Sri Lanka takes key steps to woo tourists through mega campaign

 Thursday, July 20, 2023

A two-phase mega campaign starting in early August and the promotion of hot air ballooning over pristine nature are among the key steps being taken by Sri Lanka to woo tourists from India and other nations in a bid to revive tourism in the cash-strapped country.

Describing his country a resilient nation and a land of opportunities, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Tourism and Lands Harin Fernando urged more Indians to travel and explore the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” as a 365-day destination that offers everything from adventure to beaches and scuba diving to cultural heritage in one capsule.

 Fernando said the beautiful island nation enchants tourists and 33 per cent of their travellers are repeaters, they fall in love, come back for beaches and wellness, and more.

According to data shared by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the country is targeting about 1.55 million foreign tourists arrivals by the end of this year, with a forecast of the figures rising to 2.5 million by 2024 and an aim of 4 million tourists by 2030.

 Chalaka Gajabahu, the chairman of SLTPB, said that as the island nation lays the roadmap for recovery and rejuvenation of the tourism sector, India is, and will for a long time, remain their number one market.

India is a country with over a billion people and one of the strongest middle-class populations in the world.

Definitely, one of Sri Lanka’s key markets, followed by China, which is a very similar market, he said.

Sri Lanka earlier in July played host to the 67th annual convention of the TAAI (Travel Agents Association of India) with President Ranil Wickremesinghe being the chief guest at its opening ceremony in Colombo.

Wickremesinghe will travel to India on an official visit from July 20-21 to further advance and consolidate the long-standing bilateral relations between the two countries.

Fernando, at a dinner reception held on the second day of the TAAI convention here, told a gathering of nearly 600 delegates, “India hamare dil ke paas hai” (India is close to our heart).

India and Sri Lanka are connected in more ways than one. Sethusamudram is a good example, he added.

In a Sri Lanka tourism promotional video screened multiple times during the three-day convention in Colombo, the connection between India and Sri Lanka through the epic Ramayana and Mauryan emperor Ashoka was also underlined.

He shared that the last good year for Sri Lanka in terms of tourism was in 2018 when it saw the arrival of 2.3 million foreign tourists.

In 2022, international tourist arrival figures stood at 719,978 — a 270.2 per cent increase compared to the 194,495 tourists who visited in 2021, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).

Gajabahu, the SLTPB chairman, had said in an interaction during the convention that they have achieved about 600,000 by June 30 this year in terms of the arrival of tourists.

Their last year’s figure was about 7,20,000.

So, they are almost achieving our target in just six months, and our target is 1.55 million (for 2023), but they are confident that we can reach there, it’s a bit of an ambitious figure.

The 2018 figure was the highest, 2.3 million, so imagine if we can get to 2 million, it’s a massive recovery, he added.

In terms of recovery for tourism, it is very clear, without a proper campaign one can’t take the vision forward.

So, a little bit that was done earlier, starting with India, then China, then in London, followed by Germany, Middle East, where travel roadshows were done, and the numbers are coming in, the SLTPB chairman said.

The other key markets for Sri Lanka include France, Australia, Scandinavian nations, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

 Gajabahu said that they are going to look at these key 9-10 markets, India being number one.

There will be a two-month campaign starting in early August or late July, to rejuvenate and revive Sri Lanka (tourism). It will be 100 per cent through PR and social media with a 360-degree approach.

In phase one, the focus will be on informing travellers that Sri Lanka is safe and ready to welcome visitors, a step that will also seek to nullify the “negative publicity”, officials said.

After 15 years, they are going to come up with they first 360-degree campaign.

Not a category-target campaign, but a full force campaign targeting 12 key markets, India will be their biggest market, and their biggest budget will be spent on India, followed by China, Gajabahu added.

Phase two will involve inspiring global campaigns on three pillars- compact, diversity and authenticity.

Gajabahu cited the example of the ‘Incredible India’ campaign of India’s Ministry of Tourism, which was formed two decades ago, saying, first, the need is to create “a mother brand of Sri Lanka”.

Fernando said that as part of the efforts to revive tourism in the cash-strapped nation, a number of new projects were on the anvil.

Fernando said the Galle Literary Festival is coming up that will take place some days before the Jaipur Literature Festival, and Sri Lanka is expecting to attract those foreigners too who will visit India for the Jaipur Literary Festival.

The debt-ridden nation is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from the British in 1948, due to a shortage of foreign exchange reserves.

 The tourism sector is the primary source of foreign exchange earnings for cash-strapped Sri Lanka.

 However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 severely crippled the tourism sector.

It was one of the major reasons for Sri Lanka’s economic travails apart from the 2019 Easter bombings that had already impacted inbound tourism in Sri Lanka.

The island nation is now making comprehensive efforts to recover from the crisis and rebuild the economy, the SLTPB said, asserting that it was “ready to conquer any challenge” and “conquer the crisis”.


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