Sri Lanka is listed among Asia’s most exotic destinations,offering visitors a doorway into an ancient world, full of rustic treasures, natural beauty, and heady experiences. Ambitious new development projects have also transformed the country’s capital and major cities, giving visitors access to all the cosmopolitan pleasures you’d expect from a modern metropolis.
The effort made by Sri Lanka Tourism to transform the Island into a destination that appeals to a wider international audience has shown immense promise and within the last few years major changes to infrastructure, policy, and opportunity has elevated the island to one of the most coveted destinations in the world. As a chief export, tourism is of vital importance, Sri Lanka Tourism recognises that a strategically managed tourism sector supports the local economy, is a prelude to prosperity, and improves the quality of life while ensuring greater inclusivity, sustainability, diversity, and a more progressive society. Revitalizing the island’s already burgeoning tourism sector is a fundamental aspect of government policy and is a key feature in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Manifesto ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor’ containing ten key policies.
Taking the ten key policies and seventeen agenda items in the Manifesto, Sri Lanka Tourism identified ten key pillars which act as a strategic guide for Sri Lanka Tourism. Ms. Kimarli Fernando – Chairperson SL Tourism commented, “This all-encompassing formula elevates the status of Sri Lanka Tourism and transforms it into a truly world-class destination. The country has made tremendous progress in key areas of technology, sustainability, branding, promotions, and efficiency improvements. This will enable the island to offer experiences and opportunities like never before. Of Course, there is so much more to be accomplished and this very positive start motivates us to achieve our objectives.”
These guiding principles guarantee future growth, manage its impact, and enable the efficient coordination of investments. The first pillar deals with consistently striving towards a people-centric tourism sector,focusing on guiding, and supporting segments of people linked with the tourism sector while recognising the industry potential to be an economic stimulator that enhances revenue generating sources, employment opportunities and foreign earnings. Numerous initiatives have been introduced including the entire sector being recognized as an export industry with VAT exemption. Additionally, there has been an unprecedented effort to support stakeholders through updated funding and grants especially with assistance during the pandemic, training, skill development programmes, and a variety of other ongoing projects. Other developments include increased registration of SME’s in the accommodation sector converting informal to formal, health&safety protocols for post-pandemic travelers achieved through standardization, certification, and stringent controls and more inclusive dialogue with the industry.
Pillar two focuses on an efficient public service and the upliftment of industry standards where a consolidated effort to modernize the industry through technology and innovation has led to increased efficiency and productivity. The changes brought about at the level of policy and legislation make Sri Lanka more attractive to foreign investors. The entire process has now been centralized where investors liaise with a single department; the Investor Relations Unit (IRU), with resources, infrastructure, and professional expertise dedicated to making investments in the sector transparent and convenient. Additionally, there are several ongoing programmes aimed at a younger generation of Sri Lankans, whose involvement is crucial to a sustainable model of tourism. Pursuing this strategy, training, skill development workshops, recruitment drives and exposure to the industry continues to happen throughout the island.
Sri Lanka Tourism recognises that forthe sector to grow sustainability, it is of utmost importance to focus on a technology-based tourism industry. Under pillar three, giant leaps have been made to integrate the latest technology into all aspects of tourism. By adopting an outlook of innovation, the sector can now respond to change much faster and offer visitors so much more. As the landscape continues changing, evolving, and advancing, numerous projects have already been completed. This gives the island a wider digital footprint and makes information more accessible. The tourist travel app, digital training, live events, couch safaris, and other digital outings have allowed prospective visitors to engage with the island and all it has to offer, even during the pandemic. With several exciting projects in the works, Sri Lanka is ready to attract the next generation of digitally savvy, technologically curious Millennial and Gen-Z traveler.
Pillar four envisions a safe and secure country for tourists. Significant effort has been expended to make visitors always feel safe and well looked after. A comprehensive array of health and safety measures have been implemented under the innovative concept of “Bio-Bubble”in anticipation of new arrivals. This includes an aggressive vaccination drive to ensure an inoculated host population. A special tourism police unit will be present throughout the island, dedicated to the safety and security of all travelers.
Establishing a sound legal and regulatory framework is essential for the efficient management, operation, and growth in the tourism industry and pillar five addresses this area under legal and regulatory framework. The entire system has been revamped to reflect international best practices, with a new organizational structure having been proposed. The new licensing and regulation allow for more transparency while promoting open and ongoing dialogue between the industry and its various stakeholders. Matters of representation and rights are also a vital aspect of this new outlook, which recognises the value and inclusivity of all players in the sector. Sustainable and environmentally friendly tourism is no longer an option if a destination wants to remain competitive in the international arena. Under pillar six, Sri Lanka Tourism is working towards a ‘clean and green’ future for tourism while securing Sri Lanka’s unique natural resources and cultural heritage. With the onset of the pandemic, sustainable travel is growing more in popularity. Travellers are seeking destinations where their travel footprint is limited and localities where they can give back to communities. Sri Lanka Tourism is actively pursuing initiatives to position itself as a sustainable destination. Initiatives such as championing of the green building concept for all new tourism developments which will be made mandatory from next year, introducing GSTC accreditation – the Global standard for sustainable travel and tourism, a ban on single use plastics and the initiation of the National Sustainable Tourism Certification. On a strategic level, plans are afoot to develop a sustainability roadmap and appoint a special think tank unit to drive this initiative. Educating the public is also identified as an essential tool for a sustainable model Sri Lanka Tourism is pursuing, so individuals see themselves as guardians and stewards of nature and culture.
New product development and promotion is a critical component of tourism. Fulfilling the mandate directed under Pillar 7; New Product Development and Promotion, Sri Lanka Tourism has embarked on launching a comprehensive Global Communication Campaign, the last of which took place over ten years ago. The island has received excellent coverage from renowned global media such as BBC and CNN which has trickled down through regional media in the respective source markets. Positioning Sri Lanka as a top of the mind destination for when things return to normal is one of the key initiatives undertaken by Sri Lanka Tourism during the pandemic. Sri Lanka Tourism is actively looking at developing new markets including the digital nomad market, cruise development, wellness and Ayurveda, film tourism and adventure and sport tourism. In addition, Sri Lanka Tourism is actively promoting the destination through participation in trade fairs, including Expo Dubai 2020, scheduled to take place in October this year for a period of 6 months and is billed to be one of the most important events this year.
Pillar eight aims to position and market Sri Lanka, making the island relevant to the new age, post pandemic traveller. This will be achieved through the ongoing integrated Global communication Campaign that will reveal the diversity and multifaceted nature of the island. It will also employ influencers and e-celebrities to convey this message to the target market.
A focused effort has been underway over the last few years to enhance infrastructure, improve facilities and introduce new developments which supports the pillar nine framework. The assimilation of leading-edge technology is pivotal to the process. The projects completed and ones in the pipeline will guarantee an enhanced experience for all arrivals and make their stay so much more rewarding.
Pillar ten focuses on partnerships. The future of Sri Lanka Tourism depends on building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with its stakeholders both at home and internationally. These partners and funding agencies have continued to act as ambassadors and advocates for the country. The cross-pollination of ideas has also enabled the island to inculcate global values and a more progressive outlook.
The giant strides Sri Lanka Tourism has made in just a few years is remarkable and is a testament to the resilience and determination of the country and its people. As Sri Lanka positions itself as the ideal destination for post covid travel, these strategies, and the subsequent revenue they generate will empower communities and benefit the local economy. The strategies in place will also ensure Sri Lanka is more accessible to the world, opening the country to new markets and countless possibilities which will in turn enable a faster post-pandemic recovery both for the tourism sector and the Sri Lankan economy.