In this second part of our review of the potential for experiential tourism in Sri Lanka, we investigate the tourism earnings from experiential tourism and ask the question as to whether promoting experiential tourism should be a focus for the tourism strategy of Sri Lanka.
What the Data has to say
Again, turning to the data provided by the SLTDA’s in its latest annual report, here are a couple of interesting insights we discovered from the data:
Earnings growth from Experiential Tourism negligible
The earnings growth from experiential tourism related activities has historically shown a tendency to lag the overall earnings from tourism. As a result, the contribution of experiential tourism to overall earnings has been on a declining trend and by 2015, its contribution was less than 1% of total earnings. However, in 2016 there was a significant jump in tourist arrivals for such activities which contributed towards a 78% growth in earnings from such activities. This led to an increase in its contribution to 1.2% of total tourist earnings.
Sigiriya outpaces other attractions in terms of its earning potential
As we observed earlier with tourist arrivals, where the lion share of arrivals was accounted for by a few sites (Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa in the case of Cultural sites and Yala, Horton Plains and Udawalawa in the case of wildlife parks), a similar trend can be observed with regard to foreign tourist earnings at these sites.
Hence, Sigiriya which accounts for the highest number of foreign tourist arrivals also brought in LKR 2.2 bn in earnings from the foreign tourists, outpacing most other attractions.
But Earnings per tourist is highest for Anurahapura historical sites
Considering the tourist earnings from a per visitor point of view also reveals some interesting insights in terms of the earnings trends of varied attractions. With regard to attractions in the cultural triangle, it is Interesting to note that while Sigiriya attracts more visitors than Anuradhapura (in 2016 Sigiriya attracted 562 k visitors vs. 77k visitors to Anuradhapura) the per tourist earnings is higher for the latter and in 2015 & 2016 it was the highest when compared with all other attractions.
With regard to nature based attractions, the earnings per tourist at Pinnawala has been fairly unchanged while some of the Wildlife parks have witnessed a moderate improvement. The Colombo Museum too has witnessed some improved earnings though it remains at a much lower level compared to other attractions.
The role of pricing in earnings
This also brings up the question as to whether some of these attractions are priced optimally. A comparison of the significant attractions in Sri Lanka reveal that Sigiriya which is the most recognized and distinct site in Sri Lanka commands a premium which may partly account for it recording the highest tourist earnings. In contrast, the Colombo National Museum is amongst he most affordable attraction.
Source: Leisure Tours
Source: Leisure Tours, attraction websites
Key Question: Should we focus on promoting experiential tourism given the low returns?
Hotel Operators claim that for the vast majority of tourists to Sri Lanka, the main appeal is the Sandy Beaches and tropical climate. Some veterans in the hotel industry have therefore claimed that given this factor, tourism in Sri Lanka should be promoted in accordance with this and be geared towards attracting “Sun, Sand and Beach” tourists. Hence they raise the question of the return on investment in promoting attractions such as heritage, wildlife, nature reserves etc. that fall under the purview of experiential tourism, particularly given the low returns in terms of tourism earnings arising from such activities.
However, we would argue that while the pristine beaches of Sri Lanka maybe the main draw for visitors to the country, if the government is to achieve its objective of increasing the foreign guest nights and the daily tourism expenditure, there needs to be a greater focus on experiential tourism in order to encourage repeat visitors. A recent panel discussion organized by the Hotel association of Sri Lanka highlighted the fact that increasing the number of guest nights in Colombo by even a single day through the promotion of more activities/ points of interest in Colombo can have a significant impact on the earnings from tourism.
In addition, given that most of these sites such as Sigiriya, Yala, Pinnawala that draw many tourists are not contemporary attractions but rather ancient ruins or nature based resources, there is a much greater need to invest in the conservation of these resources. Hence part of the motive for enhancing the earnings potential of such sites should be to better conserve the sites thus ensuring its sustainability for future generations.
Looking at it from a global perspective, we have compared the entry fees of some of the Sri Lankan attractions which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites with other similar attractions found abroad and we have observed that the earning potential of these sites are far greater than the current earnings of the attractions in Sri Lanka which indicates that there is greater potential to increase the earnings from these experiences.
Source: Travel & Leisure website
The Bottom line: So what can be done about it?
Taking into account the data that was highlighted with respect to the tourist arrivals and earnings of experiential tourism in Sri Lanka, the key challenge therefore would be to increase the attractiveness and earnings potential of these attractions while avoiding the problems of overcrowding.
Promote more sites to reduce overcrowding at popular sites
It is clear that part of the reason for the overcrowding is that tourists tend to congregate in few locations leading to overcrowding. While from the tourist’s point of view it would be rational for them to focus on the “main attractions” given the limited time, overcrowding at these locations could result in diminishing the experience and attractiveness of a location. Hence, there is a need to broad base the appeal of attractions that tend to get overlooked in order to reduce overcrowding and facilitate the development of other sites.
Limit number of visitors to enhance earnings
At the same time, in the case of attractions such as the Wildlife parks, Sigiriya rock where there would be stricter limits on the optimal carrying capacity of a location, tighter measures may have to be followed in order to ensure the long term sustainability of such locations. By the use of systems such as timed entry tickets, day/night time entry as well as having a cap on the maximum number of tourists that can visit the site during a day, you can better ensure that the resources of the site are not overtaxed while providing a more pleasant experience for the tourists that visit the site. This would also enable popular sites to possible charge higher entry rates and thus improve the earnings potential.
Improve the accessibility of attractions to limit overcrowding
Incremental investments can be made at selected attractions in order to improve the accessibility of certain sites to accommodate a larger volume and variety of tourists. For example, installing more ticket counters and restroom facilities can reduce the waiting times at attractions which is a key challenge at many locations. In addition, in the case of historical sites such as Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa, low cost strategies such as having a designated route for tourists to take can greatly improve the flow of visitors and minimize overcrowding.
Create more activities at a given attraction
Incremental developments can be made at certain attractions in order to increase the variety of activities that can be found at the location in order to reduce overcrowding. For example, a lot of the overcrowding in Sigiriya happens at the Lion’s paws where everyone makes a beeline to climb the rock. Instead of restricting the experience of Sigiriya to simply climbing a rock, it can be broadened to include tours of the water gardens and the ancient town, an interactive museum. Walks through the nature reserves surrounding the rock which are filled with wildlife and birds and has the potential for bird watching activities. This would also help improve earnings of a given site as most comparable attractions abroad charge combined ticket prices which gives full access to varied sites in a given location.
Written by :Travis Gomez
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This information has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable but Frontier Research Private Limited does not warrant its completeness or accuracy. Opinions and estimates constitute our judgment as of the date of the material and are subject to change without notice.
Source: Frontier Blog