Embassies to conduct country-specific tourism promotions

– Local touch of foreign missions to be utilised

By Madhusha Thavapalakumar

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Tourism and Aviation is in the process of planning customised tourism promotions for each tourism market through Sri Lankan missions in their respective countries, The Sunday Morning Business learns.
The Government has resorted to these customised promotional campaigns to make up for the lack of a winter tourism promotion campaign that was delayed by several months owing to bureaucratic hurdles.
An official from the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation confirmed to The Sunday Morning Business that letters had been sent to Sri Lankan missions a few weeks before the presidential election, requesting their proposals and ideas.
“Missions in the respective countries know what those countries want and their people’s likes and dislikes, better than us. It is more efficient for them to decide on it from there than us deciding it from here, being outsiders,” the official noted.
The missions are yet to write back to the Ministry with their suggestions. Once the Ministry receives proposals, they will be evaluated and sent to the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the government body responsible for handling all marketing and promotional activities related to the travel and tourism industry of Sri Lanka.
Subsequently, if required, the proposals will obtain the Cabinet of Ministers’ approval which will be followed by the required fund allocation. The exact time frame for the implementation of the customised promotions is yet to be decided by the Ministry in collaboration with SLTPB, according to the official.
The Ministry expects these promotions to reach in depth the tourism markets of those respective countries as it would be done in a way the citizens of each country would desire.
Following the Easter Sunday incidents that battered Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, a tourism recovery campaign was planned. The Rs. 415 million, 45-day campaign was to target Sri Lanka’s biggest tourism source markets to counter the negative perception of Sri Lanka created following the Easter Sunday attacks and to position it as a safe and attractive destination.
The recovery campaign, first announced within two weeks of the Easter attacks on 21 April, was only submitted for Cabinet approval in late May, along with the long-term global promotional campaign. Approval for both campaigns was received on 28 May.
However, the campaign ran into trouble when rival advertising agencies alleged that a proper procurement procedure had not been followed in the awarding of the contract to Wunderman Thompson, a digital marketing company.
The discourse built by these allegations ultimately led the Attorney General’s Department to investigate the matter and conclude that proper procedure had not been followed. It was pointed out that a committee should have been appointed to review the proposal prior to the cabinet paper being submitted and not after, as was the case. The campaign was subsequently abandoned due to the delays caused by these issues.
The absence of a consolidated tourism recovery campaign aimed at the winter season resulted in hotel and tour bookings for the season being lower than anticipated, even after accounting for the impact of the Easter Sunday attacks.
The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte told us that compared to last year’s hotel bookings for the winter season, this year’s bookings witnessed a drop of 50% and the fall was mainly due to a lower number of bookings from European travellers.
Meanwhile, an official from the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) told The Sunday Morning Business, on condition of anonymity, that tour bookings for this year’s winter season dropped by 20-30% compared to that of last year.
Senior tourism industry figures opined that even after the Easter Sunday attacks, the winter bookings could have been higher if there was a well co-ordinated, single global campaign carried out by the tourism authorities.