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Justitia in tears – a reply

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The above-captioned comment is another of a series of excellent editorials, conveying the feelings of the people but it is doubtful whether the authorities with the proverbial ‘buffalo hide’ will heed to criticism and correct their actions. Is it that the government wants to divert attention of the masses?

What baffles me, and all educated, decent, respectable people, is why the other highly educated and respected persons, to wit, Prof. Dayananda Banda, Prof.Shnthinandana Wijesinghe, Prof. Sumeda Siriwardena, N.G.Sujeewa Panditharatne, Attorny-at- Law, Iresh Sirivimana, Attorny- at- Law, Sanjaya Marambe, Eranda Navaratne, Pani Wewala, Maulavi Mohammed, Mohamed Inthikab, Kaleel Rahuman, Azeez Nizerdeen had consented to serve as members under the Chairmanship of a person, as correctly stated in the editorial, ‘It defies comprehension why the President has hand-picked as the head of PTF, a person who was granted a presidential pardon while serving a sentence for contempt of court which, in other words, means causing an affront to the dignity of the judiciary’.

Could it be to silence this person who is ‘a pain in the neck’ for the government? – to quote from the book ‘Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama ‘Better be strong. If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who is strong.’

It is also baffling why a member from the second largest Tamil community, has been omitted. Is it to aggravate the present situation of communal disharmony?

If so, let us praise President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s government by singing –

‘Roll along happily, Roll along,

To the best of your health [wealth] we sing this song

G. A. D. Sirimal

BORALESGAMUWA



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Opinion

Quo Vadis Sri Lanka Tourism, Post Covid-19?

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By Srilal Miththapala

There seems to be conflicting ideas as to how tourism should be promoted in the short term, in the post Covid -19 arena. A wide range of good initiatives have been proposed from various experts. We must not get carried away by emotion, and resort to ‘crystal ball gazing’, but make our plans, based on evidence and research.

What seems to be overlooked is the need to properly understand the post Covid-19 consumer behaviour, and only focus source markets. Finally, it is the consumer who will decide, whoever he may be.

The bottom line is that the ‘tourism world’ is not going to come back to normal for quite some time. Like everything else in our lives, consumers also will respond in a ‘new normal’ framework. Hence applying our traditional marketing strategies will not necessarily work in this uncertain environment. Many may accuse me of being a pessimist. But I would like to be understood as a pragmatist.

This essay will try to analyse the consumer mind set in the post CoVid-19 scenario, and then try to develop what marketing strategies would work to match these consumer needs.

1.0 Introduction

The coronavirus crisis is having massive impacts on the tourism industry—many of which will reshape the industry’s future landscape. What actions should the stakeholders of this industry be taking today from a marketing and communications perspective? The truth is no one knows for sure. We are all in the dark. However, a business-as-usual approach is almost certainly wrong because there is nothing “usual” about this new life we’re all living and what’s happening to the tourism industry right now.

Just when the crisis seemed to be abating, we are now hit by a new variant of the virus that could have more disastrous impact. However, initial reports indicate that although it could be more infections than the Delta strain, the severity of the illness is probably less severe. It is still uncertain how different countries will respond to this new challenge.

2.0 Tourism Recovery

A recent global survey of UNWTO tourism experts on the recovery of travel shows a slight increase in confidence with 60 percent of consumers saying they expect to see a rebound in international tourism by 2022, versus just 50 percent in an earlier January 2021 survey.

In spite of this slight boost in confidence, nearly half of the respondents said that they did not expect international tourism to return to 2019 levels until 2024 or later. Similarly, 37 percent fewer respondents now believe 2023 could be the full recovery year.

In another study by Deloitte’s for Australia Tourism, there were three different scenarios presented.

Mild (best case) – international arrivals return to 2019 level by 2022.

Harsh (probable) – International tourist arrivals return to 2019 level by 2023.

Severe (worst case) – International arrivals return to 2019 level by 2025.

Boston Consulting Group predicts that travel won’t rebound to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024. “The tourism business is driven by the great intangible of consumer confidence. Regardless of therapeutics or vaccine availability, second or third waves, or the efficacy of safety protocols, the industry won’t fully recover until travellers and service providers do so psychologically.”

