Interview With Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority Mr. Paddy Withana
Your Excellency, Mr. Withana, Lankarus Lanka Private Limited – the company focused on foreign partners and customers around the world in the fields of tourism, business, partnership and investment in Sri Lanka, has the honor to express our deepest gratitude to you for this opportunity to have an exclusive interview with you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman that you have kindly agreed to this conversation, providing an opportunity to ask questions by the Russian spoken media journalists and Heads of tourism companies of the post-Soviet space.
Since February 2015 you are heading the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Let us wish you every success in your important and useful work, both for the benefit of your countrymen, and developing and bringing tourism industry in Sri Lanka to a new level.
Sergius Pedde, Director of Lankarus Lanka Private Limited:
Let's get acquainted. Mr. Withana, please tell us about the work of the Authority, which you are heading, about its goals, objectives, functions?
The main role of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority is to regulate the tourism industry which includes product development, investment promotion, tourism product quality assurance, tourism research date collection etc.,
• Tourism product development
Tourism zones, hotels, development of existing tourist attractions etc.,
• Marketing and Promotion
Promote Sri Lanka tourism products locally and overseas via traditional (i.e. travel fairs etc., ) and non-traditional (i.e. online etc.) channels to potential travelers.
• Regulatory and Compliance
Regulate the tourism industry in order to ensure standards are maintained of tourism business currently in operation.
• Human capital development
To ensure development of manpower to meet the present and future needs of the tourism industry
• Domestic tourism and relations
Emphasis will be given to promote domestic tourism and communal benefits from the industry. This includes develop and maintenance of resorts and rest houses which are under the purview of Sri Lanka Tourism
• Collection Data and Research
In order to understand current tourism activity to develop and improve strategy.
• Development of peripheral tourism services
To develop areas such as MICE tourism (Meetings, incentives, Conferencing and exhibitions) in order to attract visitors patronizing these events globally.
Sergius Pedde, Director of Lankarus Lanka Private Limited:
On the market of the Asian tourism destinations, Sri Lanka is in the top three preferences among the self travelling and so-called «package» tourists, sharing this honor championship with Thailand and Vietnam. Where do you see the task of your office to hold strong positions attractiveness of the country, and what are the techniques and secrets of attracting visitors to Sri Lanka?
Creating an environment conducive for tourism.
Some statistics. According to the Tourprom Information Group, the total flow of tourists to Sri Lanka in March 2015 increased by 18% compared to the same period last year, and reached 157,051 persons. Thus for the first quarter of this year, all of Sri Lanka visited the 478,838 foreigners. Against the background of a rather optimistic, total Eastern European trend began to wane: 15,661 persons (-16.1%). Arrivals from Russia decreased by 20.6 % and amounted to 7.106 people. Ukrainian tourist flow has lost 54.6% and fell to 1.502 visitors.
- Policy framework to support investors and the industry.
- Improvements to the regulatory framework.
- A conducive taxation strategy for tourism.
- Development guidelines
- Infrastructure to meet the industry requirements
- Transport solutions
- Product development and supporting SME sector
- Human resources requirements of the industry
- Attracting the right type of tourists to the country.
- Ensuring that departing tourists are happy
- Improving domestic tourism
- Contributing towards improving the global image of Sri Lanka
April results were more inconsistent: Russian tourist flow has reached a point of 11,675 people (+ 7.7%), and the flow of tourists from Ukraine totaled 1.328 people, which is 31.1% less compared to the April 2014 figures. In the fall of the stream is a complex situation in the country which, like Russia, is a key generator for the Sri Lankan tourist direction.
Sergius Pedde, Director of Lankarus Lanka Private Limited:
Mr. Withana, under some unpredictable time with guests from Russia and Ukraine, which programs to stimulate interest for Sri Lanka by the Russian and Ukrainian tourists do you intend to offer?
Joint promotions with Major Russian Tour Operators – During the financial crisis major tour operators must be supported by promotional campaigns, Eg: join up – Ukraine
• Incentives for charter flight operators – Since Sri Lankan air lines has announced the withdrawal of direct flight operation form Colombo-Moscow, it is important to encourage charter flights operators by giving them incentives.Eg: Aeroflot
• Coverage in Luxury Magazine at a premium – Opportunity to get preferential rate by luxury magazine considering the crisis situation.
• Price sensitive tour package to be introduced to Russian and Ukraine Market
• Rewards and incentives for Local Industry participants – Making efforts to encourage more local tour operators to participate travel fairs and build up contacts with new tour operators.
• Travel Trade Media Campaigns and Trade Familiarization Tours
During the financial crisis it is essential to reach to new travel agents who are willing to work directly with Sri Lankan tour operators and organize familiarization tours.
