Harischandra Gunaratna, The Island, Colombo, Sri Lanka / Asia News Network, November 11, 2011
Sri Lankan-born Ravi Dias Jayasinha, a business tycoon in Italy and president of Gateway, a leading tour operator in Milan serving the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean countries, said it was a good sign that Sri Lanka was building more rooms and upgrading its tourism product, but at the same time the country's tourism authorities should not over-price it.
The government is formulating its tourism policy around a strategy to attract high-end tourists.
"Over pricing will ruin the chances that Sri Lanka has to emerge as a top tourist destination in Asia and the authorities should ascertain the spending power of the type of holidaymakers who would visit the country;" he said speaking to The Island Financial Review on the sidelines of the World Travel Mart in London.
Marketing plays an integral part in promoting a country and there should be more awareness about the product, the travel trade veteran now domiciled in Italy said.
There are around 250,000 Italian couples who visit exotic lands for their honeymoon during May and November and Sri Lanka could get a fair share of this market with proper marketing and awareness, he said. The Maldives attracts about 30,000 couples each year, he added.
Jayasinha said that Sri Lanka should not look at Maldives as a competitor and the two countries could work together for mutual benefit as the products are entirely different. Maldives will always be ahead in tourism and no one can stop that, he said. Sri Lanka definitely has certain advantages and what its tourism authorities should do is to promote joint tour packages which include the beaches of Maldives and visits to cultural and historical sites in Sri Lanka, a suggestion which has already been made by the Maldivian tourism minister to the Sri Lankan authorities.
"Maldives is willing to share the benefits with Sri Lanka," he said. "No doubt that Sri Lanka is a paradise and it could offer a variety of attractions to the tourist, but it should identify the needs of different types of holiday makers and cater to them,"
"We must not forget that we are competing with a number of other countries with varied and diverse attractions and we must be able to tell the customer at least 10 good reasons why they should select Sri Lanka as the destination for their next holiday.
"You must not forget the fact that when you launch a campaign, others will follow or copy it and have a similar theme, hence there has to be alternatives to overcome this issue," Jayasinha said.
"All stakeholders in the tourism industry have made a lot f sacrifices during the 30 year civil strife. Some of them spent their own money and visited the travel fairs around the world to promote Sri Lanka and their efforts were not in vain," he said.
Jayasinha said that if there was a proper marketing strategy, Sri Lanka should get over one million tourists from Europe. "They must consult the leading tour operators with a concrete plan, but it has not happened. The tour operators are not happy about Sri Lanka increasing the prices 150 percent, an amount which the authorities cannot justify.
"We need to stabilise the product before increasing the price and what we should do is to sell at a lower rate and try to get more tourists to visit the country," he said.
"Due to the economic crisis in the U.S. and other parts of the world very many people find it difficult to go on holiday to other destinations and this will apply to Sri Lanka as well. On the other hand, due to this reason, the salaries and fringe benefits enjoyed by mangers of a lot of companies have been slashed. As a result, there is a drastic reduction in this segment of the market visiting the island as well. Sri Lanka should do well to concentrate on middle and lower end markets as well, as they would come in large numbers," Jayasinha said.
"I strongly feel that the standards even of the five star hotels in Sri Lanka are much to be desired and this has to improved," he said.
Expressing his views about increase of the visa fee to Sri Lanka to US$ 50 was too premature and what authorities should have done was to levy a fee of US$ 10 and increased it in stages.
"It was a wrong decision taken at the wrong time as there is a financial crisis in the world and we need to attract more tourists rather than dissuade them," Jayasinha said.
Asked about issuing of visas online, he sad it was a good thing.
Jayasinha has over 40 years experience as a tour operator and has promoted Sri Lanka as a destination in Italy over the years and has served as an unofficial ambassador of Sri Lanka.