Hence most studies indicate that it will be 2023 by the time tourism recovers to pre Covid-19 levels.

(it must be noted that all such studies were done before the new Omicron outbreak and how that is going to impact consumer sentiment is still to be seen.)

To expect arrival numbers to reach the pre Covid-19 of about 100,000 – 150,000 per month in the next 12 months in Sri Lanka is a pipe dream. (We have just reached 100,000 arrivals for the year, only about 7% of pre Covid-19 days)

Hence, its high time that stakeholders accept that full recovery of tourism is going to be another 12-18 months away.

Tourism professionals should take cognisance of this, and plan for it. They should adjust their strategies, accordingly, to survive and make the best of the situation in the short term. This does not mean that there will be no tourism in 2021. Certainly, there will be, and what will follow in this essay, is to try and understand the consumer mind-set of these travellers, who would venture out in spite of certain uncertainties.

(TTRW: MADRID, 2 December 2021: One out of five destinations continue to have their borders completely closed as new surges of Covid-19 impact the restart of international tourism, while the WHO declaration identifying Omicron as a variant of concern will prompt additional restrictions.

The latest UNWTO research shows that still 98% of all destinations have some travel restrictions in place.)

3.0 Marketing in the short term after Covid-19

It is needless to say that under such circumstances where survival would be the focus, positioning and branding will have to take a back seat. But that does not mean to say that planning should stop. The time could be spent by all stakeholders to properly develop a positioning for the country and to ‘extract out’ what our real USP is. At a recent webinar I heard suggestions for a whole range of ‘unique propositions’ from cultural pageants, wildlife, nature, environment, food, wellness, ‘experience,’ etc. (there is a misnomer in considering ‘experience’ as a category. It is true that most tourists pay great emphasis on experience. But the ‘experience’ should cut across every category, be it wild life, wellness or food).

Obviously, Sri Lanka as a destination cannot be ‘everything for everyone’. Sometimes I think this blessing of a range of natural attractions, is Sri Lanka tourism’s problem. We have too much! Because we are blessed with a plethora of natural beauty and attractions, it’s easy to be carried away, and try to promote everything. It is my humble opinion that even launching the muchtalked- about Global Campaign is not advisable at this time. It is true that we have waited a long time for this. But is the market ready for it at this juncture?

The need of the hour is a short-term push marketing initiative, to ‘push’ the product and service attributes of Sri Lanka that will appeal to the prospective travellers in this uncertain market environment. The ‘pull’ marketing strategy, whereby we reach out to travellers with our brand attributes and unique propositions to create new customers, should follow thereafter, once some form of proper and consistent normalcy has arrived.

So the priority in the short term is the need for a strong communication programme to reach out to the smaller, specific segments of consumers who would consider traveling in next 12-18 months.

The ‘tourism cake’ has shrunk. And everyone (all tourism destinations) are trying to get a share.

So how does Sri Lanka reach out and get a bigger share of this cake?

4.0 The need for evidence-based decision-making.

SL tourism has never given too much prominence to research and evidence-based decision-making. I guess it is no surprise when the leadership of the whole country depends on soothsayers and astrologers and quack–brewed concoctions to rid the CoVid19 virus, while the sane voices of the professionals are given a deaf ear.

But then again tourism is such an interesting subject that everyone from streetside vendors to desk-based government bureaucrats and inexperienced and clueless ministers, are experts on the subject. Even tourism professionals tend to lean on their old experiences and emotions, rather than, on good research. The need for a private -public sector partnered tourism research unit has been talked about ad nauseam. (I myself have presented many proposals for such an initiative over the past years.)

The crying need of the hour (and of course in the long term as well) is to have good reliable feedback about the tourism market. Would it be difficult to interview the few tourists who are coming to Sri Lanka at the airport? Why did they decide to travel? Why did they choose Sri Lanka? Were they satisfied with their stay?, etc.

Such simple questions will give feedack which will be so useful to tweak our offering and to be more focused on our future promotional efforts. The importance should be on the return on every dollar spent on promotion in these difficult times, and not on the value of the promotion.

