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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

Faulty decisions

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Farmers protesting against the prevailing fertiliser shortage. (file photo)

The importation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum, dated April 27, 2021, to promote the use of organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce. Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted manufacture of organic fertilisers (OF) but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. Most of what was available were of low quality with high C/N ratios. Agric. The Ministry is yet to produce natural insecticides, fungicides, etc. Thousands of farmers, all over the country, started to protest demanding that inorganic fertilisers and appropriate pesticides are made available, because they knew that these agrochemicals are necessary to get better yields from the crops they cultivate. The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, representing mostly the Soil Scientists and Agronomists of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association, the professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses, with the implementation of the import ban on fertilisers and pesticides

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, This caused immense economic and social problems to the people in general and to the farmers in particular. Farmers who cultivated Paddy in the current Maha complain of a reduction in the yields, and those who cultivated vegetables and other crops had to bear up a substantial decrease in quantity and quality of their produce. Production of maize decreased, resulting in a drop in poultry feed.

Reduction in local rice production made the government importing large quantities of rice from China and Burma. Food prices have increased causing thousands of people mainly the poor, going hungry resulting, health and social problems. Incomes of nearly two million farmers got reduced which affected their buying capacity resulting in numerous undesirable effects such as increasing unemployment, poverty and related issues. Tea small holders complained of reduction in quantity and quality of tea affecting their income, and also a decline on foreign exchange earnings which those in the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and other relevant institutions are frantically searching. All these are the result of the ban of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, a faulty decision.

In August, the Cabinet removed the ban probably realising the utter foolishness of the decision to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. However, it is too late as it takes time to import fertilisers and other agrochemical which were in short supply due to the ban.

The main reason given for banning importation of inorganic fertilisers was that it caused chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU). Several research studies have been conducted since the year 2000, when it was reported to occur in some parts of the country. The findings of these studies do not indicate that there is any relationship between CKDU and fertilisers. CKDU has not been reported in many countries such as China (393 kg/ha) India (175 kg/ha) and United Kingdom (245 kg/ha) where the amount of fertilisers used per hectare is much larger than that of Sri Lanka (138 kg/ha). Note- the fertiliser consumption data given are for 2018 and are based on values given by Food and Agriculture Organization.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka has declined after 2015 . It dwindled to 4.5% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2017 and in 2020 it was -3.6 %. The Trade Deficit ( the difference between exports and imports- TD) shows a decrease but at present it stands at 6.1 US$ billion. Exchange rate continued to increase from Rs. 111 to a US $ in 2010 to Rs, 186 in 2020. Currently it is around Rs. 200. According to Central Bank, External Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 51117.43 USD Million in the third quarter of 2021. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards an unprecedented economic crisis. Hence, the government need to implement appropriate strategies to increase exports and reduce imports.

Sri Lanka annually imports food worth Rs. 300 billion. Most of the food imported such as sugar, milk food, lentils, onion, maize, etc., involving around Rs. 200 billion can be locally produced, thereby reducing expenditure on food imports. In view of the current shortage of foreign exchange, it has become extremely important to promote the production of food locally which hitherto have been imported. The plantation sector, which includes tea, rubber, coconut, cashew, sugarcane and minor exports crops such as cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa ,plays a very important role in the economy of the country earning a substantial amount of foreign exchange, Hence, it is important to implement strategies to increase the productivity of the food crop and plantation crops sectors. Inorganic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides play a very important role in this regard.

However, the Government is emphasizing that organic fertilisers (OF) are used in the coming yala season as well . Those in the government who made this faulty decision need to realise that OF can never replace inorganic fertilisers and that it can only be supplementary. They need to give serious consideration to the bitter experience of the farmers who applied OF to their crops during the current Maha. The Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider this faulty decision if they want to increase local food and export crop production.

In the year 2022, there will be a severe shortage of food negatively affecting food security, unless the government implements a realistic and effective programme from the beginning of 2022 to solve this issue. Implementation of foolish decisions such as to replace inorganic fertilisers with organic fertilisers, as done in 2021 is not going to solve this problem. Among the 17, he Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, several are related to increase crop production. The Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for coordination, facilitation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the implementation of strategies related to development of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

As indicated by Edgar Perera, a former Director of the Dept. of Agricultural Development (Ref. The Island of 17 Jan, 2022) the most appropriate thing to be done is to use OF as a soil re-conditioner along with chemical fertilisers, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in adequate quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

csweera@sltnet.lk

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Opinion

Have pity on Afghans

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A camp sheltering displaced Afghans.

Is there no end to the torment inflicted on the ordinary people of Afghanistan, by the United States?

Having being defeated militarily, and decamping ingloriously within 24 hours, like thieves in the night, the USA now inflicts starvation and destruction on Afghanistan from a “safe distance”.! Money that rightly belonging to the Afghan State is being withheld by the American dominant Financial system. Let this be a lesson to us.

A report in The Island of 17 January revealed that Afghan families were selling children and their organs in order to survive.

After all, what crime did the Afghans commit in resisting an invading foreign power? Sri Lanka should seek ways of offering direct Aid at least in small ways, to Afghanistan, whether the Americans approve or not.

JAYMAN

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Opinion

Dinesh Gunawardena’s call

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The call by Dinesh Gunawardena, son of that famous Left Leader Philip Gunawardena, who stood steadfast to protect his ideals for the sake of the poor downtrodden, has said ‘stakeholders must protect the government’.

We elect our representatives to Parliament, based on promises they make during election times, and if the government fails or introduces laws not announced at election meetings, then the responsibility of our representatives is to criticise such action; if the government does not heed their voice, our representatives should be prepared to cross over or resign.

The duty of an MP is to stand by the voter, and not the party he belongs to or is aligned to. Were the voters informed that dual citizens would be elected or appointed to Parliament?

Let me conclude by reproducing the last verse in an apt poem by Sir Walter Scott titled:

“LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL [MY NATIVE LAND]”

Despite those titles, and pelf

The wretch, concentered all in self

Living shall forfeit fair renown

And doubly, dying shall go down

To the vile dust, from whence he sprung

UNWEPT, UNHONOURED AND UNSUNG”

GADS

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