SRI LANKA TOURISM’S ROCKY ROAD TO RE­COV­ERY

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - TOURISM / AVIATION - SHAFEEK WA­HAB

Com­pared to the 180,429 vis­i­tors in April last year, ar­rivals in April 2019 dropped 7.5 per­cent to 166,975 due to the ter­ror at­tacks on the 21st.

The Tourism Min­istry an­tic­i­pates a 30 per­cent dip by yearend, i.e. achieve around 2 mil­lion ar­rivals in to­tal for this year. With 0.9 mil­lion ac­tual ar­rivals in the first 4 months of the year, the ex­pec­ta­tion is for an­other 1.1 mil­lion tourists to visit Sri Lanka, over the bal­ance 8 months.

In the af­ter­math of the hor­rific Easter Sun­day bomb­ings, the ob­vi­ous and im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion is to in­crease se­cu­rity mea­sures and re­gain tourists with mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. How­ever, a more cred­i­ble ap­proach would also be to over­come internal con­flicts and ward off ter­ror­ism. This in turn would be a great sig­nal for tourists who would no longer see any dan­ger of travelling to Sri Lanka.

IN THE AF­TER­MATH OF THE HOR­RIFIC EASTER SUN­DAY BOMB­INGS, THE OB­VI­OUS AND IM­ME­DI­ATE RE­AC­TION IS TO IN­CREASE SE­CU­RITY MEA­SURES AND RE­GAIN TOURISTS WITH MAR­KET­ING CAM­PAIGNS

The swift ac­tion taken thus far; to reassure cit­i­zens that they are safe and vis­i­tors that ‘life goes on’- will no doubt en­sure that the long term fall out is lim­ited.

More re­silient to shocks

The hotel industry is be­com­ing more re­silient to shocks from ter­ror­ism. In ef­fect, the time that it takes for des­ti­na­tions to re­cover from these shocks has sig­nif­i­cantly de­creased over the past 15 years. It took New York ho­tels 34 months to re­cover from the 9/11 at­tacks as com­pared to the 12 months Madrid re­quired to re­cover from the 2003 Train bombs. The World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil pegs a 13-month re­cov­ery as the av­er­age time needed for af­fected cap­i­tal ci­ties to re­turn to prior lev­els of tourism.

As per the Chair­man of Sri Lanka Tourism, the coun­try can bounce back within 13 months or even ear­lier. He is op­ti­mistic that it will re­vert to growth mode in two months. This can only hap­pen when the Min­istry of Tourism works in tan­dem with the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and the Min­istries of Avi­a­tion, Cul­ture, Eco­nomic af­fairs and all stake­hold­ers in the pri­vate sec­tor - where ev­ery­one is on the ‘same page with a com­mon pur­pose’.

Wel­comes fi­nan­cial re­lief pack­age

The travel and tourism industry has al­ready wel­comed the gov­ern­ment’s fi­nan­cial re­lief pack­age to sup­port the industry. With de­clin­ing oc­cu­pancy rates, the next 12 – 13 months will be a dif­fi­cult pe­riod for ho­tels. The ear­li­est signs of re­cov­ery (get­ting-outof-red) will be when oc­cu­pancy gains com­pare with the year be­fore. How soon this oc­curs is de­pen­dent on how suc­cess­fully the gov­ern­ment un­der­takes the fol­low­ing ac­tion:

Bring back ‘nor­malcy’ as soon as pos­si­ble bear­ing in mind that ‘ter­ror­ism’ is now an om­nipresent world­wide phe­nom­e­non. The de­sign and im­ple­men­ta­tion of se­cu­rity pro­to­cols with the ca­pa­bil­ity to re­spond quickly and ef­fi­ciently to threats of ter­ror­ism should con­vince all that the gov­ern­ment is per­pet­u­ally in pro-ac­tive

mode. Only then should any pro­posed se­cu­rity au­dit by an in­de­pen­dent body be car­ried out.

■ Co-or­di­nate re­cov­ery ac­tiv­i­ties with the min­istry of tourism, na­tional tourist or­ga­ni­za­tions, for­eign tour op­er­a­tors, local travel or­ga­niz­ers, air­line com­pa­nies (na­tional and in­ter­na­tional), hote­liers, and other re­lated or­ga­ni­za­tions.

■ Work to­wards hav­ing the travel ad­vi­sories is­sued by many coun­tries re­vised as early as pos­si­ble. For­tu­nately, over the past 10 years there ap­pears to be a shift in men­tal­ity among trav­ellers and com­pa­nies, with the emer­gence of a ‘carry on as nor­mal’ cul­ture in re­sponse to ter­ror­ism. Tourists who are pre­pared to visit Sri Lanka de­spite the ad­verse travel ad­vi­sories is­sued by their gov­ern­ments face an­other hur­dle in hav­ing to pay high in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums in their coun­try of ori­gin.

■ a sug­ges­tion made by some for­eign­ers, if the industry could per­suade Sri Lankan In­sur­ance com­pa­nies to come up with a low priced tem­po­rary travel in­sur­ance scheme for vis­i­tors to Sri Lanka mer­its con­sid­er­a­tion.

■ Speak in ‘one (cred­i­ble) voice’, es­pe­cially when dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion about the cri­sis. The mes­sag­ing must be co­her­ent and un­com­pli­cated.

■ Keep the me­dia reg­u­larly in­formed with ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on steps taken to solve the prob­lem and re­store nor­malcy. Use the me­dia to com­mu­ni­cate pos­i­tive facts.

■ In­vite blog­gers, jour­nal­ists, tour op­er­a­tors and travel agents to the destinatio­n to not only show them the real sit­u­a­tion, but also that Sri Lanka re­gains and re­mains a pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tion in the minds of po­ten­tial ‘hol­i­day mak­ers’. Al­ready a team of blog­gers from 5 coun­tries have ar­rived and that is a promis­ing start.

It is a straight for­ward job to know which coun­tries to tar­get with pro­mo­tional mar­ket­ing. We al­ready have data show­ing which coun­tries pro­vided the most tourists and with ev­ery pass­ing day, which show the big­gest drops. The Chair­man of Sri Lanka Tourism states that they will con­tinue to take part in the 25 or more travel and tourism fairs lined up for the rest of 2019. Well and good – so long as the ‘spend’ is con­cen­trated to­wards coun­tries that mat­ter most, as well as those who can as­sist us get to our feet swiftly.

Per­haps the best am­bas­sadors for tourism for Sri Lanka are the tourist them­selves. Mak­ing sure that the peo­ple who brave a post - 21st April visit, are pro­vided a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence from start to fin­ish. The in­con­ve­nience for ar­riv­ing and es­pe­cially de­part­ing pas­sen­gers cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enced un­less im­me­di­ately rec­ti­fied can boomerang on all ef­forts. Part of the pro­mo­tional cam­paign to in­clude welcome posters at the Air­port in vis­i­tors’ lan­guages and welcome text mes­sages in home lan­guages. To sum­ma­rize, the gov­ern­ment and the hos­pi­tal­ity industry alike should take mea­sures to re-boost the tourism sec­tor once the sit­u­a­tion has nor­mal­ized, fo­cus­ing on bring­ing back the tourists, chang­ing per­cep­tions through me­dia by cre­at­ing im­pact­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns and col­lab­o­rat­ing to de­velop strate­gies to at­tract new tourists.

(Shafeek Wa­hab – Editor, ‘Hos­pi­tal­ity Sri Lanka’, Con­sul­tant, Trainer and Ex-hote­lier could be con­tacted on: shafeek­wa­[email protected])

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