In fact, Harry Jayawardene, Chairman of Aitken Spence Holdings, running the biggest Sri Lankan local and international chain, has also lamented the absence of a proper marketing strategy (see connected story on this page). This week, the BT questionnaire asked whether tourism in Sri Lanka is facing a crisis?; Would the lack of an international marketing and promotion budget be an impediment to growth?; and should Sri Lanka pay more attention to Asian tourists than Western tourists.
More than 80 % of some 400 respondents said 'Yes' that Sri Lanka is facing a crisis, 90 % agreed that there is no proper marketing strategy while slightly over half (51%) felt Sri Lanka should focus more on Asian traffic. The Ministry, responding to media reports that friction between Treasury Secretary and tourism officials (with a similar situation arising at the Board of Investment), said it was Minister Basil Rajapaksa who wanted to reconstitute the organisations and requested Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Chairman, to resign from the Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management and Sri Lanka Convention Bureau.
"The resignation of the Chairman was not due to his inability to work with the Ministry or due to a tussle between Secretary and Chairman as implied in media reports in which case he should have resigned from Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority as well," the statement said. However the poll highlighted the friction between Ministry officials and state agency officials revealing that there are many professionals in these state organisations who could do a 'great' job if permitted to do so.
"Political appointments to the tourist board should stop," one respondent noted. Respondents also referred to over-pricing of hotels with one private sector industry official saying, "we are pricing ourselves out of the market." Another respondent said what the industry was facing was a 'crisis of confidence in the authorities' and not a crisis in the tourism sector which has withstood many challenged in the past and weathered many a storm.
But an industry executive noted: "Similar to other state run institutions, Sri Lanka Tourism too is in an utter mess having four bodies to promote Sri Lanka in the world. Obviously, these four institutions under different 'heads' will run in four different directions making a mockery of promotional activities. We, as a nation, have never learnt from success stories of other nations. Countries like Malaysia, India or Thailand aggressively promote their countries in the world to attract tourists. Their campaigns are of excellent quality and that is why they enjoy unbelievable numbers in arrivals. We in Sri Lanka are in-fighting."