• All inclusive Hotel packages for Russians – Russians like for all inclusive hotels a package which is not available in Sri Lankan Hotels. This matter to be discussed with the Tourist Hotelier Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) to introduce all inclusive packages to Russian Market.
• PR and Advertising Campaign
Positive reputation with Russian Tour Operators is not enough and destination must be supported by PR campaigns and advertising campaign which communicate brand directly to the widest number of Russians. Eg: Social Media Campaign, Bus branding campaign, underground advertising campaigns, Television Advertising campaign.
• Organizing of Press visits (VJP) for Russian Journalist seeing in hotel believes. It is difficult to convince them without seeing the hotel and destinations.
• Food Festival with participation of Sri Lankan Hoteliers – Culinary delight is increasingly in demand in Russians. It is suggested to approach to this markets with hoteliers of Sri Lanka.
• Web site for Sri Lanka Tourism in Russian Language — The website for Sri Lanka Tourism run by Sri Lanka embassy in Moscow.
• www.srilankaembassy.org does already exists. But which doesn’t contain all information. Hence it suggested developing well-constructed dedicated website for Tourism in Russian Language.
In 2014, Sri Lanka has organized an unprecedented scale campaign in the cities of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Moldova under the general name Mega Tourism Caravan. In dozens of towns cultural and exhibition events, concerts, presentations, seminars took place. The purpose of that tour — promotion of Sri Lanka in Russia and the CIS countries, was the strengthening of cultural and business cooperation, strengthen mutual understanding between the countries.
Unmatched share of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Moscow with the participation of representatives of business leaders from the tourism sector and cultural institutions in Sri Lanka had a tremendous effect. It has been almost a year after completion of the action.
Sergius Pedde, Director of Lankarus Lanka Private Limited:
How would you comment on the results of the action, and what fruits has the Mega Tourism Caravan brought to the tourism industry of the country?
Sri Lanka Tourism organized these events as it was identified as an important tourism promotional event which creates awareness about the destination among the consumers and the trade. It facilitated the local travel trade by providing a business platform to sign contracts with local partners and offered their products to Russian buyers who then develop their programs for Russian tourists and business travelers. During the Mega tourism caravan conducted and tourism market was explored by meeting these professionals in the Russian tourism industry and Russian Media. New markets were developed to Sri Lanka Tourism from CIS Region. Eg- Belarus, Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan marked arrivals of 3896 in 2014.
Following Tourism arrival figures generated from Russia and CIS shows the result of action of Mega Tourism Caravan. During the year 2012 tourist arrival from Russia and CIS countries was 51,746 which is an increment of almost 64 % compared to the arrival in 2011. During the year 2013 tourist arrival from Russia and CIS countries was 97,700 which is an 88% increment of the arrival in 2012. Even in unpredictable time in Russian and Ukraine Sri Lanka Tourism marked 106,917 in 2014 from Russia and CIS countries with the increment of almost 10% to the arrival. Further negative growth of Russia and CIS has been reduced by last six month in 2015.
It is no secret that the tourist sector of Sri Lanka in the postwar years developing an impressive pace. The country occupies a leading position in the space of construction of hotels, in the development of common tourism infrastructure. Construction of new high-quality highways, which connect the main tourist routes and attractions to each other, or expanding the newest rail network, as an example. Sri Lanka takes the best examples of world experience of hoteliers and sends them in the form of qualitative and innovative, making a worthy competition to the neighboring countries and even far ahead of the overall level of service in comparison with its neighbors. All this are the additional positive signals for investors from abroad.
Konstantin Ignatyev, Director of travel agency «Vse Kontinenty», Belarus:
Mr. Withana, what guarantees the safety of existing legislation are there on the part of Sri Lanka in terms of co-investment by foreigners in the construction of the hotel? What can you tell us about the techniques and methods of capital investment into the hotel business in Sri Lanka?
Present legislation encourage foreign investment including investment for hotels to Sri Lanka further concessions are granted depending size of the foreign investment through Board Of Investment assistance. On this environment the legislation encourage by investment and secure the same ensuring community development of Sri Lanka. Capital investment of Sri Lanka on tourism sector there should be a partnership of 49% of foreign investment and 51% of local share capital. Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority will assist to get the relevant local approval to commence construction with the help of other stake holder organizations such as carry out environmental studies to minimize the impact by this kind of a development. For this purpose a division called One Stop Unit has established to make easy to get the approval process.
Board of Investment of Sri Lanka has clear and transparent rules for participation in the programs of investment into the Sri Lankan economic. On the one hand, Sri Lanka — a dynamically developing country with stable indicators of appeal. On the other hand, many middle managers and investors are concerned about the high, in their opinion, starting amount of the required capital to start running their own business in Sri Lanka, in particular — the hotel business.
