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The city of Colombo was well admired by the father of modern Singapore Lee Kuan Yew in the 1950s, for having the best infrastructure, stone-faced buildings and greener environment, and with visionary leadership and sheer commitment he transformed Singapore, from the third world to the first world.

Later on, by looking at the successful city state of Singapore, our political leaders have pledged to emulate it and wanted to transform Sri Lanka to Asia’s next Singapore. However, the progress towards achieving this aspiration is  questionable given the current Sri Lankan political, economic and socio cultural climate.

Compared with Singapore, the geographic extent of Sri Lanka is 94 times higher and our country has to meet the welfare needs of a much larger population with limited financial resources. Given the nature of this geographical area and the present economic status of the country, transforming Sri Lanka to Singapore is going to be a challenging task.

Change in Direction

On the other hand, Colombo is similar in size to Singapore geographically and possesses the strategic advantage of being located in the world’s main shipping route.

Moreover, a greater Megapolis, real estates and iconic buildings under construction as well as the construction of many hotels chains is another bonus given that the Financial City is merely expected to attract regional headquarters of international organizations, professionals and the investment for it to generate fruitful results.

At this juncture, instead of envisaging the transformation of the entire island, transforming the Colombo City to be another Singapore reflecting the Sri Lankan identity would be much feasible. By narrowing down the geographical scope, more attention could be paid, sufficient resources could be allocated and stakeholders could be aligned towards the vision.

Besides, with Colombo being an already established city, it would be like icing on the cake. Colombo needs to be modernized and beautified.

Combining tourism with business and creating Colombo as a leading destination in South Asia for providing high quality services such as healthcare, education,  information technology and knowledge based industry would be the successful formula for the branding of Colombo.

Managing Changes

Accordingly, selected areas which require fast changes in pursuit of this aspiration to create Colombo as a desired destination for tourism, investment and to generate revenues as well as opportunities are highlighted below:

Local residents are the important brand ambassadors of the city and their perception greatly impacts the way the city is viewed and experienced by the visitors.
The local style of driving on the road and politically motivated protests, picketing and unrest not only disturbs the day-to-day life in Colombo but tarnishes the city’s image through negative coverage in the international media.

There is also an absolute need to establish unity in a multi-ethnic community and inciting racism, hate speech and ethnic disharmony must be controlled and there must be zero tolerance for disruptive behaviour. We are still waiting to see new laws being brought in to control such behaviour.

Many of the Colonial buildings located in the city are faded although they are of greater architectural designs and rich historical heritage. They must be renovated to bring in a new outlook and could be used for hotels or shopping malls such as the Colombo Arcade.
The transformation of Colombo as a cleaner and sustainable city with more greenery, improved solid waste management and the use of green energy sources is essential. The waterways including canals and lakes in the city must be maintained while increasing the number of parks, golf courses, jogging tracks and bike paths could be established in the banks of these waterways. Strict regulations and fines must be introduced against dumping of garbage in public places.

Developing iconic landmarks, skylines and artistic roundabouts would strengthen the brand identity of the city. Slums and shanties are to be upgraded and new housing projects must be established with modern architecture containing landscaped gardens.
Colombo needs a modernized transport system and infrastructure including Light Rail Transit (LRT), replacement of three-wheelers with electric cars for better traffic management and for improved quality of city life.

Indeed, Colombo needs to offer memorable experiences, interesting things to fill leisure time with and exciting things to discover with the array of must visit attractions, a variety of entertainment, great places for shopping and dining and theme parks. The economy needs to be business friendly, corruption free and also have efficient market oriented public institutions.

Way forward:

• Establish a Colombo City Branding Commission ideally under the direct supervision of the Presidential Secretariat.
•  Bringing together various stakeholders including Municipal Councils, the Ministries of Transport, Urban Development, Defence, the Tourist Board, and Town and Country Planning, botanical gardens and public recreation, universities and the media, and agree on the vision for a Colombo City brand.
• The appointment of a brand consultancy firm specialized in destination branding.
• Initiating the Strategic Colombo City Branding Plan and making marketing a part of major policy level interventions.
• Allocating sufficient financial resources for Colombo City branding initiatives.
• Coordinating city-branding activities among relevant stakeholders.                                                                                  The media has to play a vital role by educating the general public on the importance of Colombo City branding and explain the role the residents and various stakeholders have to be play.
• Encouraging the private sector on identified Colombo City development projects.
• Monitoring and control of branding activities through performance reviews and celebrating the success.

Conclusion

In the global stage, cities compete with each other in attracting tourists, investors, donors, events or businesses where they involve city branding to improve their reputation internationally. In this context, the branding of the Colombo City to be Asia’s next Singapore whilst reflecting the Sri Lankan identity would be much appropriate and a greatly rewarding endeavour.

The writer is a Marketing Management Professional and an Assistant General Manager of a leading organization. He is a graduate of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka. You can share your feedback on Zahranlebbe@gmail.com.