‘Influencing’ tourists to return and experience Sri Lanka

By Uwin Lugoda

The Easter Sunday attacks hit the tourism industry the hardest. The attack that targeted three of Sri Lanka’s largest hotels, killing 42 tourists and injuring another 37, sparked travel advisories from around 37 countries. The resultant drop in tourist arrivals and earnings from tourism has devastated the industry, and therefore Sri Lanka has been engaged in sustained and urgent efforts to reinvigorate Sri Lanka’s image as an international destination.

However, efforts to ride on the status Sri Lanka had received at the end of 2018 as the top destination for 2019 by Lonely Planet were in play and progressed; a big step of which was completed recently when Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (STPB) hosted seven international social media influencers in the island from 7 May to 19 May. These influencers were brought down to promote key travel destinations around the country, in order to appeal to the global travel community.

While this initiative was planned before Easter, it gained added importance following the attacks, in re-establishing the lost perception of safety and security among the global tourism market.
The seven influencers hailed from four different countries, and looked to attract tourist from markets such as the US, UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Australia, India, France, and Ukraine.

The crew included Diana Bancale from Italy, Ayumi Amemiya from Japan, Steven Yalowitz, Pema Chinyam, and Jerre Stead from the US, and Kateryna Birska and Glib Pyatin from Ukraine.
The tour took the influencers to attractions in Jaffna, Dambulla, Kandy, and Nuwara Eliya, while also providing them with unique experiences in destinations like Sigiriya and the Sri Lankan national parks. The itinerary also took them to lesser-known tourist attractions in order to promote these undiscovered spots to travellers.

The initiative is estimated to have a reach of over 1,600,000, and each influencer was expected to post daily updates, photographs, posts, and articles on their respective social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.

The Sunday Morning Business caught up with these influencers hosted by Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SlTPB) to find out what their experience of Sri Lanka was like and what kind of message they would be taking to the world about the island.

“Totally different, cannot be compared to the rest of Asia”
Kateryna Birska and Glib Pyatin
Bio – two travellers who provide travel courses to other travellers
Country – Ukraine
Readership – Facebook – 1780-plus, Instagram – 2400-plus

Having worked in the travel industry in Ukraine, Briska and Pyatin stated that Sri Lanka holds a special place in their heart compared to other Asian countries they’ve been to. Briska went on to say that the country’s diverse landscapes and beautiful beaches make travelling a worthwhile experience.
“Sri Lanka is totally different; you cannot compare it with other Asian countries. For me, Sri Lanka is amazing because of its long beaches and the palm trees along the ocean. It also has beautiful flora and fauna, that add to its beauty.”
Both Birska and Pyatin highlighted that the national parks and their flight around Sigirya were the most unique experiences they’ve had.
Briska went on to state that they had no reservations about coming to the country since it was at the invitation of the Tourism Ministry, and that the people who conducted the tours prioritised the travellers’ safety above all else.
According to Briska, Sri Lanka has something for everyone – it has nature, food, and cultural heritage, and is a perfect destination for honeymoons, Ayurvedic retreats, and holidays.
Her message to the world is: “Just go to Sri Lanka, it’s a country that is worth travelling to. It’s like a small gem that needs to be made in the hand of the master, and every one of us can be that master.”

“Everything slows down and you get the island feel”
Jerre Stead
Bio – writer at (Not verified)
Country – US
Readership – Facebook – 113,000, Instagram – 31,100

This was Stead’s second time in Sri Lanka, having travelled to the country last February. Stead stated that this time, the atmosphere in the country was different with there were a limited number of tourists. However, he expressed that at its core, Sri Lanka was still the same as before.
“This time I actually felt a change, not in the Sri Lankans but in the atmosphere, there were no tourists. But it’s still as loving, kind, and beautiful as before.”
He explained that unlike famed tourist destinations like Bali, tourism hasn’t been detrimental in Sri Lanka. One of the things he loves about Sri Lanka is the fact that it hasn’t been overrun with tourists, and how once you enter, “everything slows down”.
“Here, you feel like you’re on an island, you feel a kind of peace where ever you go, especially from the locals.”
Having had a chance to connect with some of the locals, Stead stated that he would get emotional seeing how welcoming and thankful the locals were of the tourists.
He went on to say that the attack on Easter Sunday did not deter him from coming on the tour, and he still looked forward to coming down.
“I don’t want to sound weird but I was actually excited to come back after, only because I’ve been here and I know what Sri Lankans are like. I know what happened here was not caused by locals; it was caused by a disgusting outside source. That’s not the Sri Lankan people; it’s just part of the world we live in. Unfortunately, it can happen anywhere. I was actually worried that the trip would have been cancelled.”
He looked forward to focusing on the beauty of Sri Lanka, and the wide range of emotions he felt travelling here.

