Tourist Arrivals At Variance With Occupancy

Tourists arriving in Sri Lanka… there are questions about whether the numbers have been correctly calculated

For a country recording an impressive million tourists in the last year alone, allegations are rampant that the hospitality industry is lagging behind in meeting the high end needs of the Western traveller. Questions have been raised about whether the training given to hotel staff, the standards maintained by the star class hotels and the accessibility to certain tourist hot spots are sufficient. Although sales at regular tourist haunts within the city such as Laksala, the Tea Board, etc. record impressive numbers, there is scepticism if the industry is really geared to meet the influx projected. There are also questions about whether the numbers have been correctly calculated.

President, City Tourist Hotels Association and Managing Director Ramada Colombo M. Shanthikumar said that the figure of one million arrivals had been confirmed by the Ceylon Tourist Board last year but in recent times there has been a drop in arrivals. “The one million tourist arrivals up to 31st December 2012, according to the Tourist Board, have been taken from the world tourism organisation workings. There has been a slight drop in tourist arrivals in March and April this year and Sri Lanka Tourism has taken adequate steps by conducting promotions in India and other markets. Therefore we will have to wait till May or June to see if these promotions have been effective,” he said.

He added however that in spite of speculation that the drop in Indian tourist numbers was due to the recent tension between the two countries, it had no direct bearing on the Indian tourist arrivals to the country. “We have only seen a drop in arrivals from Chennai and not from other parts of India, and we are also conducting promotions in India as well to attract more tourists. There was also a mega tourism promotion held recently in Bombay. There has also been a slight drop in European tourists most likely due to the inflation,” he said.

Responding to allegations that the tourists that come to Sri Lanka are low-end tourists he said that Sri Lanka does not get such low-end tourists. “We may not get the higher end but we perhaps attract the reasonably good spending tourists. Sri Lanka is also engaged in conducting promotions and trade fairs within the country in order to promote the industry,” he said.

A former minister of tourism Lakshman Kiriella told The Sunday Leader that the figures published by the Tourist Board are not accurate. “Some time ago the Sri Lanka Hotel Owners’ Association produced the figures of a list of night stay hotels, and when you compare the night stays and the arrivals figures of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority they don’t tally. They claim that the arrivals are one million but the night stay statistics indicate much lesser figures. Therefore I think what the government is doing is they are even counting the transit passengers and those who travel between Sri Lanka and other destinations on a daily basis on business to the list of tourists, but these are not tourists but businessmen who arrive in the morning on business and leave in the evening. So I think the government figures are a bit misleading and that is why the hoteliers are complaining about the low occupancy rates,” he said.

Analysing the reasons for the decline in occupancy rates at local hotels he said that our hotels are rather expensive when compared with some of the other tourist destinations in the region. “For example in Thailand you could get a four-star hotel on full board basis for around 50 dollars.

Our hotels are far too expensive and they are overpriced. Here local hotels are around 25 dollars on bed and breakfast basis only,” Kiriella observed.

He said that another factor is that there is nothing for the tourists to do when they come here apart from visiting some of the historic sites. The range of activities is very limited in Sri Lanka in comparison to other destinations in this region, whereas in places like Thailand the range of activities available for tourists is far greater. Another factor is that we do not receive high spending tourists and we have been catering to the lower-end tourists, said Kiriella.

“As claimed by the government if there were one million tourists then the overnight occupancy should be at least 500,000 rooms, but do we have that number of rooms here? As a matter of fact we don’t even have 250,000 rooms. The problem is that when the government prints these false figures the people are misled, and they start building hotels, but there won’t be any people to occupy them. There is going to be a serious economic downturn this year and the year after, as the European economy has not yet recovered,” he said.

MP Ravi Karunanayake agrees maintaining that in Sri Lanka we have a stipulated minimum rate of 150 dollars, but not offering adequate value added services. “With many hotels under construction in the country the government has absolutely no plan. The solution is to have a coherent policy that attracts tourism. The country must have its backward forward integration on track. The hotel staff in all areas must be properly trained. Sri Lanka should be promoted and you must have airlines that are bringing in tourists. However there are contradictory signals being given by the government at different stages,” he added.

Meanwhile past President of the Hoteliers Association and Director Solutions at the Chamber of Commerce Srilal Mittapala, who has done extensive research on tourism in Sri Lanka told The Sunday Leader that his research has revealed that there is generally an error margin in the tourist board statistics. He said that one of the main points is that they have also taken into account the Diaspora community who actually don’t stay in hotels but come here to visit their families and relatives, while the other factor is that there is a large emerging segment of tourists who are visiting the country but are staying at the unregistered establishments at cheaper rates.
“Hence these two sectors which account for around 20 percent of the Tourist Board figures cannot be considered. However the moment they apply for the visa they get caught up in the immigration figures and are considered tourists, but they do not stay at these graded establishments. The tourists who stay at these smaller unregistered lodges in various parts of the country do not bring in any revenue to the Tourist Board. We reckon that there are around 5000 such rooms in the country, and it is a large amount that is getting leaked out,” Mittapala said.

