The Island/Asia News Network / 04:02 PM July 21, 2019
COLOMBO — What makes a country stand out as a Luxury Destination?
The high end traveler is willing to pay a much higher price to visit a truly amazing place without any crowds so that they would be the only ones there at that moment enjoying the venue. These travelers do not like to stand in line and waste their time. In short, the high end traveler likes to be pampered so that locked doors would open especially for them. For example I paid Euro 17 (around USD 19-20) to enter the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel. I had to wait for a long time to get in and the crowds inside were unimaginable. But then again there’s a special tour called “Alone in Sistine Chapel & Hidden Vatican Tour” which goes at USD 426. This is a very popular tour and to be inside the Sistine Chapel all by yourself is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. There’re many visitors who book this exclusive tour.
A high end traveler doesn’t come to Sri Lanka to stay in a luxurious hotel room or to go in a helicopter. These facilities are readily available where they are from. In most European countries, the taxis are Mercedes Benz and BMW’s. So when we give these brands of cars to high end clients and say that they’re luxury vehicles, then the travelers tend to doubt our ability to understand their needs. If we think about the type of high end travelers who’re out there, then we can barely manage to collect 10 luxury properties from the entire country to match their needs. This is what we have in our country and we would have to work with that. I feel that our industry is pushing the luxury properties and air transfers more than trying to give them exclusive experiences. We can’t compete with the high end luxury properties that’re in the Indian Ocean since in Maldives they have rooms which goes at more than USD 100,000 per room per night on Bed & Breakfast. So we have to adapt our approach to attract these high end travelers to Sri Lanka.
As a destination we would have to make certain small changes to how we promote the cultural and wildlife attractions we have so that we can provide a luxurious product with the resources we already have. The below suggestions would have to be implemented in order to make Sri Lanka a Luxury Destination.
Early Access VIP Ticket
These VIP tickets will give the travelers access to Sigiriya, Dambulla, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa from 6am onwards. They will have the entire place to explore without the regular crowds. There will only be a handful of other VIP ticket holders. These tickets could be priced at USD 75 per person instead of the USD 25 or 30. The standard ticket entrance could start from 8am onwards (most sites around the world open after 9am) The cultural fund could use their website to manage these ticket sales where anyone from any part of the world can purchase these tickets by paying online. Afterwards an e-ticket with a QR code will be emailed to the traveler. The traveler only needs to carry this document with the QR code with them which would be scanned on site.
These early access VIP tickets can be applied for national parks as well. We could give access into the parks from 5am to 7am. It would be a bit dark at 5am, but in a park like Yala Block 1, it takes around 30 – 45 minutes to get to the area where the animals are at, once you enter the park. So the timings would work perfectly with the first rays of the Sun. We could keep this entrance ticket at USD 75 per person as well.
Exclusive VIP Ticket
The traveler’s will have the opportunity to block out the 6am – 7am time slot exclusively for them. This would mean that if they visit Sigiriya rock fortress, they would have the entire UNESCO World Heritage Site for themselves. Only the staff would be there and no other local or foreign tourists. This would be a proper VIP ticket for those who want complete privacy. This ticket could be priced at USD 500 up-to 2 guests. Any additional guest would be USD 75 per person. We could provide the option of blocking out the 7am – 8am time slot for the same group as well for another USD 500 flat fee and there won’t be any additional guest fee for the 2nd hour. These tickets could be booked online as well.
Skip the line Ticket
When it comes to places where there’re long queues to get in, we could provide a “skip the line” ticket at an additional price where those ticket holders do not have to stand in line. Sometimes in some cultural places like Temple of the Tooth (at entry and at flower offering area) and especially with the safari jeeps at national parks in the morning. We could add a separate USD 10 per person for each ticket price to make it a Skip the line Ticket.
After Hours VIP Ticket
Temple of the Tooth could be a great place to have the After Hours VIP ticket. We could make sure that all local and foreign visitors clear out by 7.30pm. The after-hours entry could be between 8.30pm – 10.00pm. These would be priced at USD 80 per person which would be USD 5 higher since we could factor in the electricity usage which would not have to be factored in for the early access tours. Another great place would be the Colombo National Museum.
Better Beach Experience
There’re high end guests who simply want a beach stay for them and the quality of the beaches on the East coast is much better than West and South coasts. The Sri Lanka Air Force has got their MA 60 flights which has got 51 seats. Their prices are very reasonable as well. If we could have this flight leaving Colombo airport to Batticaloa on a daily basis, then we could have lots of tourists visiting the East coast since it cuts down the 8 hour drive from Colombo to Pasikudah. We could provide free shuttle service from Batticoaloa airport to Passikudah beach resorts as an incentive for the travelers to pick the East coast beaches, over the other regions of the island. The Passikudah beach resorts can get together and have a complimentary shuttle service from the Batticaloa airport to their hotels for all these travelers. The cost of this shuttle can easily be divided among the hotels and the bus will drop off clients at the hotel’s doorstep since all the hotels are next to each other. The flight ticket could be costed at around USD 100 per person. Thinking from the client’s point of view, they can directly take the plane to Batticaloa from the Colombo airport and get free hotel transfers as well. It would take a maximum of 45 – 60 minutes flight time plus another 20 – 30 minutes shuttle to the hotel. Within a maximum of 2 hours (to 2.5 hours – thinking about the airport formalities), they will be in their hotel. It takes 3 hours to get to Galle from the Colombo airport.
