Kimarli Fernando, Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), said with great pride that “we have been ranked among the top five destinations in the world for wellness tourism – the only Asian country to be recognised as such.”
“This is a huge achievement for us. It is indeed thrilling to be endorsed by the global wellness industry to be among the top countries offering spiritual healing for the mind, body and soul,” she added.
Delving further into the subject, she said: “We have to capitalise on this opportunity and reach out to influencers and bloggers, and the print and social media, to position ourselves as a distinctive travel destination in the world – wellness is a broad subject and huge market. We have to strengthen our product offering going forward. Sri Lanka has the capacity to do so whether it’s Ayurveda or contemporary wellness.”
“Ayurveda associated with conventional wellness is primarily based on traditional medicine; and contemporary wellness relates to activities geared towards enjoying nature. We have already begun pitching wellness in a broader sense to encompass our food, music, traditions, arts and crafts… basically our way of life, which has evolved over centuries,” Fernando explained.
Sharing some of the initiatives taken by SLTDA in 2020 and 2021 to revive the industry, she elaborated at length: “We started planning in May 2020 to reopen Sri Lanka for tourism in the midst of the pandemic. Health guidelines were formulated with the Ministry of Health – they were implemented last year, including training, certifying and auditing all relevant bodies in the industry.”
“We appointed KPMG to carry out physical audits of accommodation sites. Some nations did not go to such lengths and resorted to self-assessments. Our training and inspection processes started early. We also pioneered the bio bubble concept – several countries have replicated our thinking; many have asked us to provide inputs. It is a recognition that we very much appreciate,” she remarked.
Fernando also noted that SLTDA reached out to social media, and all prominent media channels like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and CNBC, to promote Sri Lanka as a safe and sought after travel destination. We even live streamed our wildlife parks and gathered about nine million followers. Our articles and attendance at various trade shows were effective means of reaching out to customers.
She elaborated: “Further, we focussed on the all-important inter-ministerial cooperation – railway authorities were contacted, requesting them to improve toilet facilities in carriages; the Department of Wildlife conservation was solicited to enhance visitor encounters.”
Effective coordination of tourism related activities with Sri Lanka’s overseas missions is yet another initiative of SLTDA. Forging partnerships with Australian, British, German and other European high commissions and embassies in Sri Lanka yielded success.
“Promoting our authentic food, obtaining free grants to develop the travel trade, and ensuring that visitors trapped due to lockdown measures have a safe passage back to their home countries were feasible due to relationships built with diplomats of foreign missions,” she acknowledged.
Fernando said that “2022 will be a good year, subject to management of the pandemic; the government’s excellent vaccination programme should give us a competitive advantage.”
“Sri Lanka is blessed with such amazing natural beauty and there is huge untapped potential. However, we need to pitch our products to suit the post-COVID traveller – especially the younger generation, which is looking for wellness, camping and unique experienced based holidays. We need to embrace these new trends and focus on marketing Sri Lanka based on distinctive product positioning; not merely on price,” she added.
She concluded: “I am absolutely confident and look forward to a very successful 2022 for the leisure sector.”