Sri Lanka’s global tourism campaign put on hold

By Madhusha Thavapalakumar

The long-delayed global tourism campaign of Sri Lanka has been put on hold once again until Sri Lanka tourism returns to its pre-pandemic levels, Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation Secretary S. Hettiarachchi told The Sunday Morning Business.

After years of delay under consecutive governments, the campaign which was scheduled to be launched in January 2021 is now expected to be delayed further by several months as relevant authorities are still contemplating reopening Sri Lanka to tourists, Hettiarachchi stated.

“The country’s reopening to tourists too has been pushed back again. Even if the country is opened, it is going to take time for tourist arrivals to get back to their normal levels. At a time like this, launching the campaign would not reap the desired benefits,” he added.

According to him, the campaign has been put on hold after calling for tenders and before the evaluation of tenders by the Cabinet-appointed Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC).

All our attempts to reach Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando for further information proved futile.

Meanwhile, speaking further, Hettiarachchi stated that the tourism authorities have requested the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services to open the country for a limited number of tourists. Therefore, the practicality of precautions taken to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 by tourists in Sri Lanka can be checked.

“Rather than opening the country for thousands of people per day, we have requested the health authorities to allow us to welcome 50-60 tourists a day, so that we can have sort of a trial period on how we can implement testing and quarantine procedures for tourists. It would be easier to do this with small numbers. If it proves to be a success, we can increase the arrivals gradually,” Hettiarachchi stated.

The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) was initially scheduled to reopen on 1 August this year and this was moved to mid-August following a surge in local Covid-19 cases. The date was once again pushed back to September after identifying several Covid-19 clusters within the country.

Hettiarachchi told The Sunday Morning Business in early June before the tenders were called for the campaign, that this campaign will be unlike any previous campaign planned or conducted by the Ministry or the SLTDA due to the unprecedented nature of Covid-19 and its impact on international tourism as well as the global economy.

The long-awaited global advertising campaign for Sri Lanka Tourism was set to be launched in September this year but faced delays due to Covid-19.

The campaign has been in the pipeline for five to seven years under two governments, and has been desperately awaited by the industry, particularly following the Easter Sunday attacks and more recently the coronavirus outbreak.

Scheduled to be conducted for a period of five years, the campaign is aimed at bringing in six million tourists by 2025, sources told The Sunday Morning Business. While the campaign has received the approval of the Treasury earlier this year, the total cost of it is yet to be revealed.

In planning this campaign, the SLTDA has analysed tourism data from the past five years and segregated the campaign into three categories: mature markets, Eastern and Middle Eastern markets, and new markets.

The “mature markets” category includes all the top tourism-generating markets of Sri Lanka such as Germany, the UK, France, India, and China. The campaign is expected to increase arrivals from these countries by 25%. The “Eastern and Middle Eastern markets” category includes countries such as Australia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other countries in the region, while the “new markets” category includes the US, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and Spain.

The SLTDA will appoint destination representation agencies for the mature and Eastern and Middle Eastern markets. These agencies will conduct digital tourism marketing activities and public relations (PR) campaigns in the Eastern and Middle Eastern markets while in the mature markets, in addition to this, they will also conduct Above the Line (ATL) and Below the Line (BTL) marketing campaigns.

Tourism marketing for new markets will be conducted by PR agencies that would showcase PR activities to attract tourists from those respective markets.