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A cut tree, a dead elephant, is a lost tourism dollar in the future

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by Michel Nugawela and Pesala Karunaratna

(Continued From Last Week)

To increase occupancy rates and avoid economic losses during off-peak seasons, mass tourism suppliers also rely heavily on all-inclusive packages. By inviting tourists to leave their wallets at home and remain within the hotel (typically, the pool, bar and restaurant), they inhibit the dispersion of economic benefits to wider communities or the economically disadvantaged.

For example, mass tourists venturing out of their segregated enclaves to ‘do’ Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, or Anuradhapura shuttle point-to-point between iconic sites and resorts in the round tour circuit. Individuals and businesses (such as the restaurants, shops, and local transportation services in the vicinity) that aren’t fortunate enough to be part of a package that grants access to this self-contained world receive zero to limited economic benefits. (Studies of all-inclusive packages internationally show that only about 10% of tourism spending directly benefits the local economy.)

Most – if not all – mass tourism suppliers in Sri Lanka also acquire the majority of their business through foreign operators, whose tactics of choice include pitting hotels and resorts against each other to secure the cheapest room rates. It’s much the same with destinations. For example, Lonely Planet’s ‘Best In Travel’ listing ranks its top destinations, regions and cities to visit each year. Sri Lanka took the top spot in 2019 – much to the sectors elation – and yet bear in mind that no single destination is featured in any two consecutive years. Countries are elevated one year, only to be tactically removed in the next. Foreign tour operators also promote destinations to prospective customers – once again, a different destination (or list of destinations) each year – ensuring bargaining power against suppliers/destinations remain stacked in their favour (and with it a high dependency on their global brands, markets, and channels).

Even as the tourism sector languishes through the Covid crisis – which, if anything, should motivate a meaningful search to curtail its own unhealthy overreliance on mass tourism markets – there is still no specific strategy or objective to address the non-differentiation of Sri Lanka’s tourism product. This is not entirely surprising; when footfall is high, the mass tourism sector replicates more of the same; when demand is low, it discounts prices instead of differentiating the product. In a crisis, it simply has no response to the need for better tourists, and a better distribution of tourist by season or location, for the destination.

 

The untapped potential of alternate tourism

The global tourism sector is expected to return to pre-pandemic tourism levels by 2024 – a slow and lengthy recovery period that has significantly impacted the mass tourism segment. Many consumers have lost wages or jobs, and since travelling will take a larger share of their disposable income, it is extremely unlikely that a rebound in visitor flows will equate with a recovery in visitor spending (expect more cheap all-inclusive packages to lure more cheap tourists). According to international research, the travel behaviour and preferences of the mass tourist will also look different in the future as they take fewer, more memorable trips, with a greater demand for experiences in the outdoors away from crowds.

Meanwhile, high value travellers – the segment Sri Lanka has consistently overlooked in its drive for ‘more’ (volume over value/quantity over quality) – will continue to travel in significant numbers as global mobility returns in 2021. Yet here too, their motivations and behaviours converge on the need for unique and meaningful experiences in nature and wildlife – again, where Sri Lanka has failed to develop and differentiate its product.

Many countries have used the pause this year to rethink their business as usual model and search for answers to important questions such as: will the post-Covid tourists be the kind of visitor we want? Will they improve seasonal spend, stay longer, and disperse economic benefits further into local communities? New Zealand, for example, is ‘reimagining tourism’, with key stakeholders arguing for a value over volume approach to managing tourism numbers while they await an industry recovery. Tourism is New Zealand’s biggest export industry, contributing 20.4% of total exports or 5.8 % of its GDP in 2019.

Meanwhile, Tourism Australia has identified a market opportunity of 80m high value travellers globally, of whom 32mn consider Australia as a destination to visit in the next four years. ‘Nature & Wildlife’ is the #1 driver of destination choice for this demographic from their 14 key inbound markets. This bears repeating: 72% Chinese, 73% Indians, 63% Indonesians, 76% Japanese, 66% Singaporeans, 67% South Koreans, 79% British, 63% US, 74% Germans, 68% Hong Kongers, 65% Malaysians, and 73% New Zealanders from the high value traveller segment visit Australia to experience its nature and wildlife assets.

Malaysia acknowledged the natural wealth of its country to drive revenue even earlier. In 1996, it published its National Ecotourism Plan to attract more visitors and increase visitor spend by developing competitiveness in its nature and wildlife assets. In 2002, nature and wildlife tourism established 10% of the country’s tourism sector; by 2019, this had tripled to 30.4%.

 

$11m is a wild elephant’s lifelong intrinsic value to tourism

We can no longer be blind to what we are most blessed with. Instead of playing to our strengths, we continue to run a race in a global tourism market where the ten major destinations attract 70% of the worldwide tourism market. It is now time to match our best assets – nature and wildlife – with the best tourists – the high value traveller. And this can be done. Our natural landscapes and attractions boast of the richest species concentration in Asia and one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world, for both plants and animals.

