Sri Lanka should develop Indian, Chinese markets: Tourism minister

Aug 25, 2016 (LBO) – Sri Lanka will be looking towards China and India for growth, in terms of geography, while looking for niche sector growth from MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) and cruise tourism, a minister said.

“Our target is to further increase the growing Chinese and Indian markets,” Minister of Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga told the Hospitality Investment Conference (Indian Ocean) 2016 in Colombo.

“The Indians like to come here for an atmospheric change when the weather is hot there, and they like the food, plus our cultures are similar. So we need to push this.”

Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka hit an all-time high in July this year with arrivals at 209,351, a growth of 19.1 percent compared to July last year.

According to country-specific data, China with 163,473 visitors continues to show the highest growth in arrivals at 36.6 percent for the period January to July 2016. Arrivals from India in the six months to June were up 18 percent.

Four million tourists

The island is targeting 2.5 million visitors this year with revenues of 3.5 billion US dollars and tourist arrivals expected to reach 4 million by 2020. This is up from 1.8 million tourists last year.

Amaratunga says this will require doubling of our capacity for rooms and employment. “Hotel rooms will be increased from 14,000 to 40,000, with employees working for the tourist industry also increased by 2020.”

“Sri Lanka is quite capable of meeting the human resource requirements of the hotel and the tourist industry and it is up to us to create opportunities than to import labour from other countries.”

“This is why tax incentives were given from the budget to encourage the hotels to have their own hotel schools for training and development.”

He also said that improved accessibility via new highways and conversion of military to domestic airports may make high-end hotels viable alternatives.

“Increased domestic and international accessibility may make higher-end hotels more viable, particularly in the hills and the east,” he said.

Three new airports

The budget of 2016 has proposed three new domestic airports at Badulla, Digana and Puttalam under PPP investment model in view of the importance of these districts, especially for promotion of tourism.

“The East coast has been a hot bed of investment – particularly Pasikkuda which has been compared to the best beaches in the world, has seen some of the most luxurious hotels coming up.”

However, we would like to see more investment coming into the North as well, he added. “We need to develop the infrastructure here, though.”

One of the challenges, Amaratunge says is that some of our biggest target markets have not yet got the message that we are ready for business. “Sri Lanka is trying to get this message across,” added.