“Like seeing the whole world in 10 days”
Diana Bancale
Bio – journalist from Parma, Italy
Country – Italy
Readership – Facebook – (PENDING), Instagram – (PENDING)

Being a fan of the authenticities in life, Bancale stated that she fell in love with the country from the very first stop.
During their stay in Jaffna, she said that she got to experience what it was like to relax in a beautiful deserted island, and that was one of her the biggest highlights for her during this tour.
“Jaffna was particularly interesting for me. We were on an island with very few people living there, off the coast of Jaffna, and it was very nice, because we took a very slow boat trip to the island, and when we got there, there were a few colourful houses, palms, and white sand.
“Here, I had the chance to find very authentic places, authentic restaurants, and authentic houses. This is what I look for when I travel.”
Bancle explained that while she had reservations about travelling to Sri Lanka at first, they all disappeared once she saw the high level of security provided to ensure their safety. The welcome she experienced by the locals in all the travel sites they went to only added to her feeling of security.
She stated that the diversity of nature she experienced here – from the beaches to the jungles – made her feel as if she saw the whole world within 10 days.
“Sri Lanka is beautiful and has everything for any vacation. I feel like Italians should definitely come here.”

“Best place for nature lovers”
Steven Yalowitz
Bio – travel vlogger/Instagramer
Country – US
Readership – Facebook – 29,000, Instagram – 13,000, YouTube – 37,000

Yalowitz spoke about his experience here, and stated that everything they got to experience on the tour was a highlight. He stated that experiencing monuments like Sigiriya, and seeing a herd of 100 elephants was a must-do for anyone.
Referring to Sri Lankan hospitality, Yalowitz also went on to state that he connected more with the locals here than most of the other countries he’s been to, thanks to English being widely spoken throughout the island, and that he got to experience the welcoming nature and gratitude of the Sri Lankan people.
“It has been amazing. Honestly, one of the biggest things for me about Sri Lanka is the people. Even walking around the streets, people come up to us with smiles and it’s very welcoming. They also thanked us for being here at this time. And they went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable.”
He said that the events on Easter Sunday did not discourage him from coming to Sri Lanka, and that what had occurred was an isolated incident.
As a traveller, Yalowitz looked at the bright side of being in Sri Lanka during this time, stating that they had a lot of places to themselves.
His message to the world is: “Come here! Sri Lanka is such an amazing place, it’s an island filled with such diverse landscapes, so if you’re interested in nature, it is the best place for you to be, and the people here is what make the experience good.”

“People not trying to hustle you like Bali”
Pema Chinyam
Bio – travel vlogger/Instagramer
Country – US
Readership – Facebook – 13,000, Instagram – 29,000, YouTube – 1,500

Chinyam spoke about how unique Sri Lanka was in contrast to countries like Bali and Thailand, and stated that everything here felt more genuine in comparison.
“People here are welcoming. In places like Bali, people are always trying to hustle you. Sri Lankan people have a lot more to offer, and since it’s a newer tourist destination, there’s a lot more to explore.”
Speaking about the tour, she said that the best experience she had was the flight around Sigiriya. She also stated that all the locals she met were extremely friendly. Being able to connect with the locals, Chinyam explained that she felt safe, and had no reservations about being here.
“I think Sri Lanka is a wonderful place, with amazing people and beautiful destinations. I think it’s safe, and Sri Lanka is where you can have an amazing time and not worry about anything.”

“Japanese people would love Sri Lankan Ayurveda”
Ayumi Amemiya
Bio – a writer, media director, and traveller
Country – Japan
Readership – Facebook – 61,818, Instagram – 6,007, Twitter – 20,190

As it was her first time visiting Sri Lanka, Amemiya expressed her happiness in finally getting to travel to the country. She stated that one of the things she really looked forward to was the famed Ayurveda treatment.
“It was a dream of mine to be here. My friends had told me about the relaxing Ayurveda treatments that are done here, so that was something I looked forward to, because Japanese people love Ayurveda.”
She went on to say that she had no reservations about coming here, and that she gathered so many experiences for her to take back home, the best of which were of the safari and Sigiriya Fortress.
Amemiya stated that she wants to visit Sri Lanka again, and wants people know how safe the country is. Another one of her lifelong dreams was to visit one of the famed Geoffrey Bawa hotels, which she wasn’t able to do this time.

“I want to go to the Geoffrey Bawa hotels; I love his architecture and they look so pretty. It’s always been my dream to stay in one of his hotels. Hopefully, I will be able to the next time I visit Sri Lanka.”