5.0 Short Term ‘Push’ Marketing –

Segmentation

In trying to develop such a communication plan, (I use the word plan and not strategy since it is short term oriented) the first focus should be on the tourism consumer. One way to segment the traveller would be based on mind-set.

5.1 The Potential

travellers.

The possible consumer segments in the immediate post-Covid-19 era and their general characteristics could be as follows-

‘Devil may care’ traveller

The impetuous, young, adventurous risk takers. Not concerned about pandemic. Possibly with limited financial resources. (The conventional backpackers would also fall into this category but their monetary standing, post- CoVid-19 may be wanting)

‘Tread carefully’‘ traveller

Earns to travel. Will check all pros and cons on social media and other media channels and make careful decisions about travelling. Possibly young/middle aged, well-educated with adequate disposable income.

‘Wait and See’ traveller

Ultra-safety conscious and anxious about travelling. Possibly middle aged or Senior citizens, families with young children. Adequate financial resources.

It is evident that the segment who would travel under current prevailing circumstances would be predominately the ‘Devil-may-care’ Traveller, and to a lesser degree the ‘Tread carefully’ traveller segment. It will be quite a while before the ‘Wait and see’ traveller ventures out, and therefore there is no point in spending resources in engaging that category.

Hence it is not rocket science to conclude that a short term push marketing initiative must be specifically targeted at these two segments.

5.2 The Generic Consumer segments (Generational profiling)

The usually accepted generic consumer demographic segments are-

Silent Generation -Born 1925-1945; Current Ave. age 80’s- Small size

= Hard working

=Conservative

= Healthy, and most educated

= Wealthiest generation

Baby Boomers – Born 1945-1960; Current Ave. age 70’s-Medium size

= Larger families

= Non traditional

= Physically fit

= Wealthy

= Leisure activities

Generation X –Born 1960-1980; Current Ave. age 50’s-Large size

= Enjoy creative input and resourceful

= Embrace technology and social media

= Strong emphasis on family time and work-life balance

= Hard working

= Financially well off

= Comfortable with technology

Generation Y (Millennials)-Born 1980-1990; Current Ave. age 30’s-Large size

= Diverse

= Impatient

= Creative

= Multi-taskers

= Internet and social media part of their lives

= Reasonably wealthy

Generation Z – Born 1990-present; Current Ave. age< 30’s- Medium size

= Self-reliant

= Risk takers

= Can be suspicious of larger corporations

= Not too brand loyal

= Short span of interest

=Fully ‘wired’ almost always

= Reliant on social media platforms

= Very concerned about environment, ethics and social wellbeing of people

Although this categorisation is predominantly relevant to developed countries, with globalisation and the spread of the internet, it is valid for most emerging countries as well.

The types of traveller identified earlier can now be matched with the generation profile characterises to help target the required segment, with an appropriate and relevant commination initiative.

This indicates that the market segments most likely to travel in the short term are

Gen Z (medium size)

Gen Y (large size)

Gen X –to a lesser extent (Large size)

6.0 Short Term ‘Push’ Marketing- The Communication

So how do you reach out to the Generation Z’s and Y’s ?

The answer is to study their inherent characteristics, and respond accordingly to what motivates them.

 The platform must necessary be digital.

 The medium must be internet based. Social media, blogs, etc. (Brochures, print media and trade fairs will not work. Even Facebook is outdated)

 The message should be based around-

= Health and Safety. ( this will be of paramount importance to all segments)

= Short and sweet, to the point

= Authentic and reliable

= Personalised, small scale programs

= Meaningful stories

= More pictures & Videos

= Highlight social and community benefits

= Ethical travel themes

= Travel for a cause

= Environment, outdoor,

= Nature and wildlife

= Off the beaten track

= Wellness and meditation/yoga

Hence once an analytical approach is taken to identify key market segments based on demographics it will be easier to target the desired travellers with a cost effective communications programme.

6.0 Conclusion

In the foregoing I have attempted to show how an analytical approach based on good consumer data, could be, designed and implemented. This is by no means a perfect model, and is presented only as an example. Professional markers will be able to design more comprehensive initiatives. The important fact is that needs to be highlighted is that we must break out of our shackles of being the ‘know-it-all s’ and reach out to good research and information to base our plans on.