Another positive side effect of reviving Pasikudah would be the over flow of travelers into Ampara (and Gal Oya) which is just 2.5 hours drive. Also it’s a 2.5 hour drive to Arugam Bay from Pasikudah as well. This is a very good opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts (apart from the Surfers) since Kumana National Park is very close-by, which is filled with the leopards, bears, elephants and all the lost cultural sites.
Introducing Jaffna to the high end travelers
The above suggested flight that arrives in Batticaloa from Colombo airport on a daily basis could fly to Jaffna before returning back to Colombo. It would take a maximum of 2 – 2.5 hours to get to Jaffna from Colombo (via Batticaloa) as opposed to the 10 hour drive or the 6 hour train journey. Jaffna could be a nice sailing destination as well with all the islands scattered around with some of them having colonial castles, ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, thousands of wild horses running around, etc.
Better sailing experience in the South
Weligama harbor would be an ideal place to operate all the sailing yachts from, since for a high end guest, it’s not a good sight to see all the fishing boats docked in Mirissa harbor with their plastic chairs in the boats and old life jackets. Also in the morning the road leading up to the harbor entrance, once you turn into the by-road could be chaotic with all the vehicles coming in and going out. Since it’s an active fishing harbor, the smell of the fish could be something that turns a lot of people off (but then again some might see this as a positive). At the Weligama harbor we could have a small lounge area (with good toilet facilities) built for the guests to wait until boarding happens. We could charge USD 50 per person as the Government whale watching fee.
Use the local communities to solve the problems in their own regions
The high end guests like their privacy and want to be left alone when they are enjoying their beach stay. They don’t want to be approached by beach boys / girls trying to sell them souvenirs or any excursions. Since none of the beaches in Sri Lanka are private, we have no control over this. However we could legalize the Beach Boys and Beach Girls where we give them a “Beach Guide” license. If we appoint a Beach Guide association and give them license and a training on how to conduct excursions on their own and how to treat the guests properly, etc then these Beach Guides will protect their beach towns and make sure that the un-licensed beach boys & girls do not operate, giving rise to the bad image of the beach boys.
Honest user generated reviews
Travel consultants across the island has their own versions of what luxury tourism is all about. For some of them, the tourist board certified large 5 star hotels would be the ultimate luxury. But for some a 5 bedroom bungalow up in the hills would be barefoot luxury. So, what you and I consider as “luxury” would be different. Therefore, if the travel consultant doesn’t understand the guests’ needs properly, the guests will be booking the travel consultant’s version of “luxury”. Every high end traveler understands this and that’s why they work very closely with the agents who understand their requirements. To break away from this trend we could come up with an App for Sri Lanka tourism products and services. We could work with Google and use their Maps and locations. How this app would work would be, say a traveler is in Colombo and she is looking for a luxury hotel. But this traveler is looking for smaller boutique places with personalized service. So the boutique property names that we have in Colombo would just be unknown locations for a first time visitor. Through this app if we could give the chance for the users to upload their reviews into the hotels, restaurants, excursions, vehicle companies, etc then before making a reservation, this traveler could read up on what the previous users have said about these places and then make an informed decision. It could be our own Trip Advisor app but much more extensive since we would be focusing on all tourist related aspects of Sri Lanka. The users will keep uploading their reviews and they will run it. This will be a good launching platform for new products and services and also make sure that the local suppliers having to maintain their standards.
Tour Operator Interaction – “Indian Ocean Exclusive”
We always have to keep updating the knowledge of our foreign tour operators since they are the ones who’re really selling Sri Lanka to the world. (apart from the FIT business) So it’s important that we have “Indian Ocean Exclusive” – an International Trade Show which showcases our luxury products and services. Since we are starting out, it’s a bit unrealistic for us to expect that we could host a mega event with lots of participants, with just selling Sri Lanka. We can look at other destinations who’re not competing with us directly such as Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Most of the luxurious clients that come to Sri Lanka like the combination of a round tour in our island and then take a short flight to Maldives to relax. This is something that we have to come to terms with and use this to our advantage. This event will bring together the luxury hotels, DMC’s of Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles into one location in Colombo. This is an amazing collection of information and contacts that the European, Americas, Australian and other high end tour operators would be very interested to network with. We could provide 30 minute meeting slots from 9am to 5.30pm for 3 days. We will put all the registered exhibitor information into one online platform and any tour operator who buys the visitor pass to this event will get access to this online platform and they can see the exhibitors’ availability and start booking appointments with them. We could have competitions and the winners could win stays across the island. We also could do a Pre- Conference tour or a Post-Conference tour to make sure that the tour operators get to experience the country first hand.