‘Sri Lanka Tourism should raise arrivals target’ | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

‘Sri Lanka Tourism should raise arrivals target’

Santani of Kandy
Santani of Kandy

Sri Lanka Tourism should target at least around 10 million foreign visitors to the country taking a cue from Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia which attract several folds above the current number of visitors Sri Lanka attracts each year, Santani CEO and Founder, Vickum Nawagamuwage told a media briefing in Colombo last week to record a recent achievement of the hotel.

He said Vietnam and Cambodia have similar pasts as Sri Lanka coming out of war, but these countries have made huge leaps and bounds in the tourism sector by attracting five to six million visitors above what Sri Lanka attracts each year.

“We cannot be complacent with the goal of achieving 2.5 million visitors this year. This target should have been met long ago. However, it is better late than never and the country should aim at attracting 10 million visitors by 2020,” Nawagamuwage said.

Sri Lanka Tourism targets 2.5 million foreign visitors this year and 4.5 million in 2020 with a revenue of US$ 7 billion and employment opportunities exceeding 500,000.

However, industry experts said targeting two and a half million visitors is not a significant number when the country could easily go beyond that figure due to its diverse attractions.

“Cambodia emerged from being a ‘killing field’ to a sought after destination for travel and leisure. We have much more to offer the world with a wide array of products that cannot be matched,” Santani CEO said.

Travel and tourism experts subscribing to the views said transportation infrastructure such as roads and flights will come if the right product is in place to attract the discerning traveler.

“Having good roads and speedy modes of transportation alone will not mean anything to the industry. Foremost there should be a quality product to entice visitors. What other destinations in the region have focused on is to have a product first and then brand the destination,” he said.

Tourism Development and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said the digital marketing and the country branding campaigns will kick-off soon to enable the country to position itself well in the global travel map and achieve the goals set for the coming years.

“We will see the digital marketing campaign commencing from this month or next month and then a series of promotional programs via global media channels to promote the destination in major tourist markets in the West and in Asia,” the Minister said.

He said a Cabinet paper has been prepared to open the Palali airport to invite Indian traffic especially from South India which is an incentive to visit Sri Lanka within a short time. The country needs such openings to woo in travellers and achieve the goal of making the tourism industry the number one foreign exchange earner of the country.

Santani which was featured in the Time Magazine’s ‘ World Greatest Places’ list published last week plans to build another three to four properties in the country and expand overseas shortly.

“We invested US$ 4 million on Santani and over half of our employees are from the locality. We have a hotel room occupancy rate of around 70-80 percent at any given time and all these are because of the unique product we offer,” Nawagamuwage said.

When asked how did the property manage to achieve this recognition when the industry is starving from a trained workforce, he said the hotel was able to retain and also attract new employees because of the novel concept.

Located in Kandy, Santani, a wellness resort has been in operation for less than two years. The resort was the only Sri Lankan property to be featured in the magazine among eight of the Asian properties featured.

The hotel was previously featured by the Forbes Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure and Tatler as one of the best spas and a unique hotel in the world. The property was awarded the Geoffrey Bawa award for architectural excellence.

Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Dehan Seneviratne said this is the first time a Sri Lankan entity has made it to a Time Magazine acclaimed list. “Santani has brought pride to the country and has set a precedent for others to follow.”