Destination Marketing in a New Era

By 6 April 2021May 3rd, 2021Marketing

Destination Marketing in a New Era

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By Julie King

Interview with Kimarli Fernando

Kimarli Fernando is the chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism, heading the government’s four main tourism entities, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management

In Blog 3 the conversation continues on tourism marketing, including virtual tours, in Sri Lanka during the Covid-19 pandemic and proposals for the future including collaboration and partnership.

One of the trends that we’re seeing is a huge shift in marketing from inspirational marketing to more human connected emotional storytelling campaigns, which are more authentic and immerse people in the local culture. Is that a shift that Sri Lanka is undertaking in your marketing?

The old way of doing things is not going to work. Even the travel shows that people used to attend will not be the same. We are proceeding on exactly those same lines, but we don’t have the internal expertise. So we have sought external expertise from international funding agencies who have agreed to assist us, including an Australian who worked for Tourism Australia. 

I follow Australia, I think there’s much to learn, and I follow the model there, the virtual travel shows and the whole trade into your country as well as the concept of training the travel agents and certifying them. We also want to implement things like this which Australia is doing and that is the reason that I am working very closely with Skills Development Australia. We are also watching and learning from South Africa somewhat with the tour guides and so on, and we are not embarrassed to admit we are doing that.

The future is all about collaboration and learning best practice from everyone.

Another big area for us going forward is wellness because we have never really engaged with the global industry about our unique wellness. It’s a different Ayurveda than, for example, in India. When you Google, you will see Ayurveda in India and Kerala and then Indonesia, Thailand and so on, but you don’t see Sri Lanka. The German market understands it; the Japanese market understands and somewhat appreciates it and the Middle Eastern Market. But not everybody does so I’m sure we need to do something. 

“The EU has provided us with some funding, so we are going to proceed with wellness. In Sri Lanka, there are so many things that we can market. We are going to do it, but in a way, that’s not an advertisement. By using bloggers, influencers and actual human experiences.”

I’m interested in the thought process behind creating the Virtual Safari, and what you’re hoping that’s going to achieve. Are there other virtual activities you are planning, to cover different elements of Sri Lanka?

Yes, we do. We received so many messages from people saying they want to come, and can they come. When you mention the airport opening, there were thousands of emails, What’s App, Facebook messages, etc. When we read that on social media, we realised that people are desperate to come, and we wanted to share with them. Our wildlife is just a small part of it; frankly, there is a lot more to show. Initially, the idea came from consumers asking us and some very rude emails also saying; you are unreasonable. Why are you not opening? I realised that there is a need, and that’s why we did it. 

Next, we will be doing the whales and the dolphins. Then we will do several others, whether it is food, our culture, mask making or our music – we will share with the world continuously going forward. We will also look at virtual travel, maybe next year, to encourage travel agents and anybody else to see our products virtually. We have never really shown our products, and we are interested as a government to give an opportunity to the SMEs also, who can’t do digital marketing. 

They have hotels, they have a unique product and experience, but they are not experienced in this kind of thing, so if the government does it, we can give them much more exposure. 

Sri Lanka has adventure; we have wellness, tea plantations, wildlife, culture, and food. We have everything that Asia has to offer in a very small compact area. It is up to Sri Lankans to make the infrastructure change, the customer journey change, and improve the products. That’s why we have a very detailed action plan with deadlines and areas of responsibility. In a way, COVID-19 has provided the opportunity for us to do this. If not, we would have just continued; we might not have changed.

And you’ve just launched a three-year Strategic Action Plan. Can you tell us a little more about that and what high-level outcomes you are looking for?

We took the government’s manifesto and merged the original seventeen points into ten high-level points. Technology was one where we’ve automated all the registration process already in Sri Lankan tourism, which was previously done manually, whether inside my organisation or with the customer. There’s a customer app, and internally we have made many changes from the IT perspective. 

Another point was re-engineering, zero malpractice, efficiency, that kind of thing. We have re-engineered a lot of processes, checked everything and reduced our costs by 42%. 

Then, of course, there is a big one; the promotion side and the promotion branding and rebranding to Sri Lanka Tourism altogether. There is a lot of work on global promotion, the PRA, the whole thing – We have already prepared the plan now approved by our government, and we are implementing it now. 

We will appoint people and then have everything ready because we can’t just wait like this because government procedures also take a little time. 

Consumers are now used to watching everything virtually. We’re on our screens all the time. Has that changed the way that Sri Lanka is thinking about promotion in the future? 

My second question is around budgets being more challenging moving forward – Do you think that you will see more partnerships taking place with stakeholders on the ground in Sri Lanka and regions and countries working together to promote countries so that your funding is maximised?

Absolutely, and digital marketing is key. Social media is all key for sure, and also, in Sri Lanka has never really reached the consumer; in the past years, it was B2B rather than B2C. Both are important. This is what we will do going forward. We will have partnerships for sure, whether it is the airlines, which have already approached us. For example, it may be simple things, Uber is in discussion right now as they want to promote the Virtual Safari. So partnerships are critical. We are happy to promote countries together. That’s the only way forward. 

“As an industry we weren’t solving the problems that really mattered. We were disconnected from each other and not leading the way.”

Julie King
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