Otherwise, Sri Lanka Tourism will continue to blunder around with its’ sawn off double-barrelled shot gun, spraying bullets all over, hitting only a rare target or two’.

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Opinion

President breaks the ice!

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I have been eagerly waiting to see a Sri Lankan leader visiting Saudi Arabia or any one of the six Gulf countries for the last 46 years I have been here. Every time an international leader lands in Riyadh, I get this thought refreshed in mind.

In early January 2020, His Highness Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi invited our then newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to visit the UAE. The Crown Prince affirmed then his expectation for expanding the bilateral relations between the UAE and Sri Lanka. The two parties agreed that this visit would be a great opportunity to discuss the common interests of the two nations. However, it never happened until recently, when our president broke the ice to be the first Sri Lankan leader to visit a gulf country with his visit to UAE. We wish this will not be the first and the last, but will be extended to all other gulf countries.

His Highness Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka during his visit to the country’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. During the meeting, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid expressed the UAE’s keenness to boost bilateral relations with all friendly countries based on the principles of trust, mutual respect and cooperation.

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid also visited the Nigeria Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai today, where he met President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.

The Sri Lankan President congratulated Sheik Mohammed on the UAE’s 50th National Day. President Rajapaksa highlighted the UAE’s prominent status both regionally and globally, its capabilities across various sectors, and the UAE leadership’s keenness to expand bilateral cooperation with nations around the world.

During his visit to the Sri Lanka Pavilion, located in the ‘Opportunity District’, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid was briefed on Sri Lanka’s developmental efforts in various social and economic sectors, as well as in the cultural field.

Building strong relations with the gulf countries, where a large number of Sri Lankans are working and from where the country benefits the largest inflow of foreign exchange, is extremely important. Finally, we thank the president for making this visit.

S. H. MOULANA

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Opinion

Economic benefits of Basil’s India visit

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Basil Rajapaksa meets Indian Finance Nirmala Sitharaman and Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar

By TENNEKONE RUSIRIPALA

Events become more important and focused in the context of their after effects. Criticism leveled beforehand will only be conjecture yet to become realities. Diplomatic initiatives demonstrate how a small neighbor state can successfully move towards a pro-active bilateral relationship, interacting with other countries in the neighborhood OR even in the region, within the confines of available economic space.

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s move to initiate a dialogue with our Immediate neighbour India, is an extremely wise and timely move, in keeping with the important components of governance and principles of diplomacy. This is so, considering the essential need for re-affirming the mutual trust between the two states, and how a nation could act with a drive to become relevant, influential and acceptable in its bilateral relations with another big country, specially when the latter is playing a significant role in quickly transforming itself into a fast growing nation in the global scenario. It appears that the move and the conclusions reached awaiting finalization, is a disposition of trust and confidence vital for the mutual national interests of both countries.

The growing economic strain we are experiencing right now is compelling us to look for immediate relief measures, to seek remedies which do not affect our core interests due to interactions with powerful players. The choice of non-controversial scopes is also an important factor being mindful of the credibility issues, and long term effects while addressing short term relief as a priority in such accords. Let us now examine the areas of concern and the basis of understanding to be reached, as already announced in a media release about the Finance Ministers proposals from our side. It also has to be acknowledged that this early release of the relevant information will dispel any skepticisms and avoid misrepresentations and distortions.

I. Food and health security package on an urgent basis that would envisage the extension of a line of credit to cover the import of food , medicines and other essential items from India to Sri Lanka.

It needs no emphasis to explain the essential nature of food imports from India to our day- to- day food requirements. India has been a main source for several items of a staple nature over a long period, and any disturbance to this line of supply will be critical to the daily routines of our people. Sri Lanka’s Trade Share with India alone is approx.. 2.5 Billion US $ per year. Food items and medical supplies largely account for our imports from India. Funding imports is a problem due to the prevailing depleted balances in our foreign exchange resources. Hence, the negotiation of a facility on extended payment terms for the (imported) supply of these items becomes extremely important, to prevent any shortfall or disruption in the supply of essential drugs and consumer food items.

ii .Energy Security Package that would include a line of credit to cover import of fuel from India , and an early modernization of Trincomalee tank farm Fuel and Energy are so vital to our day to day lives. We do not have any access to Crude Oil supplies or refined Oil, other than importing them. Our annual Fuel Import Bill is averaging between US$ 3800 to 4000 million.

