An Urgent Need for Industry-Policy Dialogue for Building Trust, Confidence and Resilience for Sri Lanka Tourism Development

After establishing permanent peace to the 30 years battered nation, Sri Lanka Tourism has taken the leadership among the other industries of the country in rekindling and repositioning Sri Lanka as one of the top best destinations in the world. As a result, Sri Lanka has already been recognized as the number 1 spot for the holiday makers in the world (New York Times, 10th January 2010) and the best country in the world to visit in 2013 and also in 2019 by Lonely Planet.

By Dr Suranga Silva

In parallel with global trends, international tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka could exceed more than 2.33 million in 2018. It has become the 3rd highest foreign exchange earner of the country in 2018. It could generate nearly US$ 4 million 2018 as foreign exchange earnings. Tourism industry could generate 4.5% of GDP as its direct contribution to the GDP. Both direct and indirect contribution of tourism industry to the employment was nearly 400,000 job opportunities. The total contribution of tourism including direct and indirect spillover impact to the other sectors of the economy is around 11% (WTTC, 2018).

Sri Lanka Tourism has displayed its nonpareil potential blessing for a great future prospect to be a unique tourist destination in the world since the day the country received the permeant peace to its nation in 2009. The tourism industry has become the fastest-growing source of foreign currency and the third-largest overall. The country has been rapidly developing its image from “Dark” to “Bright” side in promoting of more for its famous temples, untouched beaches and unique wildlife until now with the growth of tourist arrivals more than 400 per cent. The industry has generated nearly $6 billion to the country last year. Furthermore, Sri Lanka has also a plan to offer free visas on arrival for the tourists from 39 countries — including Australia, the US and the UK. The scheme was due to start on May 1 to boost tourist numbers during the off season.

Easter Sunday Sri Lankan Bombings and Devastating Impact on Sri Lanka Tourism

Deadly bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday significantly destroyed not only the expected achievements of all untiring endevours in tourism development but also demolished the nation’s strong confidence and sentiment on tourism industry. Though it is far too early to quantify the impact of this horrendous attacks on blossoming tourism industry, it must be so severe than what Sri Lanka had during the time period of LTTE attacks. The LTTE terrorism had no intention to kill tourists though there were few attacks on hotels and to the airports.

This Easter Sunday Sri Lankan Bombings has made a new history of international tourism as it made the highest number of foreign tourists killed in a tourist destination in the world. This will lead to create an intolerable painful blow to the industry, more specifically, when the industry has been heavily depended on tourist arrivals and consequently to boost its economy through higher foreign exchange earnings, tourism employment and contribution to national income after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and the ending of three decades of LTTE terrorism.

The Recovering Back from the Worst

Sri Lanka Tourism has become more vulnerable and very precarious situation. Many countries have already made the travel warning to their citizens for not visiting to Sri Lanka – the country has been ranked by the Lonely Planet Travel Magazine as the World’s No 1 travel destination in 2019.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs raised its level of advice for Sri Lanka to “reconsider your need to travel” and “avoid all affected areas and minimize movement until the situation stabilizes,”. China, UK and US have similarly issued the travel warnings to their citizens, informing them to stay away “in the near term” and “exercise increased caution”. This will follow the similar statement of many other countries as well. The expected tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka will fall sharply and could take many years to fully recover.

Considering the similar situation due to ISIS attacks in Indonesia, tourist arrivals to Indonesian island of Bali dropped by 40% after terrorist attacks in October 2002. It didn’t return to pre-attack levels for two years (Viriya Singgih, 2018). In the case of terrorist attacks to Belgium in 2016 and 2018, all flights in and out of Brussels have been cancelled and the entire Brussels transport system has been shut down including international train travel to Belgium. The airport remained closed some days. Tourist arrivals decreased significantly making many industry employees unemployed. In effect, the shutdown in Brussels cost an estimated €51.7 million ($57.9 million) per day during the lockdown. The attacks were extremely detrimental to Belgium’s tourism industry and it experienced around 30% reduction in tourist arrivals.

The bombing of a Russian aircraft on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in November 2015 had an even worse impact. Arrivals plunged by 50% and it took three years to recover (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/26/easter-sunday-bombings-sri-lanka-central-bank-on-economy-tourism.html).

Role of Government: One of the most successful recovery strategies must be a strong government commitment to the industry and industry leadership in terms of strategy, policy, and understanding of market trends.

Public and Private Partnership: A strong public and private partnership working together, supported by the general public is a must.

Responsible Media Contribution: The role of the media is significantly vital in this context. Contribution of media in Belgium and France provided a good example as the countries affected by terrorism activities.

Therefore, though the immediate lag effects of this massacre can be very negative, the potential to reverse it back to the former trends would be possible if Sri Lanka can successfully address this situation while capitalizing the past experiences of our nation.

Building of Trust and Resilience for Rekindling Sri Lanka Tourism

Sri Lanka is not the only country attacked by ISIS in this world though it is the first country attacked by ISIS in year 2019. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have made severe 139 attacks in 31 countries. These attacks made a minimum loss of 6407 human lives and made 9300 human injuries.

Table 1: A List of Terrorist Incidents linked to ISIS and Casualties

Looking carefully with the list of terrorist incidents linked to ISIS and casualties, several countries have successfully recovered from the terrorist attacks, but in different time spans.

Analyzing the strategic approaches taken by these countries would be immensely helpful to the industry experts and policy makers of Sri Lanka Tourism when designing the effective strategies to recovering back to the former development trends of Sri Lanka tourism.

Avoiding of Lunacy and Insanity in a Mug’s Game

By nature, terrorism causes chaos and leads to panic and fear. Certainly, safety is a pre-requisite for the success of the tourism industry.

Sri Lanka Tourism must be more resilient to these types of terrorism shocks and should be recovered at earliest possible duration. The industry practitioners and policymakers must have a better understanding of the implications of terrorism and how to better cope such implications in the future.

• One of the important disciplines that Sri Lanka must maintain in this horrendous crisis situation the maturity of addressing this type of crisis through the gained experiences over the 30-year civil war. For instance, senior administrative officer’s statement over the security of international hotel chains should not be happened again.

• The speed of recovery from this brutal attack is mainly determine through the right collaboration between stakeholders, collective industry leadership and setting up a centralized promotional mechanism with a proper disaster management plan, government remedial measures addressing the challenges to be faced at national level and local levels including Tax holidays or subsidies, reduction in costs such as landing fees or visa fees, government grants to tourism businesses etc.

• To establish an inclusive management planning system and implementation mechanism into the overall tourism business of the country, including planning, marketing, management and communication strategies with the participation of all stakeholders, such as government, business community, media and civil society.

• Product diversification integrated with market diversification to reduce reliance on a narrow range of products and services.

Therefore, it is imperative and highly urgent requirement to organize a Strategic Industry-Policy Forum for exploring new strategies to rekindle Sri Lanka Tourism through building of trust, confidence and resilience of the industry.

We, Tourism Study Programmes, Department of Economics, University of Colombo wish to be an academic and research partner at this national endeavor. More specifically, as a short-term effort, a desktop research study can be carried to examine how the effectiveness of strategic approaches taken by the destination countries who successfully recovered from terrorist attacks in recent past. In this context, duration of recovery periods and policy and strategic approaches taken by these countries and lessons learnt from these countries to recover Sri Lanka Tourism to the former trends are expected to analyzed.