Sri Lanka: A Big Miracle

After the domestic travel trade complained repeatedly that it doesn’t spend enough money promoting the country internationally, The Sri Lanka tourism development Authority (SLTDA) announced that it will launch a new tourism campaign in the next few months to increase visibility in key source markets. The campaign is expected to be in addition to existing marketing efforts.

This is going on at the same time as a new tourism policy is being drafted that should include a new tagline that is rumoured to be “Refreshingly Sri Lanka – Wonder of Asia”. This will be the first tagline since “Sri Lanka: Small Miracle” was binned in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s annual marketing budget is about 500 million Sri Lankan rupees (RM1 = 35 Sri Lankan rupees) which is about RM14 million.

SLTDA spends about RM5.5 million on international trade fairs and about RM1 million on sponsoring international travel writers to visit the country. The balance of about RM7 million is spent on advertising and other through the line activities. It is not clear if funding for the new campaign will come from this RM7 million or additional funds will be made available.

I find it hard to understand what the domestic travel trade is complaining about and why the SLTDA is giving in. I get the feeling this is just an exercise to shut up the domestic travel trade. In my opinion, SLTDA is doing very little wrong.

Arrivals to Sri Lanka in 2010 were up an impressive 46% over 2009. Indeed arrivals reached 654,476 in 2010, the highest since the 566,202 arrivals in 2004. Revenue from tourism in 2010 was over RM1.5 billion (US$500 million).

The government is targeting 750,000 arrivals in 2011 and early indications are that that target will be achieved. In the first six months of 2011, about 381,000 visitors arrived in the country.

The record of 2004 was set after the government and the Tamil Tigers agreed a peace treaty. In May 2009 the government defeated the Tamil separatists to end the 30 year civil war and tourism arrivals have risen every month thereafter.

Furthermore, the country’s tourism business has secured US$1.2 billion in FDI already this year and has another US$3 billion of deals in the pipeline.

Surely the travel trade should be very happy with what the SLTDA has done so far on a relatively small budget?

And surely spending money on egocentric ‘look at me’ awareness campaigns that will be lost in the clutter are not the way forward?

And even if they do work, can Sri lanka manage the influx of visitors? And if it can’t what are the potential ramifications? And what does Sri Lanka do after the campaign?

It would make more sense to invest what funds it has into a well researched brand strategy and implement that brand strategy rather than spending money for the sake of it on a tactical campaign that seems to be driven by misguided travel industry workers.

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