Consider the wild elephant population: 70% roam outside the protected areas, offering the best viewing opportunities in Asia and representing a huge revenue stream for the tourism sector. We determine the tourism value of a single elephant, alive, to contribute $0.16mn per year. Since elephants live for up to 70 years, the total revenue that a single elephant can generate is immense – $11mn over its lifetime to our hotels, resorts, airlines, travel companies, and – potentially – local economies.

We say potentially, because the value per elephant is significantly diminished under the mass tourism model, where the asset is perceived as an irrelevant pest rather than an important generator of profits. (Conversely, these assets are precisely what high value travellers – who outspend mass tourists by 3-4 times – value most). As global demand rises, therefore, Sri Lanka’s supply diminishes: 350 elephants perished in 2019 – an estimated commercial loss of $3.9bn to the sector, which is the value the animals would have distributed among the recipients in the tourism sector had they lived their lives fully.

Deforestation also dismantles the very assets – animal or plant, elephant or forest – that are required for a product differentiation strategy. When ancient migratory corridors are disrupted, elephants will die. When forests are uprooted, we will no longer be ‘green’ – a fundamental driver of destination choice for high value travellers. When the damage is done – when our natural assets are stripped away – Sri Lanka will no longer be able to position itself as anything other than a cheap destination for sun-sea-sand tourism. The entry of international budget hotel chains over the past half-decade point to our destination relevance in the future.

Amid the increase in deforestation, the silence from the mass tourism sector is deafening, revealing, firstly, just how disconnected its suppliers are from the wider ecology within which they operate, and secondly, the poverty of their vision for the sector and country.

It should come as no surprise, then, that disruption to the mass tourism model has come from the market’s edges rather than any single operator within the mass tourism sector. Dilmah has brought its compelling vision and business strategy to compete against commoditization in the tea industry to the tourism sector. Its luxury offering can generate eight times more revenue per tourist than the mass tourism offering, indicating the potential Sri Lanka has to pivot from mass to class and drive revenue as a destination.

We would question whether it is even possible to carve out other profitable niches without building on Sri Lanka’s strengths in nature. Consider the wellness segment which reconnects consumers to nature through the restorative benefits of ayurvedic medicine and Hela Wedakama, the mindfulness meditation techniques of Buddhism, and yoga retreats. In a short span of time, the segment already accounts for $180mn export revenue (while the spices sector, which has existed for centuries, accounts just $300mn).

 

A reality check

Sri Lanka is weak or entirely lacking in the underlying enablers of export competitiveness. Without improved FDI flows, the government remains incapable of single-handedly investing in infrastructure and injecting working capital to promote export-driven businesses.

Allocating forest-land to export development (and as the twelve BOI export processing zones remain largely unutilized) dismantles the only competitive advantage Sri Lanka has to compete in international markets and become the primary source of foreign exchange for the country.

By stripping away our nature and wildlife assets, we are left with only our beaches and reputation for cheap sea-sun-sand tourism. The tourism sector is therefore not a fringe player in what happens next – it is right at the centre, because it is these very assets that enable its future competitiveness. We must now urgently commit to a diverse tourism portfolio targetting different tourism segments. A cut tree, a dead elephant, is a lost tourism dollar in the future.

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First registered undergraduate of BCI Campus inducted by President

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President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa paid a special visit to BCI Campus, Negombo (Benedict XVI Catholic Institute) on Jan.15 on the invitation of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo.

The event was conducted under strict health protocols and was attended by a limited audience among which were the Archbishop of Colombo , Rector of BCI ; Rev. Fr. Quintus Fernando ,Professor G L Peiris, Minister of Education , Prasanna Ranatunga, Minister of Tourism,(Dr.) Nalaka Godahewa, State Minister – Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal, and Public Sanitation, Dr Sudharshini Fernandopulle, State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Nimal Lanza, State Minister – Rural Roads and other Infrastructure Development, Chief Air Marshal Roshan Gunatileke, Governor of the Western Province, Prof Kapila Perera, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Prof Sampath Amaratunga, chairman of the University Grants Commission and Prof Sudantha Liyanage, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri, chairman/Director – Board of Management, Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) and member of BCI Academic Council along with several other dignitaries.

Welcoming the gathering Rev. Father Quintus Fernando; Rector of BCI, said ‘BCI Campus was established 6 years ago with a holistic and unique approach to higher education. Our emphasis is not limited to developing graduates that are industry ready, armed with knowledge and skill, but we aspire to make BCI Campus a breeding ground for well-disciplined, humanely nurtured, and responsible citizens. We ‘Aspire to Inspire’ our students to become professionals who possess academic knowledge and skill sets, whilst also mentoring them to assert their dignity and integrity as true human beings”. The reverend father also drew special attention to the invaluable support President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has rendered to BCI, over the years. Special mention was made to President is involvement in expediting the reconstruction and renovation work of BCI in 2015 as the campus prepared to welcome Pope Francis who visited BCI during his visit to Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the event, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who drew attention to the innumerable efforts of the Catholic Church to provide a sound Education to children and youth the world over, stated that ‘education today is not just a matter of mastering science and technology only, but also, and much more, a matter of assisting a young person to master life itself. So, Institutes of higher learning should not be so much profit making as much as academies of moral and spiritual formation for the youth’.

