Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 19 May 2013





Marriage Proposals
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Small eco-resorts, a new trend in tourism

A shift from large corporate hotels to small eco-friendly hotels is a rapidly growing trend in tourism. Sri Lanka should tap the global tourism influx to boost the tourism industry, said Chairman, Saraketha and Sarai Village, an eco resort in the South, Prasanna Hettiarachchi in an interview.

Excerpts of the interview:

A tree top house at Sarai Village

What made you to venture into the leisure sector in Sri Lanka?

My wife who was passionate about sustainability issues wanted to specialise in sustainable leisure. She was the inspiration behind the hotel project. It fitted in naturally to our business of sustainable products and most importantly we added another component to help people practice sustainable living. My wife, Charitha, a Fulbright scholar, learnt about sustainable development at a program on Global Social Sustainable Enterprise at Colorado State University, USA, and came to Sri Lanka for her summer project with three colleagues. It is her vision and drive that gave birth to Sarai.

How do you hope to contribute to its growth?

Her philosophy is to introduce a completely novel offering, in contrast to the clichéd sea and sand and continental or western food that unfortunately many of our hotels yet offer.

We want to package the real essence of our beautiful country, an authentic unadulterated experience of real Sri Lanka. Our people, our way of life, our food, our culture, traditions, a taste of the real thing. Seventy percent of the population of this country yet live in rural environs and their way of life is sustainable.

Our culture of sharing, hospitality and traditions are unique, we need to offer the visitor this experience, not something contrived where we try to imitate western hospitality, practices or food.

The new age travellers seek new experiences, and travels because they want to discover something different from their stereotypical lifestyles, get away from the choreographed rhythm of their everyday humdrum lives. So we need to let them discover our country through the eyes of our people, how we see life, how we live it and do it in an unassuming, honest and simple way.

Through this we hope to not only create a novel experience of Sri Lanka but also position Sri Lanka as the unique destination it really is, not just the beauty of the location but the entire package.

What are the challenges you face in the tourism industry?

Lack of appropriately trained staff and standards compliance. This is the chief problem. Unless the traveller has been looked after well, he or she is unlikely to come again. In the context of smart phones and global connectivity, a traveller's review is important as that draws another traveller to experience the hospitality. Today travel planning is greatly influenced by reviews of fellow travellers and the feedback of guests on their experiences. Exceeding the expectations of every traveller by maintaining high standards consistently would be impossible if the most important facet, the human touch is not geared to do this.

All travellers differ from one another; it depends on how intuitive your staff is, to adapt to the different psychologies of the travellers, which will create that personal touch. Most hotels miss out on this aspect.

How do you see the tourism industry today?

I see it as a huge opportunity; if we handle this opportunity correctly the country will gain. It is no secret that the emerging opportunity to cash in from tourism is significant. We see a clear trend of increasing arrivals and a general air of positivism in every facet of the industry.

With the second international airport at Mattala, travellers are likely to use this as a gateway to the South and the East. Better national infrastructure definitely helps. With greater options for transport and a rapidly improving road network facilitating access to rural Sri Lanka, I envisage a shift from the traveller who usually booked into a city hotel and circulated within a 'comfortable and safe radius'.

According to a popular online travel site 'Trip Advisor' that carried out an online poll covering 15,595 travellers, 50 percent of world travellers are expected to increase their travel budget this year compared to 2012. Sixty eight percent of the world travel optimism will increase this year; this is estimated to be a high of 72 percent only in Asia.

Four in 10 accommodations are likely to increase room rates worldwide due to global expectation of a high boost in travel in 2013.

Statistics also revealed that travellers are expected to increase their travel budget by 49 percent in Asia this year. The research revealed that tourists around the world are also willing to spend in their touristic experience and value the place they stay in, with a tendency to spend an average of three nights at a location of their choice.

Sri Lanka is a unique destination in that it has a multiple attractions to offer.

The beautiful beaches, lush greenery and rain forests, culture, history and the fact that we are emerging out of 30-years of terrorism.

Travellers like to discover, go to places that were not possible to be accessed before. The accessibility to the entire Northern and Eastern parts of the country holds great promise.

Globally, people travel mostly for leisure. They go in search of sun, sea, surf and sand with 20 percent of them hitting the beach for their last holiday. This type of experience away from the daily grind offers people the opportunity to connect with those closest to them, with the vast majority of people travelling with their partners, children and other family members.

When it comes to selecting accommodation for a trip, price and location are the most important selection criteria. However, the importance of other travellers' opinions is also evident, with 44 percent choosing their last hotel solely based on online reviews.

Perhaps not surprisingly, consumers love a 'freebie' and would be swayed to book one hotel over another when they are offered room discounts and a free night's stay.

Eighty percent of travellers have listed the three most important decision drivers for their choice of a location to be the offer of free breakfast, free in-room wi-fi and free toiletries.

These are the most important accommodation amenities and services in the eyes of guests, and not having these would have a large impact on people's final decision on whether or not to book a certain hotel.

To satisfy the demands of the increasingly discerning tourist market, it also pays to 'go green' and to be seen as an environmentally sustainable business. As much as eight out of 10 travellers place importance on hotels implementing eco-friendly practices according to Trip Advisor.

What do you envisage for the industry in the future?

A shift from large corporate hotels to small hotels with unique offers is a trend I envisage. Novelty and product development is the key. Those who do not innovate will lose out. It has the potential to grow but we must be careful to not kill the golden goose. Yala is an example. Due to the lack of regulations, the most attractive wild life destination in the world, to see leopards, is earning an unsavoury reputation.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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