Tourism Advisory Council meets up with PM

Nov 24 (IL) A high powered delegation comprising some of the top names in the Asia pacific region including Isao Matsuhashi, Executive Director of the Japanese Tourist Board, Robert Bentlley, Director, Sustainable Tourism Development Associates from Madrid, Berger Backam, CEO, Universal Federation of Travel Associations from Monaco, Sue Biggs, Managing Director, Kouni,UK our biggest inbound tour operator and Camila Punjabi of the Taj Hotel Group of India met the local constellation of CEOs, Chairmen of companies in the travel industry and top officials of the trade led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met on Sunday for the first time.

Tourism Minister Gamini Lokuge and Minister of Tourism Development Rangith Maddumabandara were also present.

The theme of the confab was to upgrade and add value to the industry , which for long had been lazing in the reputation as a cheap destination, and was an obstacle to the promotion of the Sri Lanka as a preferred destination for the high end traveler. Almost all have agreed on the need for a destination marketing campaign, selected targeted advertising in appropriate media as the best approach strategy to the Japanese domestic market who have preference for cultural/historical experience.

In this respect Sri Lanka has much to offer from Eco/Adventure tourism to Heritage and the ever popular Sun 'n Sand packages. The authenticity and indigenous quality so evident in wellness tourism and the Ayurveda experience, can entice the Japanese market.

Another strident note of the meet was the pricing of tour operators. Kuouni which recognizes Sri Lanka as its third popular destination worldwide accounts for only the 8th place when it comes to revenue, on a package tariff of US$ 650 for 11 nights. Kouni says that if the tourist daily spend has to increase, we need greater diversity of activities such as shopping. The European traveler is looking more for 'best value 'packages than cheap packages. The dearth of information on the Colombo experience is lacking. If Promotional spend is to match the spend per day generated by particular markets, then infrastructure, quality hotels and service is paramount.

There are concerns of vehicle pollution in the city and this has to be overcome as health and safety is of equal importance for the east bound westerner, with the big dollars.

Another strategy to come out of the tourist meet is the promotion of the 'Dine Out' experience. Development of property specially those bordering the Beira , Galle face in Colombo and Galle Fort and Bentota can be the starting points, with hawker centers showcasing local and regional dishes. Speciality Tea Centers in most of the Tourist areas, to promote Sri Lankan cuisine, needs to combine with the reduction in full board in hotels and minimizing of all inclusive travel packages. Good quality outdoor dining experience with stringent quality standards can drive the tourist spend up, besides popularizing local cuisine.

The confab also concentrated on checking urban migration, so that the importance of small business that support tourism particularly in the region, was identified as having a multiplier effect on the economy. Regional partnership with Maldives and South India in jointly promoting tourism also got an endorsement. The Colombo Airport expansion and the second airport at Wellawaya along with the Katunayake-Colombo expressway may be crucial in the early run up to a new outlook on 'Tourism Sri Lanka.'