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‘India leads from the front’

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the all-India rollout of COVID-19 vaccination drive on January 16 via video conferencing.  Considered to be the world’s largest vaccination program, it covers 30 million health care and frontline programme workers across India in the first phase. The endeavor is to cover 300 million in the second phase. Elderly population and those with serious illness would be the focus groups in this phase.

A total of 3006 session sites were virtually connected during the launch with around 100 beneficiaries being vaccinated at each session site on the inaugural day. The massive vaccination programme is powered by Co-WIN, an indigenously developed online digital platform, which will facilitate real time information of vaccine stocks, storage temperature and individualized tracking of beneficiaries. A dedicated 24×7 call centre  has also been established to deal with all issues pertaining to administration of the vaccines.

Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister Modi highlighted various steps undertaken by government of India in combating COVD-19. India released its first COVID-19 advisory on January 17, 2020 and was among the first countries to start screening passengers at its airports. Specifically on vaccines, he said that Indian vaccines were built on tried and tested technology in India and added that these vaccines will give a decisive victory to India in fighting the pandemic.

(Indian HC)

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Hayleys Group drives bullish market

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne 

CSE activities were positive and bullish  throughout the day and they were mainly  driven by the Hayleys Group headed by Dhammika Perera, which saw a subdivision of all 14 listed Hayleys companies’ shares to enhance the Group’s market capitalisation, stock market analysts said.  

It is said that Hayleys share prices appreciated by 32 percent or  Rs. 187.50. Its shares started trading at Rs. 577.50 and at the end of the day they moved to Rs. 764. Dipped Products’ shares moved up by 31 percent or Rs. 138. Its shares started trading at Rs. 441 and at the end of the day they moved up to Rs. 579. This sub division would not increase the stated capital of any company, but would increase the liquidity of the shares as the number of existing shares increases. Confirming this, all these companies recorded huge price increases yesterday.

LOLC share prices appreciated by 24 percent or Rs. 56. Its shares started trading at Rs. 232 and at the end of the day they moved to Rs. 282.

Amid those developments both indices moved upwards. All Share Price Index went up by 246.60 points and S and P SL20 went up by 100.38 points. It is said that the All Share Price Index surpassed 8000 points for the first time in history, which closed at 8.184 points at the end of trading. Meanwhile, the S&P SL20 index, which includes the 20 largest and most liquid stocks also increased by 100.38 points (3.24%) to close at 3,196.73.

Turnover stood at Rs. 14.2 billion with ten crossings. Those crossings were reported in Sampath Bank, which crossed 3.1 million shares to the tune of Rs. 526 million and its shares traded at Rs. 170, HNB (Non Voting) 1.4 million shares crossed for Rs. 172 million its shares traded at Rs. 118, Dipped Products 292,000 shares crossed for Rs. 160.7 million and its shares traded at Rs. 550, CIC two million shares crossed for Rs. 137 million, its shares traded at Rs. 68. Meanwhile, DFCC’s 825,000 shares crossed for Rs. 61 million, its shares trading at Rs. 74, JKH 300,000 shares crossed for Rs. 35 million, its shares traded at Rs. 160, Aitken Spence 500,000 shares crossed for Rs. 35 million, its shares fetching Rs. 70, Tokyo (Non Voting) 3.56 million shares crossed for Rs. 27.3 million, its shares traded at Rs. 76.80, HNB Assurance 400,000 shares crossed for Rs. 24 million, its shares traded at Rs. 60 and Vallibel One 420,000 shares crossed for Rs. 20 million, its shares trading at Rs. 48.

In the retail market top five contributors to the turnover were, Dipped Products Rs. 1.8 billion (3.2 million shares traded), Hayleys Rs. 1.3 billion (1.8 million shares traded), Vallibel One Rs. 856 million (15.3 million shares traded), LOLC Rs. 797 million (three million shares traded) and JKH Rs.0.7 million (3.7 million shares traded). During the day 377.7 million share volumes changed hands in 66574 transactions.

Sri Lanka’s rupee was quoted around 197.50/198.50 to the US dollar in the one-month forwards market on Thursday while bond yields were steady, dealers said. Rupee last closed around 196.00/198.00 in the spot-next market on Wednesday against the greenback. The Central Bank’s indicative spot rate was 194.7980 on January 19, up from 193.6458.

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