“Most of the hotels in Sri Lanka have the opportunity to embrace advances in technology because depending solely on social media is insufficient to generate expected returns,” said Paul Sun – the General Manager of Sheraton Kosgoda Turtle Beach Resort.

Referring to Marriott International’s loyalty programme Marriott Bonvoy, which has more than 150 million members – making it one of the largest memberships in the world – he stated: “Every guest will be enrolled and entitled to earn points, enjoy rewards and be able to redeem points for other benefits.”

He added that “this programme has resulted in a 40 percent increase in the Asia-Pacific’s hotel revenue streams with a 57 percent and 52 percent rise in America and Europe respectively.” Sun emphasised that “data driven lead generation is a valuable tool for our sector.”

Meanwhile, he remarked: “Human capital shortage is an ongoing issue since most of the hoteliers have left the sector to seek more stable jobs.” Similarly, the Marriott has been confronted with the challenge of filling 10,000 jobs in the US.

Sun believes that brain drain is a major hurdle, and added: “Our talented youth and those at mid to senior levels have been attracted by good career opportunities in the Middle East, the Maldives and other South Asian countries.” According to him, attracting and retaining them is an art that requires constant engagement.

He asserted: “There should be a long-term plan if we are to have a stable workforce and the main criteria is to restructure the salaries.” Sun also stressed that “hiring the right leadership in the sector will enhance its performance by bridging the gap between multigenerational teams such as millennials, and generations X and Z.”

The hospitality sector consists of individuals from various backgrounds, cultures and generations whose work must be seamlessly integrated. Sun explained that “international brands have opened up in Sri Lanka with many more to come.” To this end, he added that “it’s our responsibility as leaders to build and attract local talent.”

In the meantime, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has launched destination representative companies and public relations firms to manage a five year global promotion to boost Sri Lanka’s image as a travel destination among 16 countries.

Sun noted: “We also see that SLTDA is engaging with foreign operators, news agencies and airlines with the view of regaining our position as a sought after destination,” adding that “the authorities are doing their best to improve Sri Lanka’s tourism [product].”

He also emphasised the need to support both large hotels and SMEs, through discussions on moratoriums and terms of loan repayments. “Sri Lanka was voted the best country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet,” he mentioned, adding that the nation has “all it takes to entice any traveller to visit our beautiful island.”

In addition, he remarked: “We should also target the emerging meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) business in Asia.”

With destination weddings growing in demand especially from India, Sun asserted that “we can easily compete with markets such as Thailand, Dubai, Malaysia and the Maldives” to garner a fair share of this high yielding business.

While acknowledging the need for the hotel sector to upgrade its service standards to meet the demands of travellers, Sun also emphasised that “talent development is critical” as the “country is opening up for international hotel brands,” and that this will mitigate the brain drain.

Summing up his views, Sun noted: “We don’t expect high volumes of tourist arrivals this winter; but based on the efforts of SLTDA, we hope to welcome a substantial number of tourists.”

“There are airlines that are planning to fly directly to Sri Lanka from November onwards,” he stated – and Sun believes that this positive approach in the medium term can lead to strong demand in the coming months.