Tour operators in Sri Lanka claim that the rapid increase in online hotel bookings has had a negative impact on their earnings and also cited possibilities of clients being misled due to lack of regulations on accommodations not registered with tourism authorities.

Sri Lanka has a room capacity of 29,103 from those registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA). Around 15 to 20 percent of hotel bookings by tourists are carried out online, according to Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL).

The increase in electronic bookings has prompted Sri Lankan tour operators to call for moves to regulate booking sites as the traditional method of tourists booking hotels through operators was gradually diminishing.

Tour operators also allege that the sites do not give a realistic picture of the hotels of which the tourists plan to book during their stay.

Tour operators claimed that the websites included rooms and guest houses that are not registered with Sri Lanka Tourism and therefore, the customer was not in a position to ascertain the quality of the rooms and the environment.

The Sri Lanka Associations of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) called for moves to regulate the sites so that operators could work along with them Vice President, SLAITO, Devendra Senaratne when contacted by The Nation Gain said the number of e-bookings had skyrocketed during the past several years owing to the widespread usage of the Internet and expansion of e-commerce. The SLAITO includes of over 190 travel operators including those catering to the domestic tourists.

“We are affected in the sense that the clients do not get the entire package when they book online. When they come to us, we provide them with the necessary travel advice and guides. We also brief them on the hotel environment and facilities. However, the websites do not provide them with information regarding hygiene and sanitary factors,” Senaratne said.

In addition, he however stated that it was difficult to quantify the losses or profits by the operators as there was no mechanism to do so. “Therefore, we need a mechanism that would regulate the sites, while also allowing us as operators to work with them. It then becomes a win-win situation,” he added.

Meanwhile, THASL stated that e-bookings had boosted the businesses of tourist hotels island-wide and added that the percentage would increase in the years to come. “However, we do agree that these websites too need to be part of the whole system that would help all stakeholders,” President, THASL, Hiran Cooray said.

Meanwhile, the SLTDA is in the process of formulating regulations to include unregistered rooms and guesthouses and is to conduct a mobile service to encourage them to register with the board.
In the meantime, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) is to strike a partnership with a digital marketing partner.

Chairman, SLTPB, Rohantha Athukorala stated that the future of tourism promotion was in digital marketing and Sri Lanka would invest Rs.200 million on this endeavor. “We have completed the Terms of References (ToR) and would be advertising for tenders in the coming weeks,” he told The Nation Gain.

Athukorala further said the trend of e-booking had encouraged informal markets to boom. “This has paved way for private persons to market their rooms and villas. Thereby attracting more tourists,” he added.