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Tourism Insights – Interview transcripts


Topic: Outlook for the Tourism Sector

Video Link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMnm0UbMasg

Speaker: Travis Gomez

Video length – 14:54 mins

0.30:      How was the tourism sectors performance in 2016?

  • Tourist arrivals close to 2.05 mn which was below government target
  • This was partly due to extraordinary events during the year such as flooding as well as slowdown in arrivals from Middle Eastern markets towards the 2H of the year
  • Nevertheless 2H2016 showed strong tourism growth of 12% YoY

1:30:      More Recent performance

  • A slowdown in arrivals was anticipated given the runway work taking place at the International airport
  • As a result growth in arrivals Slowdown in 3% in 1Q2017
  • But this was not as bad as was expected by hotel operators who expected a much greater slowdown

2:00 New developments in tourist arrivals

  • Composition of tourist arrivals shifting from traditional markets such as German, France towards Asian Markets
  • The Asian region accounts for 47% of tourist arrivals
  • India and China are the top two source markets for tourism to Sri Lanka
  • Shift in global spending power and the greater wiliness of tourists from China to travel further afield may account for this trend

4:00 Why are tourists spending less time in Colombo?

  • Foreign guest nights in Sri Lanka is 10 nights which has been fairly stable for 5 years
  • In contrast the foreign guest nights in Colombo is only 2.1 nights and has been slightly trending down over the same period
  • One possible reason is there is less of a need to spend time in Colombo for transit purposes (ie: getting to and from the airport) with the opening up of expressways to other parts of the Island
  • Another reason is that Colombo is not perceived as a tourist destination
  • This maybe due to a lack of awareness and a lack of marketing on the experiences and unique landmarks that can be visited and experienced in Colombo

6:20 How do we attract the high end tourists?

  • Tourism spending has grown from USD 89 per day 5-7 years ago to USD 160
  • This will naturally increase further due to the shift in the tourism mix to regional markets where tourists from these regions have a higher propensity to spend on things such as shopping
  • But In order to increase this even further, the focus should be on attracting more MICE tourists who typically have a higher spending power.
  • To attract more MICE tourists the general attractiveness of Colombo must be increased
  • In order to attract organizers of MICE events to pick Sri Lanka as a destination, there must be sufficient activities in Colombo to attract these tourists as they have limited time to spend in a country.

8:30 How to position Sri Lanka beyond a Sun & Sand destination?

  • The preferences of tourists are now shifting towards experiential/ adventure tourism
  • While the pristine beaches and natural beauty is a big draw for tourists, focusing exclusively on the resort aspect is not enough
  • If we want to tourists to spend a longer time in the country and encourage repeat visitors, we need to package Sri Lanka as having a multitude of attractions

9:45 Do we have enough capacity to accommodate higher tourist arrivals?

  • Don’t really see a problem on the supply side as many hotels and supplementary establishments are commencing operations
  • In Colombo alone around 1000 new rooms are going to be added in the next two years
  • It’s going to be a much more competitive environment as well with the entry of International hotel chains
  • Local hotel operators in Colombo would have to pa attention to these developments carefully as City Hotels have typically been the best performing category of hotels due to their ability to attract both foreign and domestic visitors.

Tourism Insights – Experiential tourisms – Part 2: Is it something worth worrying about?

In this second part of our review of the potential for experiential tourism in Sri Lanka, we investigate the tourism earnings from experiential tourism and ask the question as to whether promoting experiential tourism should be a focus for the tourism strategy of Sri Lanka.

What the Data has to say

Again, turning to the data provided by the SLTDA’s in its latest annual report, here are a couple of interesting insights we discovered from the data:

Earnings growth from Experiential Tourism negligible

The earnings growth from experiential tourism related activities has historically shown a tendency to lag the overall earnings from tourism. As a result, the contribution of experiential tourism to overall earnings has been on a declining trend and by 2015, its contribution was less than 1% of total earnings. However, in 2016 there was a significant jump in tourist arrivals for such activities which contributed towards a 78% growth in earnings from such activities. This led to an increase in its contribution to 1.2% of total tourist earnings.

 

Sigiriya outpaces other attractions in terms of its earning potential

As we observed earlier with tourist arrivals, where the lion share of arrivals was accounted for by a few sites (Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa in the case of Cultural sites and Yala, Horton Plains and Udawalawa in the case of wildlife parks), a similar trend can be observed with regard to foreign tourist earnings at these sites.

Hence, Sigiriya which accounts for the highest number of foreign tourist arrivals also brought in LKR 2.2 bn in earnings from the foreign tourists, outpacing most other attractions.

 

But Earnings per tourist is highest for Anurahapura historical sites

Considering the tourist earnings from a per visitor point of view also reveals some interesting insights in terms of the earnings trends of varied attractions.  With regard to attractions in the cultural triangle, it is Interesting to note that while Sigiriya attracts more visitors than Anuradhapura (in 2016 Sigiriya attracted 562 k visitors vs. 77k visitors to Anuradhapura) the per tourist earnings is higher for the latter and in 2015 & 2016 it was the highest when compared with all other attractions.

