Interview: Hiran Cooray

Which tourism segments should Sri Lanka target to increase growth, and what marketing techniques should be employed in this effort ?

HIRAN COORAY: Traditionally, our tourists have predominantly come from Europe – countries such as the UK, Germany, France, etc. Whilst arrivals have not been impacted negatively, we see new markets such as India and China growing rapidly. It is now time to heavily focus on other niches – from meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) to sustainable travel, for example.

In addition, we need to begin to transform the image of Sri Lanka into a destination that offers something for everyone: to the young and the old, to the super-rich and to the budget traveller.

Sri Lanka is a truly diverse destination, and we need to capitalise on this simple fact. From sunbathing one afternoon to climbing mountains the next, or from spotting the Sri Lankan leopard in the morning to shopping in Colombo at night, the breadth of experience we have to offer is only limited by time and imagination. To attract such travellers, the internet and social media is quite important; for example, Instagram and Facebook are platforms for content creators and influencers. These people love to travel, and their genuine passion for what they do resonates with their followers. In addition, opening up visas on entry for target markets would definitely be an added bonus.

To what extent is the overall economy benefitting from tourism, and how can the sector drive long-term economic growth?

COORAY: Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that tourism is among the top-five foreign exchange earners in Sri Lanka, while serving as a major source of employment. Hospitality is a product that encourages spending, generating much-needed revenue that positively impacts community and infrastructure development. In order to do so in the long term, the industry has to abide by international standards associated with quality; such as high levels of service, excellent products and service, unique experiences and recognition from global bodies. Recently, Jetwing became the first in the industry to sign the UN World Tourism Organisation code of ethics, with others later following suit. Such commitments further strengthen Sri Lanka’s reputation and will be of great importance in the future, as they add credibility and provide a framework of guidance, and benchmark for the industry.

How can the city of Colombo make itself more attractive to the MICE segment?

COORAY: For the most part, Colombo already has everything the MICE segment needs. From venues to facilities, the city can more than adequately provide. To reach the next level, we need to differentiate from other destinations in service standards and quality. Of course, our infrastructure in terms of road network, ease of access and other factors will need to improve as well if we are to accommodate the MICE segment.

What is being done to ensure human resource needs in hospitality will be met?

COORAY: Hospitality is currently one of the most sought after industries in terms of employment now. Attractive remuneration, engaging career prospects and numerous other benefits make hospitality a first choice for many, and thus ensures a scarcity of human resources is close to impossible. However, as capacity increases, so must adherence to international standards of quality and service. Many hotel groups choose to invest heavily in their training and development divisions to guarantee service standards continue to be maintained and improved. Complementing the private sector’s efforts, the government – through the Ministry of Tourism and Development, together with the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management – has embarked on a specialised hospitality and tourism training programme targeted at young Sri Lankans.