Taking reins as the chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism, Kimarli Fernando, an attorney-at-law, is a well-known corporate professional. With over 30 years of professional experience, she serves as the new energy to propel the tourism sector to a new level. Fernando talks about her plans to reach out to industry stakeholders in Europe at ITB and create awareness about Sri Lanka.
What are the objectives of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau for this year?
The main objectives of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau include signing up of proper marketing agencies, launching a three-year global marketing campaign, streamlining services of the institution, and maintaining inter-ministerial cooperation. Last year was tough for all tourism industry stakeholders’ due to Easter Sunday attacks, and our immediate concern is to get back to 2018 level and progress from there onwards.
Middle East, especially UAE has a good potential of visitors to Sri Lanka with over 200 different nationalities living together, so how will you attract this large market segment to the beautiful island?
The ME region is an important market for Sri Lanka. As per the current statistics, the highest number of tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka is from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Nationals of UAE consist of approximately 10 per cent of the population while the vast majority consist of a vibrant expatriate community. The diverse population has diverse expectations. Greater collaboration with destination management companies, hoteliers, airlines and other key industry stakeholders are important to grow this market. The connectivity between the two countries has grown with over 90 direct flights (Sri Lankan. Etihad, Emirates, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia) a week with 5 airlines operating from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Colombo. From the Middle East region there are 190 direct flights a week. The important aspect is to study the market and understand the behavioural patterns of the potential tourist Sri Lanka wishes to attract to its shores. A well-structured targeted campaign on digital and social media platforms are key to grow this market. We work very closely with international journalists and bloggers to reach this audience. We are currently in the process of appointing a destination representation company to this region to tailor-make our promotional efforts. With the World Expo 2020 scheduled to commence in October, Sri Lanka will use the World Expo as the gateway to brand this great island nation as a tourist destination.
With the change of the President in the country, many new changes in terms of visa to attract more visitors may have been implemented, could you share some of them with us please?
President Rajapaksa has a detailed plan to drive Sri Lanka towards an economically strong, inclusive prosperity, and tourism has been identified as a thrust sector. We are looking at a five-year timeline with over $10 billion earnings, and around seven million tourists. Unfortunately, the tourism industry in Sri Lanka has been too dependent on offering the same tourism products and catering to the same source markets for too long. For tourism sector to reach its full potential we are looking into implementing new initiatives and it’s critical that we attract tourists from new source countries.
As we prepare for ITB Berlin issue, we know that Sri Lanka will also participate as it is one of the main feeder markets; hence could you give us a brief about the importance of participation at ITB Berlin this year and the expectations?
At ITB, we expect to address the international media at Sri Lanka Press Conference and announce new promotional plans of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Pavilion is designed with many tourist attractions of the destination. The pavilion is expected to attract visitors giving 68 hoteliers and tour operators from Sri Lanka the opportunity to network with industry stakeholders. Europe has traditionally been Sri Lanka’s biggest tourism source market with the top contributors being UK, Germany and France.
The European segment accounts for about half of all tourists who have made Sri Lanka their destination of choice. Sri Lanka has been an active participant at ITB almost from its inception. Over the years, ITB has helped Sri Lanka tourism to reach out to the industry stakeholders in Europe and create awareness on our island paradise while also helping to create a platform for local industry stakeholders to build close links with the international travel and tourism community.