Travel & Tourism
Kimarli Fernando’s outlook on the tourism sector of Sri Lanka
With the COVID pandemic certainly taking a toll on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, we spoke to Kimarli Fernando, the chairperson of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority in order to analyze her perspectives and a fresh look approach towards developing our inbound tourist arrivals.
In the past, you have held key positions in the banking and finance industry. How has the change to your current role been?
I must say that it certainly has been a complete change for myself. However, with the change of government and the president, his administration was looking to engage the private sector into various industries. When I was approached to investigate tourism, I took the job in the context of giving back and helping Sri Lanka prosper instead of just personal monetary gain. In the past, I was exposed to working with the president on various projects ranging from the dairy and fisheries industry. As a result of this, I understood how passionate he was about Sri Lanka and I felt like this opportunity was ideal to allow me to give back and contribute to Sri Lanka’s prosperity.
What is the SLTDA’s purpose as an organization?
The SLTDA looks into the development and regulation of the tourism sector. This includes areas such as local and global promotion, developing the MICE sector and also overlooking the hotel school which brings out skilled labor into the industry. Together, these multiple factions come together with the common goal of allowing our tourism sector to flourish.
Can you comment on the efficacy of the So Sri Lanka campaign?
Personally, I feel that So Sri Lanka is very effective. When looking at the industry itself, there are mixed views. Some stakeholders love it, and other don’t look too kindly towards it. What must be said is that the younger generation has developed an affinity towards So Sri Lanka as many of the tourism awards we have won are due to the youth traveler engaging with Sri Lanka. However, we should not spend too much time discussing whether So Sri Lanka is good or bad; there are many countries which are doing well in tourism but they do not have their own slogan.
In terms of marketing Sri Lanka as a destination, what plans do you have?
We need to broaden our horizons and move away from conventional marketing tactics. In the past we were heavily involved with international trade shows which proved to be effective. Now is the time to look at working with digital marketing agencies, PR agencies, airlines, OTA’s, tour operators and credit card companies as well. This multi-pronged approach will enable us to offer gamut of offerings to the interested traveler. Sri Lanka has also developed our airports and we currently have five international airports. Ratmalana is the newest addition to this category. The Mattala airport has also been attracting traffic recently with many inbound charter flights. To sum it up, for 30 years we have been sticking to the same strategy, now is the time to have a fresh look.
In the midst of a pandemic, what precautions will be taken when our borders open for international tourists?
I must start by thanking everyone involved with containing the spread of COVID 19. From the frontline healthcare workers, tri forces, PHI’s, and all citizens of Sri Lanka for acting in a responsible manner, we have been able to report zero community infections since the 30th of April. We have decided to open our borders for international tourists from August of this year, only after facilitating the requests of our fellow citizens who would like to return to their island home.
We have prepared detailed and stringent guidelines which are not easy to achieve, however it is up to the industry to take a stand and implement these standards if they wish to be certified to cater to inbound tourists. Discussions with the ministry of health have began in order to strategize the best way to conduct PCR testing for tourists as well. The safety our guests and citizens is paramount so therefore no one will be allowed to enter the country without some form of PCR testing. In the unfortunate event that they test positive on arrival, they will be sent to a designated hotel or hospital for treatment. Our guests will be reassured that our recovery rate is exceptionally high. I would like to appeal to all stakeholders to assist us with our efforts so that Sri Lanka will once again be the ideal tourist destination even though we are in the midst of a pandemic.
What are some emerging markets for tourism in Sri Lanka and how do you plan to capture the attention these markets?
Rather than focusing on which country to promote Sri Lanka in, we have shifted our focus to looking at the type of client who will visit Sri Lanka. This client isn’t looking for bright lights and big cities, instead, the client will look for pristine beaches, wildlife, mountains, history, culture, and so much more. All of which we have to offer in abundance. But of course, we will continue to promote in markets that have stood by us such as India, China, Russia and the rest of Europe.
Do you have plans to attract the high net worth traveler and moreover, do we have the capacity to cater to this market?
When one says high end, it is understood that we are looking at prices of about 1000 USD a night. In Sri Lanka, there are only a handful of entities that cater at this price point. However, if we position ourselves in the 300-500 USD price point, we can then move up. This will enable us to move away from unsustainable mass scale tourism; our five stars in Colombo only charge 60-70 USD. So, there is a problem in our positioning. We require branding guidance from experts in order to fix this issue and it is something we are working on. At the moment, everyone is squeezing their price and not distinguishing themselves from the other.
Watch the video interview here: