri Lanka Tourism were “hogging” overseas trips and not giving others a chance to travel, and that costly promotions were unnecessary owing to cashflow problems and the fact that Sri Lanka was drawing arrivals without publicity.

(Source: TTG Asia)

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