ECONOMYNEXT.com – The Tourism Alliance, a travel industry group formed after the Easter Sunday attacks, will start talks with the government to form a public-private partnership (PPP) to conduct market research and promotions, an official said.
“The Tourism Alliance will be proposing to the government to undertake promotions as a PPP,” Malik J Fernando, Managing Director at Resplendant Ceylon said.
The Tourism Alliance moved fast to set up the Love Sri Lanka website to provide accurate, centralized information on safety to tourists following the Easter Sunday attacks, as such a source was then not available.
The Love Sri Lanka website was set up by the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance in the wake of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.
The organization is made up of the Sri Lanka Inbound Tour Operators Association, most major hotel chains as well as independent hotels and tourism businesses.
Fernando said that private sector market research and promotional expertise could benefit national tourism campaigns.
Tourism promotions in the US operates as a PPP, but the states control tourism promotions in most countries, including France, New Zealand, Britain, Australia and Spain, which are also some of the world’s top performing tourism destinations.
However, in Sri Lanka, Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga has said in the past that tourists had increasingly arrived over the recent decade through word of mouth, instead of any state-run tourism campaigns.
Fernando said the Tourism Development Fund could be used to attract top corporate talent to boost tourism campaigns. “There are public funds available for which the industry is paying,” he said.
All hotel and tourism businesses pay one percent (0.5 percent for smaller businesses) of their revenue to the Tourism Development Fund, to which a third of the Embarkation Levy is also added.
Fernando said promotions should be based on in-depth research. Hotels too are not receiving enough data to make decisions, he said. “Currently, hotels are not getting good feedback. We need to move towards a research-based approach.”
Chamindra Goonewardene, Chief Operating Officer of Santani, an upmarket wellness resort which is also part of the Tourism Alliance, said currently, hotels are depending mostly on the limited market information provided by online booking platforms.
“We live in a data driven world. Hotels need to cater to niches and sub-niches based on segmentation carried out through constant market research,” Goonewardene said.
Tourism promotion agencies in most top performing countries conduct and use market research and analytics.
Many are hoping for a better performance, after marketing expert and corporate leader Kishu Gomes, who previously headed Chevron’s Sri Lanka Unit, was appointed as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau (SLTPB) with industry approval.
However, while the SLTPB conducts promotions, research is legally falling under the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, which regulates the industry and develops infrastructure, creating a disconnect. Industry leaders who control most of the formal tourism economy have been dissatisfied with the state’s tourism research, according to a 2017 survey of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
The SLTDA has not used even the limited allocation of funds for research fully. The state agency had allocated only 4 million rupees for statistical surveys and market intelligence in 2016, and spent just Rs.1.31 million, according to its annual report.
The situation has not improved in 2017 or 2018, according to officials.
The last time the SLTDA published a country report was about India in 1995. Two market intelligence reports had followed in 2001 and 2002. Since then, market research has been limited to the departure surveys at Sri Lanka, which analysts and hoteliers criticize as statistically unsound.
The state’s Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020 (TSP), which was formed with the expertise of a Tourism Australia official, admits to major problems in Sri Lanka’s research and promotions efforts.
The TSP said that there is a “lack of comprehensive visitor research and data, ongoing research into products and markets, and market intelligence”.
“There is no clear segmentation model to inform the tourism planning and strategy formulation process,” the plan says. “Although the SLTPB has identified 22 priority markets, marketing activities within them are not targeted.”
“The SLTDA does not adequately use existing market research and visitor profiling in regional planning and destination development. There are many niche market segments that could be suitable for Sri Lanka, but information on these is scarce, and further research must be completed before major marketing and product development decisions can be made.”
The TSP envisions setting up a contemporary research unit with highly qualified experts. However, implementation of the TSP has so far been slow, hoteliers say.