Promoting unity under one banner

Kimarli Fernando

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority

Q: How would you explain Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority’s (SL­TDA) role in the context of the national economy?

With more than three million people depending on the industry, SLTDA plays a significant role in the economy while tourism is the third largest foreign exchange earner.

The growth of 10.3 percent in tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka recorded in 2018 gradually decelerated over the next two years. Meanwhile, tourism’s contribution to GDP was recorded as 4.9 percent and 4.3 percent in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Additionally, total direct and indirect employment amounted to 388,487 in 2018 and 402,607 in the following year.

In keeping with the growth in demand, SLTDA’s room inventory in June last year was 41,924 while the number of establishments stood at 2,895. As for investments, the value of tourism projects granted final approval was estimated to be US$ 3.8 billion at the time.

Every aspect of a tourist’s visit is taken into account when determining total revenue – and this is not limited to the amount spent on boarding passes. Their expenditure on transportation, entertainment, refreshments, daily consumption, excursions and site visits, and purchases comprise the foreign exchange generated.

Q: What revolutionary strategies has SLTDA put in place to drive efficiency and expand its services?

The appointment of a single chairperson to lead four organisations was a strategic decision made to streamline processes.

Operations that were previously hampered due to work being done in silos, inadequate expertise and inefficiencies are now benefitting from improved resource allocation, coordination, efficiency and frugality.

Our systems were revamped to integrate technology that enabled informal and SME markets to register with SLTDA. This organised approach led to improved response times, and a curtailment of redundant expenditure, paperwork and malpractice.

Technology will serve to enhance experiences. As such, the first version of SLTDA’s Visit Sri Lanka app was developed with the assistance of the Infor­mation and Communication Tech­nology Agency (ICTA) and UNDP.

The next iteration – funded by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) – will ensure enhanced service quality and experience. For example, the tourist guide rating mechanism enables visitors to select their ideal guide.

Q: How can organisations such as SLTDA contribute to the nation?

Using the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour national policy framework, we carefully constructed a 10 pillar strategy for the tourism industry.

We want Sri Lanka to be positioned as a destination on wish lists. To this end, Sri Lanka Tourism was subjected to a complete overhaul to make way for fresh perceptions that exploit hidden opportunities.

Benchmarking ourselves against glo­bal leaders enables us to compare annual yields and adopt strategies that have been proven effective.

For instance, the round trip system followed by travel agencies is no longer sustainable as tourists prefer to enjoy experiences rather than adhere to predetermined schedules. This requires a shift in the industry’s mindset and a cohesive effort.

Moreover, we recently hosted a Couch Safari, broadcasting Sri Lanka’s mesmerising wildlife to the world and garnering a viewership of seven million.

SLTDA plans to launch a global promotional campaign targeting 16 key markets and communication campaigns that will be supervised by 20 specialist agencies. This is set to begin by the middle of the year and span five years with an investment of 190 million dollars.

An additional domestic campaign is also in the works, which is expected to predominantly support SMEs in the industry, thereby generating more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

SLTDA is also looking to give stakeholders a voice so the industry’s representation has been expanded to include 52 associations, ensuring better engagement especially for SMEs.

We aim to enhance service quality while creating an experience driven tourism structure, working with overseas embassies and missions while establishing bridges where everyone is united under the banner of Sri Lanka Tourism.