Marina Gulyaeva, General Director of the tourist company «Yuzhniy Veter», Russia:
Dear Mr. Withana, the Board of Investments exhibits uniform terms and conditions for all non-residents of Sri Lanka in terms of start-up capital. And if, for example, businessmen from Germany or France, find these amounts quite comfortable, for the majority of Russians the same sums seem just astronomically high. But Russians show desire to invest in the construction of tourism in your country. How to be in such conditions of inequality? Do you consider the scale of differentiation sums for investment, depending on the applicant's country of origin? Is it possible to receive any preferences for such countries, as Russia?
Since the investment portfolio come under different ministry, we will take into accounts the concerns into the investment promotion.
Many tourists say after a trip to Sri Lanka such a feature, as a higher entrance fees to many tourist areas or historical sites. It is believed that foreign tourists contribute to the preservation and maintenance of monuments of history, architecture and nature in decent condition. On the other hand really significant gap in the cost of tickets for the local visitors and tourists often raises questions.
Olga Baranova, sales manager of the «Sharm-An» agency, Russia:
Our customers often tell us that they are confused by the price of tickets for the visits in the main historical monuments in Sri Lanka. They say if the local visitors pay for a ticket from 25 to 100 rupees, the entrance ticket for the same object for foreigner costs 25-30 dollars. In general the standard tour program usually contains several historical sites, which ultimately affects a significant increase in the amount of travel. Many tourists refuse visits of the route because of the price, others do not agree at all. We are losing customers, as a result. Due to the instability of the dollar and rise in price rounds, kindly tell us Mr. Withana, can there be administered to any preferences on the cost of tickets for tourists from Russia, Ukraine?
Since the subject comes under various Ministries, we are planning to address these concerns in the future. The funds collected through the sale of tickets is used to develop and conserve the attractions. Therefore, we have kept the ticket prices of the attractions at a higher rate. We are planning to discuss with the attraction owners i.e. Central Cultural Fund to see the possibility of the reviewing the price of tickets.
After the opening of the second international airport in Mattala, 15 km. away from the city of Hambantota, Southern Province, tourists have received an excellent opportunity to discover new routes in Sri Lanka, starting their journey not from Colombo in the west, but beginning from the south or east of the island. The land part of the island from Tangalle to the Yala National Park, as well as the eastern shore of Sri Lanka received an additional impetus to the development of infrastructure. In full swing construction of the highway from Matara to Hambantota District, laid a new railway and port in Hambantota is projected to become one of the major hubs in South Asia. The airport Mattala has become a good starting point for travelers who combine their vacation in Sri Lanka with the rest in the Maldives.
Oksana Golovko, traveler, Ukraine:
5 years in a row, me and my husband go on vacation to Sri Lanka. And we love it especially the south and east of the country. There is no such crowding and bustle like the west coast. The nature is simply paradise and the beaches are still empty. And what the nice beaches! This is what we always look for our vacation — peace and tranquility. Last year, we flew from Ukraine to Sri Lanka to Hambantota Airport. Now it is very convenient, you can immediately get your favorite part of the country. In the south-east and the east coast, in the area from Batticaloa to Trincomalee beaches, time seems stopped. Mr. Withana, I have two questions. Does your Authority of special plans to develop the infrastructure, especially transport in this part of the country? And the second question. This year, we want to get to the north of Sri Lanka. How the tourism infrastructure is now developing in the north of the island?
We are upgrading infrastructure facilities. Into large extent. We are going to start the two highways in the nearest future — the North and the Kandy high way. The extension of Southern highway is also on the progress. We are currently investing indifferent infrastructure projects such as water supply to resorts, developing roads to resorts etc in the east coast. Also we are working with the operators to improve the destination air connection between the Colombo. This will help tourists to reach east coast within a shorter period of time and we are discussing with the domestic airline operators to reduce the price of airfare as well. Further, there is a discussion to develop highways which could reach up to midway to east coast, which will cut down the travel time greatly.
Sergius Pedde, Director of Lankarus Ланка Private Limited:
Your Excellency, you are a very welcome person in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. Do you plan visit to the former Soviet countries with a specific program?
I’m happy to visit the former soviet countries to understand the outbound market trends in those countries and also to assess the perception about Sri Lanka among the potential tourists. We are interested to see the possibility of encouraging investments for tourist projects in Sri Lanka and pursue opportunities to work with outbound travel industry partners to position Sri Lanka as a preferred tourist destination in those countries.
Your Excellency, thank you for your attention to us in your busy work schedule. We would like to emphasize the high importance and meaning of such meetings. Let us hope that our dialogue will continue.
We would like to express our sincere sympathy and love for the people of Sri Lanka, and to convey the warmest friendly wishes from all your friends from the North.
We wish you and your colleagues every success and prosperity!
Director of Lankarus Lanka Private Limited.