Strategic plan to develop tourism industry vital, says Jetwing chief | Sunday Observer

Strategic plan to develop tourism industry vital, says Jetwing chief

Chairman, Jetwing Group, Hiran Cooray.  Pic: Chaminda Niroshana
Chairman, Jetwing Group, Hiran Cooray. Pic: Chaminda Niroshana

The country’s tourism industry is heading towards good times and Sri Lanka needs to be prepared to accommodate the expected tourist influx. There needs to be a strategic plan to develop the industry in a systematic manner and the benefit of this sector should trickle down to all spectrum of society, Chairman, Jetwing Group, Hiran Cooray said.

“We need to market this beautiful product by using new marketing tools that will attract more tourists from emerging market,” he said.

“Sri Lanka has potential to grow the industry in terms of revenue and employment generation. We need not concentrate more on number of arrivals, but the quality of visitors as the country needs to attract high spending tourists to take advantage of the growing global hospitality industry. We have the capability and capacity to account for a sizable market share of global travelers,” he said at an interview with Business Observer.

Excerpts:

Q. The Lonely Planet has recognised Sri Lanka as the best destination for the year 2019. How it is helping the tourism industry in the country?

A. International recognition for our local tourism industry is very valuable at a time where the sector seeks rapid growth prospects in terms of revenue generation and number of arrivals.

The Lonely Planet recognition of Sri Lanka to be the best tourism destination for the year 2019 is a big boost and it could not have come at an appropriate time as at present. However, we should be cautious of the political stability of the country to woo more high spending tourists.

The huge recognition given to the industry and the country at large is welcomed by all the stakeholders who will be motivated to work hard to take the industry to the next level of growth. Not only the Lonely Planet, but the leading international travel rating companies such as National Geography Travel, Conde Nast, Book it.com and l One Travel recognition on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is an encouragement and a motivating factor to perform well.

We need to have done more to capitalise on this recognition. However, the Lonely Planet recognition was marred by the Parliament issue which side-tracked the attention and it took some time to put things on the right track and build the international perspective. However, we need to do the best for the country to reach the set targets for the industry.

Q. How is the tourist season at present?

A. The season is good so far and it is looking to be better with time passes by. There is good occupancy in most of the hotels and a lot of travelers are around the country. We will be able to record the arrival of 2.5 million tourists by the end of the year if this trend continues.

However, ideally we should look at high spending tourist as against low spending back packers who is also an extremely important segment of tourist to the country. These back packers are the ones who promote the destination and their visit should be encouraged. The ideal high-end and back packer ratio would be 75 and 25 percent respectively.

Q. There are changes in the tourism management sector in the country. How are these changes impacting the country’s tourism industry?

A. It is not healthy to have so many rapid changes especially, with people who have not studied the industry. This will hamper the progress of the sector in the long run as sustainable policies are vital to continue industry performance irrespective of government change. The industry needs to be managed by professionals and knowledgeable persons and they should not be moved out where it has a high growth potential.

Q. What is the best way to sell Sri Lanka as a tourist destination considering the industry as a sustainable product? How do we continue with the same trend?

A. We should have a strategic plan of development for the industry as a whole. Each major tourist destination such as Negombo, Galle, Kandy, Ella and Wellawaya should be taken in to consideration at the planning stage where the decision on number of rooms, star class and facilities should be agreed upon.

We should encourage systematic development and also attract people to the industry to do a proper marketing job. It should be noted that haphazard building will not get any where. It is a case of continues upgrading of facilities as tourism is an industry that evolves all the time.

The activities and the behavior of tourists keep on changing and the industry should meet their expectations to better serve them. It is a matter of continuous innovation and development and looking at an improvement in every aspect of hospitality.

Q. We always talk about mis-match in the government’s policies. what do you think what is the responsibility of the tourism industry to maintain healthy growth?

A. The tourism industry has a huge responsibility in terms of investment and sustainability of the industry. It will take at least 10 years to recover the investment. This is a long time. Therefore, the industry members should think of long term plan to develop the industry by taking proper action to ensure the continuity of the industry.

Q. Is the tourism industry taking sufficient measures to maintain the product (eg. environment and room facilities)

A. Yes. Now there is more confidence among the stakeholders. Having made a profitable investment they need to take prudent action to ensure sustainability of the industry. It is good taking measures to maintain the growth momentum and add further strength to the industry by way of skilled staff.

Q. What are the best spots we should market?

A. Sri Lanka is blessed with many attractions such as beaches, cultural heritage, wild life and nature. Therefore, the country is in a position to market the product in many ways. What is most necessary is an aggressive marketing campaign to promote the country highlighting the attractions so that an awareness could be created.