He said that although it can vary from month to month it is around 20 percent of the Tourist board figures at any given time. That’s where the hotel occupancies don’t reflect exactly the same numbers reflected in the statistics, he said.
Mittapala further added that currently there is a decline in tourist numbers which is normal as May and June are the worst months in the tourism calendar; yet this year the drop is a little more than usual, especially in Colombo and the resorts.
Commenting on the preparations for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) delegates being provided accommodation he said, “They have told us that there should be around 6000 rooms reserved two months prior to the CHOGM, where surveillance and security measures at these venues would be enhanced. Apart from that there has not been any moratorium on any other activities to my knowledge. Although initially the government had cancelled the outstation hotel bookings as there was some doubt about the participation by several countries, now that things are going ahead, Negombo, the cultural triangle and some peripheral areas have been booked up.”

Expressing his views on the lack of activities for the tourists to engage in while on holiday in Sri Lanka he said the new tourists that visit the country are really looking for a more wholesome experience. “I have spoken to some tourists on this issue and they told me that they don’t mind staying at any small hotel yet they want to experience a homely stay where they want to interact with the locals and experience trishaw rides and local culture, etc. The authentic Sri Lankan experience is what they are looking for when they visit our country, and not the same luxuries that they can get in their own countries. I even know of some hotels that organise trips for their guests to the local Sunday fair where they participate in the ‘pola’ experience and bring back the items that are prepared for their meals. When they mean authentic it does not mean just a calypso band or just a cultural show, but it could be much broader though simple,” he added.

He suggested that the hotels could also get the guests involved in the preparation of local meals. “They could charge the guests but it is the unique experience that these tourists are really looking for. Therefore I think we need to formulate better strategies to attract and entertain tourists with a unique and true Sri Lankan experience,” he opined.

13 Comments for “Tourist Arrivals At Variance With Occupancy”

  1. sangeetga

    The last time I was in Sri Lanka the prices of hotel rooms had risen steeply. There was a government regulated minimum now that interferes with the ability of the hotels to be flexible.

  2. len

    I dispute Mr Kiriella he should read Daily News for his facts and figures only independent factual news paper in the country who dose not have alliance to government of the day in fact I would go as far as to say Daily Good News is thee best forth estate in the planet. Sorry Sunday Leader no offence.

  3. Meena M.

    Friends who visit every year have complained that the services at hotels is very bad, they have had food poisoning many times, and still have to pay exorbitant prices for hotels and meals. We do not have spectacular beaches like the Maldives and the Caribbean nations, so we have to make up for it with spectacular deals and services.


  5. Living the dream overseas

    I discourage my mates from visting SL because of the third world under developed conditions, lack of basic infrastructure, rapes of foreigners, corruption, flys and mosquitos, dengue and kidnappings for ransom. I ask them to go to Thailand or Malayasia instead where you have a better tourist experience.

    • Dil

      Your name speaks who you are (Living in the dream). SL will do well and you better continue OVERSEAS with your own dreams.

  6. Tony of Sydney

    I agree with Cerdic and Living the dream overseas. I visited SL in Jan Feb 13 the cot of hotels is over the roof. I decided i will go on my holidays to Vietnam and other parts of Asia where the cost of hotels is over an average persons budget
    I have also passed this info to all my friends and they think same.

  7. sangaralingham

    courtesy kindness helping hand support from the law enforcement officers in times of crisis emergency needs not to overcharge cheat visitors . not too expensive with clean hotels rest houses go a long way to promote tourism.; every tourist is not well to do. most work hard to save to travel.

  8. sadhu

    white tourists hd service nave to pay 5.000 Rs to climb up to Sigiriya. Locals only pay 50 Rs. Half away of the rock they tell you that you cant climb to the top because of wesp attacks. With so bad service not many tourists want travel to this corrupt country.

  9. WALLY

    Well, per the article, the only type of westerners you see holidaying in SL are the Euro trash. The type that run off with the Hotel bath towels. But off course for the village idiots that are in Parliament, any white chap is considered high and mighty. More so than the Sri Lankan born expats. I have had many experiences where I have seen the whites treated like kings while the locals and SL born expats (who actually spend a lot more and tip well) being treated like 2nd class citizens.

    SL beaches for the most part are rubbish. Every other guy on the street, moment he/she realizes, you earn in dollars has some sob story. While in Male, it is not cheap by any means, or any of the islands in Thailand or Malaysia, you at least enjoy a decent holiday and get good value for your money. Forget SL. Let the President keep on dreaming

    • WALLY

      Correction, not only euro trash, but a large contingent of low end indians! They will take anything that is not nailed down at a hotel!! (This from a life long friend of mine who’s family owns a hotel by the airport). They now refuse to take in UL transit passengers with flights to Indian destinations because of this! The other high traffic visitors are Chinese, no need to elaborate on that!!!!

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