Travel firms should avoid discounting Sri Lanka too heavily to stimulate its tourism revival, or risk “undervaluing” the destination.
That was the message from Experience Travel Group founder Sam Clark, speaking during a panel discussion chaired by TTG Media group editor Pippa Jacks at the Specialists Support Sri Lanka event in London on Tuesday (16 July).
More than 200 guests were welcomed by new private sector group, the Sri Lankan Tourism Alliance, and Aito members to the Royal Over-Seas League where they heard Sri Lanka’s tourism recovery had happened “quicker than expected” since the Easter Sunday bombings, but consumers were still unsure of the situation on the ground.
“We didn’t expect the recovery to be that fast... all the experts said it would take nine months to a year,” said Hiran Cooray, chair of the Jetwing group.
“The support we’ve had, not just from the UK, has been amazing. We are so grateful to travel agents and tour operators – it’s been overwhelming.”
Cooray said Jetwing had seen more than 10,000 room nights booked for August, which he described as “a very good start”.
Clark said Experience saw an immediate “bump in website traffic” when the Foreign Office lifted its advice against travel to the country on 6 June.
“Week by week, that has increased, and we’re converting at quite a good rate,” he said. “We’re probably still about 50% [down]. This time last year was a little slow, so there’s a lot of work to do. We’re going to be a long way behind in catching up with the season.”
Clark added he believed “the average person on the street” didn’t understand the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka.
“They’ve just got an idea that Sri Lanka has got a bit of a question mark over it at the moment,” he said.
“That’s why it’s a great opportunity for tour operators. Talk to your DMCs, partners, hoteliers – there are so many great stories to communicate.”
However, Clark warned against heavy discounting. “There are some awesome deals out there at the moment [to the end of October] and hoteliers have pushed hard to give a short-term boom,” he said.
“We’ve got to pass on the savings to the consumer, but we should be a bit careful about a price-led strategy. We shouldn’t be slashing prices all over the place.
“Sri Lanka is great value but at the higher end. We should be matching price-led marketing with marketing that says ‘it’s great to support Sri Lanka and get out and tour it’.”