The Government recently set up an advisory board for tourism consisting of public and private sector officials. The board chaired by prominent business magnet, Harry Jayawardena would be functioning as an advisory body to the government and the stakeholders on what needs to be done for the development of the sector. Weekend Nation spoke to Managing Director, Jetwing Travels, Shiromal Cooray, who is a member of the advisory board on its purpose, role and future activities
Q. The Government recently appointed an advisory board for tourism. What is the purpose of this board?
There was a similar initiative before as well. The idea behind this is for the Minister to have senior people to advise him on what to be done, and also to liaise with the two bodies, the Tourism Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tourist Operators (SLAITO).
We had the first meeting which focused on the budgetary issues. We conveyed the industry point of view to the authorities and they’ve been very responsive. We met for the second time to look at the short-term opportunities. There are security concerns in Europe. In addition, travel bans have been issued by Russia on countries like Tunisia and Egypt. Therefore, we are looking at how we can attract these tourists to Sri Lanka under these circumstances.
Q. What kind of role would the board play?
The board has to be a conduit between the two parties. Otherwise, there was no formal way for us to get through to the Minister apart from the Tourist Board and the Tourism Development Authority.
This board would function on an advisory level. We will raise issues while also pointing out opportunities for the tourism sector.
In the meantime, we have also requested the Government to show us the national framework. The government is going towards a concept of National branding where the marketing would come under one umbrella where bodies such as the Tourism Board, Tea Board and the Board of Investment would be included.
We need a proper campaign. However, we need to know that framework so that we can do our own marketing within that framework.
For example, the tourism industry was planning on partnering with an advertising agency with international affiliations. Seven institutions were shortlisted. However, this process is temporarily on hold until the Government comes up with its framework.
Q. Since the process is on hold, would you face any losses owing for the delay?
We would not face losses. But the sooner it is done the better. It is winter now. Almost all the hotels are full. Therefore, right now we are okay.
Q. Sri Lanka has been part of several travel exhibitions worldwide since of late Has it worked in marketing brand Sri Lanka?
Taking part at trade fair exhibitions is essential. But right now, the appropriateness of that is going down because the travel patterns of the world are changing and are now technology driven. I think over the next few years it may not be as important for us to take part in such exhibitions. There may be other platforms that we my need to be present in. But right now it’s good to be present there.
Q. In terms of attracting more tourists, what are the aspects that need to be done, apart from increasing and improving infrastructure facilities to accommodate them?
Marketing is a must. We should choose the proper channels and get through to the consumers so that they know what Sri Lanka has to offer. Tourism is increasing globally. We can’t sit back now since we are having increases. We need to study the consumer preference patterns and their travel patterns and adapt accordingly so that we can sustain.
Q. There are numerous features in Sri Lanka, which is yet to be tapped. For example, the North and East has immense potential as far as tourism is concerned. Have they been marketed properly? If not, what are the reasons?
One thing is accessibility. The other aspect is infrastructure. The hotels have come up but there isn’t much infrastructure. People need a little bit of stuff to do. It is happening now.
(Pix by Gihan Dulwala)