With regard to nature based attractions, the earnings per tourist at Pinnawala has been fairly unchanged while some of the Wildlife parks have witnessed a moderate improvement. The Colombo Museum too has witnessed some improved earnings though it remains at a much lower level compared to other attractions.

 

 

The role of pricing in earnings

This also brings up the question as to whether some of these attractions are priced optimally. A comparison of the significant attractions in Sri Lanka reveal that Sigiriya which is the most recognized and distinct site in Sri Lanka commands a premium which may partly account for it recording the highest tourist earnings. In contrast, the Colombo National Museum is amongst he most affordable attraction.

Source: Leisure Tours

 

Source: Leisure Tours, attraction websites

Key Question: Should we focus on promoting experiential tourism given the low returns?

Hotel Operators claim that for the vast majority of tourists to Sri Lanka, the main appeal is the Sandy Beaches and tropical climate. Some veterans in the hotel industry have therefore claimed that given this factor, tourism in Sri Lanka should be promoted in accordance with this and be geared towards attracting “Sun, Sand and Beach” tourists. Hence they raise the question of the return on investment in promoting attractions such as heritage, wildlife, nature reserves etc. that fall under the purview of experiential tourism, particularly given the low returns in terms of tourism earnings arising from such activities.

However, we would argue that while the pristine beaches of Sri Lanka maybe the main draw for visitors to the country, if the government is to achieve its objective of increasing the foreign guest nights and the daily tourism expenditure, there needs to be a greater focus on experiential tourism in order to encourage repeat visitors. A recent panel discussion organized by the Hotel association of Sri Lanka highlighted the fact that increasing the number of guest nights in Colombo by even a single day through the promotion of more activities/ points of interest in Colombo can have a significant impact on the earnings from tourism.

In addition, given that most of these sites such as Sigiriya, Yala, Pinnawala that draw many tourists are not contemporary attractions but rather ancient ruins or nature based resources, there is a much greater need to invest in the conservation of these resources. Hence part of the motive for enhancing the earnings potential of such sites should be to better conserve the sites thus ensuring its sustainability for future generations.

Looking at it from a global perspective, we have compared the entry fees of some of the Sri Lankan attractions which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites with other similar attractions found abroad and we have observed that the earning potential of these sites are far greater than the current earnings of the attractions in Sri Lanka which indicates that there is greater potential to increase the earnings from these experiences.

Source: Travel & Leisure website

The Bottom line: So what can be done about it?

Taking into account the data that was highlighted with respect to the tourist arrivals and earnings of experiential tourism in Sri Lanka, the key challenge therefore would be to increase the attractiveness and earnings potential of these attractions while avoiding the problems of overcrowding.

Promote more sites to reduce overcrowding at popular sites

It is clear that part of the reason for the overcrowding is that tourists tend to congregate in few locations leading to overcrowding. While from the tourist’s point of view it would be rational for them to focus on the “main attractions” given the limited time, overcrowding at these locations could result in diminishing the experience and attractiveness of a location.  Hence, there is a need to broad base the appeal of attractions that tend to get overlooked in order to reduce overcrowding and facilitate the development of other sites.

Limit number of visitors to enhance earnings

At the same time, in the case of attractions such as the Wildlife parks, Sigiriya rock where there would be stricter limits on the optimal carrying capacity of a location, tighter measures may have to be followed in order to ensure the long term sustainability of such locations. By the use of systems such as timed entry tickets, day/night time entry as well as having a cap on the maximum number of tourists that can visit the site during a day, you can better ensure that the resources of the site are not overtaxed while providing a more pleasant experience for the tourists that visit the site. This would also enable popular sites to possible charge higher entry rates and thus improve the earnings potential.

Improve the accessibility of attractions to limit overcrowding

Incremental investments can be made at selected attractions in order to improve the accessibility of certain sites to accommodate a larger volume and variety of tourists. For example, installing more ticket counters and restroom facilities can reduce the waiting times at attractions which is a key challenge at many locations. In addition, in the case of historical sites such as Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa, low cost strategies such as having a designated route for tourists to take can greatly improve the flow of visitors and minimize overcrowding.

Create more activities at a given attraction

Incremental developments can be made at certain attractions in order to increase the variety of activities that can be found at the location in order to reduce overcrowding. For example, a lot of the overcrowding in Sigiriya happens at the Lion’s paws where everyone makes a beeline to climb the rock. Instead of restricting the experience of Sigiriya to simply climbing a rock, it can be broadened to include tours of the water gardens and the ancient town, an interactive museum. Walks through the nature reserves surrounding the rock which are filled with wildlife and birds and has the potential for bird watching activities. This would also help improve earnings of a given site as most comparable attractions abroad charge combined ticket prices which gives full access to varied sites in a given location.