Q. What suggestions do you have as far as the digital campaign is concerned?

A. Digital is the future and the world is moving towards a digital era. This has impact the reading habits of people as they are changing and the advertising campaigns and promotional campaigns go digital. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the digital promotional campaign which has been allocated US $ 4.5 billion is the best campaign so far and it will bring the country far reaching benefits. We expect the campaign to continue over the next two to three years.

Q. What are the main challenges in the industry in an era where e- marketing and on-line marketing in hotel booking is concerned?

A. I look at e-marketing and on-line marketing as a more positive factor than a negative factor. It has helped many others to get in to tourism industry with the use of this emerging tool. The on-line media has supported the industry as the information on facilities seek by the tourists are available at the tip of a finger.

This easy access to information has encouraged more tourists to browse the internet and take informed decision regarding their destination and the place of stay before hand. However, there is a challenge of how to manage these digital tools. Despite these tools giving easy access to information, the tourists will not have to depend 100 percent on travel agents who at times exaggerate the situation unnecessarily.

Q. How could you recommend people to chose tourism packages in this set up?

A. The e-marketing and on-line marketing are networks. The visitors need to also look at sites that contain information regarding positive and negative aspects of a place of accommodation. The website such as Tip Advisor is one such site that provides necessary information for the tourists. This is also one way of showcasing your products based on customer reviews.

Q. The industry has ambitious targets in terms of revenue and arrivals. Is it achievable? What are the challenges in its way forward?

A. It is good to have ambitious targets especially with regard to revenue generation. The tourism industry has the potential of contributing 10 percent of the GDP of the country. It employs a large number of people and it also is a self employment generating sector. The tourism industry can employ close to 1 million people and 3 to 4 million people depend on tourism. It is not impossible to contribute 10 percent to GDP in the next 4 to 5 years. The industry also has the potential of creating job opportunities for a significant number of skilled workers.

Q. The travelling middle-class of India and China is a growing market for Sri Lanka. How could these visitors be attracted?

A. We have traditional and emerging markets. However, Sri Lanka has been attracting visitors from India and China for a considerable time period. But, these numbers are not enough.

There is a potential for us to get one million visitors from each of these countries. However, we need to carry out extensive research to ascertain the possibility of attracting them and finding out the facilities they need.

It is also important to look in to their requirements and what they like to do in our country and the reasons that the number is less than the potential of attracting them in to our country. We need to adjust ourselves to accommodate Indian and Chinese visitors in big numbers to boost tourism.

Q. What other best places we can do marketing campaigns?

A. Australia is an emerging destination. The Middle East has high potential to be a tourist generating country. Japan is a matured high potential market. We need to attract bigger numbers from Scandinavian countries. They were a big market for us in the past and we need to attract them to our country once again.

Q. What are your company plans for next few years? (Sustainability programs in the north and east and their returns)

A. We are currently building a 26-suite hotel in Kandy. This Jetwing Kandy is due to be opened by the end of this year. The investment of the hotel project is Rs.750 million. We conduct Jetwing Youth Development Project (JYDP) in the hotels we build in the recent past where we teach the village youth English and hospitality.

The lack of opportunity to access higher education and gainful employment plague the youth of rural Sri Lanka. Often they find themselves faced with little choice than continue on with low income employment, making scant use of their talent and skill. In order to break-free from this cycle and elevate their social and financial standing, these youth desperately require a helping hand.

This is what we provide by way of JYDP. These projects give us a lot joy to see the youth benefiting from our efforts. This is like coming out of the shell and coming in to way of life.

We also have taken measures to preserve the environment by way of generating renewable energy and few other environmentally friendly projects in all the hotels we are building at present and newly built hotels.

The bottled water plant, briquetting plant, effluent treatment plant, organic waste management process, solid waste management process, green kitchen, biomass boiler, solar photovoltaic system and alternative energy sources for hot water generation to reduce carbon foot print.

Q. How do you see the Sri Lanka’s tourism industry in the next 5 years?

A. The tourism industry will continue to grow. However, it is difficult to predict the speed of growth. There will be a steady growth. We need an effective institutional development framework to take the tourism industry forward. When it comes to development, the government should think about its people first and need to build facilities for the citizens of the country.

The infrastructure facilities should be built keeping in mind the people of the country. The tourism industry will spread all over the country. I like to see more people visiingt the North and the East. There are pristine beaches from Potuvil to Pasikuda and we need to showcase them. The global visitors need to be aware of the true beauty of this country for the benefit of our tourism industry which is fast becoming an aggressive driver of the economy. 

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