A day’s black out in the supply of Electricity in the country, which we experienced very recently, indicated how essential it is to have a smooth supply of uninterrupted electricity supply. Besides, the denial of the luxuries of air-conditioning , instant lighting, lift-systems, building escalators; we saw the water supply too getting affected in certain areas raising alarm signals. Hospitals, operation theaters and even traffic light signals were disturbed. While the public cannot condone any action upsetting their daily routines, the power failure signaled a severe warning to all about the need to run it as an essential Public Service. Fuel is a predominant factor playing an important part in the energy supply equation.

In a situation where our Reserve balance has gone below 1.4 Billion US$, we have to take adequate safeguards in maintaining the supply position, considering it as a national priority.

The Finance Minister’s choice of approaching India becomes appropriate due to many reasons, particularly to address our fuel issue with Indian support. The two countries already have an ongoing business relationship in the field of fuel supply in the country. India is very advanced in the Oil Refinery industry and it is interesting to examine their involvement in the Fuel Industry.

Petroleum refining

With a total refining capacity of 69.2 million tons per year, the state-owned Indian Oil Corporation was the largest refiner in the country by capacity. Indian Oil’s refineries processed 69.001 MMT of crude oil in 2017–18.

In September 2021 the total installed capacity of the Oil Refinery Industry stood at 246.9 million metric tons and their Crude Oil production was 32.2MMT in addition to their importing volume of 4.54 Million barrels.

India aims to commercialize 50% of its strategic petroleum reserves to raise funds and build additional storage tanks to offset high oil prices. This gives a clear picture of the Oil Industry of our neighboring country. There is a big potential arising out of the need to increase their Crude Oil storage facilities.

And this provides an ideal opportunity to put into best use of our Gold valley in the form of a dormant Oil Tank Farm, located in a unique strategic geographical positioning in Trincomalee.

There is a strong possibility for a highly win-win situation for both countries to gain advantages from a suitable agreement.

Sri Lanka should use all its bargaining skills to enter into an agreement, where the price fluctuations of Oil Products is given due consideration, for both countries to share the benefits in a fair manner, with due weightage given to our sovereign ownership of the golden property.

At this moment I recall the Rubber /Rice agreement we reached many years ago and the basic concepts and principles underlying that agreement, such as the consideration of a discounted price for the rice on account of the exclusive supply arrangement we tied ourselves into. In a similar gesture, our Oil tanks could be the pivotal focus for a special price for our domestic consumption requirements of fuel.

iii. Offer of a Currency Swap to help Sri lanka address the current balance of payments issues;

India has given us such support and help several times, and with the economic package that is in the center of the negotiations it will not be difficult for the Reserve Bank to consider this in our favor.

iv. Facilitating Indian Investments in different sectors in Sri Lanka that would contribute to Growth and expand employment.

This will build on recent trends in that respect.

We have to recognize the technological advancement India has made both in the fields of Industry and Agriculture, helping them to a high position of placement in the order of GDP growth rates, occupying the highest place in Asia. Their experience, progressing technical advancement, closeness of our Geographic locations, in addition to our traditional, historic and cultural relations will be to the mutual advantage of both countries, to be taken into seriously in reaching an accord. There are several areas of harnessing the resourcefulness of both countries to share the values in offering unique services in many fields hitherto unexploited.

All these will no doubt pave the way for a rational settlement of any minor prickly issues that we may have had between the two countries due to geo-political alienations. Nevertheless, we have continued our relationship with India all these years with a history of sacrifices, and commitment each country has extended on many controversial issues. Sri Lanka’s involvement during the period of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to intervene in the Indo-China conflict, our accords with India on the Migrant Indian labour, and Kachchativu island matter are memorable milestones in this regard.

We look forward to a successful conclusion of the MOU reached following the visit of Minister Basil Rajapaksa, and hope for its best outcome to the mutual satisfaction of both countries.

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