 

Written by :Travis Gomez
For any queries and comments contact travis@frontiergroup.info
Disclaimer:
This information has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable but Frontier Research Private Limited does not warrant its completeness or accuracy. Opinions and estimates constitute our judgment as of the date of the material and are subject to change without notice.

Tourism Insights – Experiential Tourism – Part 1: too little or too much of a good thing?

The changing face of tourism in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has been experiencing double digit growth in tourist arrivals with over 2 mn tourists visiting the country in 2016. With a target of 2.5 mn arrivals for this year, and a target of over 4.5 mn arrivals by 2020 set by the government, the direction of the government as well as the private sector is that, more is better. At the same time, there has been growing concern with regard to the problem of overcrowding at certain popular tourist attractions in the Island. There have been reports of overcrowding in Sigiriya as well as traffic jams in Yala Wildlife park leading to even animals getting run over (Read More: Daily Mirror). While this has sparked a debate within the industry on what is the optimal balance of tourist arrivals, the overcrowding at some of these cultural and natural attractions indicates a growing interest in what can be termed as “Experiential tourism”

The rise of Experiential tourism

Since independence, the traditional markets of tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka were from Europe (including countries such as Germany, France and UK) where the main attraction of Sri Lanka; as veteran’s in the hospitality Industry would put it; is “Sun, Sand and Beach”. More recently, a shift in consumer preferences is noted with the change in economic circumstances which has led to a growth in arrivals from non-traditional markets led by tourists from India and China, along with growing awareness amongst visitors of the environmental impacts of tourism and the need for sustainability and conservation.  While “sun, sand and Beach” remains a core component of Sri Lanka’s offerings, the above reasons have led to a widening of Sri Lanka’s offerings to include more experiential and culturally rewarding tourist attractions. This could range from taking curated walks in a city’s historic centre, camping outdoors in a bird sanctuary, visiting museums, art galleries etc. to get a sense of the culture of the destination. The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority’s (SLTDA) annual report, classifies a number of tourism activities in Sri Lanka as Museums, Wildlife Parks, Zoological & Botanical gardens and the cultural triangle. For the purpose of this analysis, we have treated all of these activities as being part of “Experiential Tourism”.

What the data has to say

Based on the data provided by the SLTDA, here are a couple of interesting insights we noted:

Faster growth in experiential tourists in 2016

The experiential tourist arrivals grew at a rate of 48% YoY in 2016, outpacing overall tourist arrivals growth which increased at a rate 14% over the same period. Visitors to the cultural triangle alone saw a 2.5x growth from 355 k tourists in 2015 to 905k in 2016.

 

But less than 50% of foreign tourists choose to go for experiential tourism.

While 2016 saw a strong growth in experiential tourism, in the context of total tourist arrivals which stood at 2.05 mn in 2016, the attractiveness of even popular locations is comparatively low. Sigiriya was the most popular attractions with a little over 1/4th of total tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka visiting the site while Yala was the most popular wildlife park attracting 13% of tourists.

 

Wildlife parks gaining popularity

The proportion of experiential tourists visiting popular wildlife parks such Yala, Horton Plains which are in a natural setting has increased while the number visiting places with “Built-in environments” such as the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, the Dehiwela Zoo and the Peradeniya and Hakgala Botanical gardens have witnessed a slower pace of growth and hence a decline in their relative share.

 

Few sites/activities account for the lion share of the tourist arrivals

In 2016, the two sites; Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa had accounted for nearly 90% of all visitors to the cultural triangle . With respect to Wildlife Parks, nearly 70% of arrivals were distributed among 3 parks while there are 23 locations throughout the island that have been identified by the SLTDA as Wildlife parks. This trend highlights the fact that tourism in Sri Lanka is not sufficiently broad based and to a certain extent explains the issue of overcrowding which takes place at certain popular locations.

Key Question: Is there already too many tourists?

It is clear from the above data that while experiential tourism is has not been as significant in the past, the trend is clearly that it is growing in importance and is expected to continue to do so in the future. Hence a question that can be raised is if given the overcrowding that is taking place at some of these attractions, should attempts be made to restrict tourist arrivals.

To provide some context to this question, we did a global comparison of the tourist arrivals numbers of some of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO world Heritage Sites with some other similar attractions found abroad and we observe that these sites are able to accommodate much larger volumes of annual tourist arrivals.

 

Source: Travel & Leisure website

 

Hence, we believe that with proper planning and by increasing accessibility it is possible to increase the popularity of experiential tourism attractions in Sri Lanka while limiting the negative impacts of overcrowding.

 

In part 2 we will explore the earnings contribution of experiential tourism and give our recommendations on what can be done to enhance experiential tourism in Sri Lanka

Click here to continue to Tourism-insights – experiential tourism Part 2    

 

Disclaimer:
This information has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable but Frontier Research Private Limited does not warrant its completeness or accuracy. Opinions and estimates constitute our judgment as of the date of the material and are subject to change without notice.