Good Bad & the Ugly
Posted on August 19th, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

Recently a Sri Lankan woman from Australia made an online booking in a ‘grand’ hotel prior to her arrival in Colombo. Her flight landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport much earlier than the scheduled time. When she approached the hotel reception in Colombo she was informed that her presence was too early. The normal practice for visitors to check in at hotels is around midday. The receptionist advised her that the allocated room would be available only around midday and the visitor was given a choice of either to mark time or get a spare room at an additional cost of US$250.

This not only offended the visitor but also she had to find an alternative means to spend nearly five hours before she could settle down in her booked room. Finally a friend picked her up and dropped her back again at the hotel. What would have been the position if a foreigner, who had no Sri Lankan connection at all, had to face such a situation? Either the visitor had to pay the extra charge or perhaps ‘kill the time’ seated at the reception area for such a long period. This is not a very healthy sign, and certainly it can damage the reputation of the tourist industry at a time the country is going all out to create a tourism boom in the future.

Goodbadugly

Governmental interference in the area of tourism is vital to stabilize hotel charges with a standard tariff. Some years back contemptible over pricing of hotel charges affected the tourist industry severely and forced the foreign tour operators to bypass Sri Lanka and concentrate on other tourist destinations such as the Maldives, Bali, and Malaysia. The drastic effect of such a foolish move was felt by the economy of the country with many hotels having to close down and people losing jobs.

Open Economic Policy

If Sri Lanka is to adopt an open economic policy and hotels are given a free hand to charge customers will nilly on the pretext of supply and demand, then the hotel pricing can be complicated and get out of control.

In Sri Lanka ‘hotel charges seem to be based on par with the existing demand rather than the value and customer satisfaction’. Equally, it is comprehensible that the energy cost at present is significantly high, skilled manpower astounds, food items with added government taxes, the overall cost tends to become higher which, in turn affect a decent profit margin. Once again, one could raise the ten million dollar question as to why should the hotels have to go hammer and tongs in achieving fat margins rather than concentrating on a steady flow and volume basis with reasonable and comparable international rates of other countries?

An overall negative impact on tourism could reflect both on international as well as on domestic tourism, if neglected. One must not forget the fact that during hard hit times for the tourist industry, it was mainly the local tourist who helped the industry to survive. Quite recently there was a big hullaballoo, which was highlighted in the media when there was a suggestion to provide special toilets for tourists at railway stations. Many argued as to why such special provisions for tourists are made and demanded to know whether locals were third class citizens in their own country.

 Hotelier’s  Evaluation.

Naturally from an hotelier’s evaluation room charges need to be higher than the cost rather than keeping their hotels closed. But in the case of the young woman’s case in particular, the star hotel’s demand to charge extra US$ 250 just to mark time till her reserved room became available seems ridiculous and akin to killing the goose that lays the golden egg! One might wonder if this woman happened to be a white skinned foreigner what would have been the attitude of the hotel staff. Will they oblige and make arrangements in a manner of worshipping white tourists saying, ‘Yes Sir, No Sir and Three Bags Full Sir’ attitude

There are of course two sides to every argument. In this instance could the hotel management be blamed completely if they were given according to the letter of the law laid down by the tourism authorities in Sri Lanka? This is yet another area where the experts need looking at seriously; the other area being the discrimination or the cavalier attitude local visitors are subjected to by some of the top class star hotels in Sri Lanka.

The managements of hotels need to be aware of the fact that every customer who patronises them by paying good and equal money expects proper treatment and a quality of service, which sadly it is not happening in some areas where a residue of colonial mentality still exists ingrained into some hotel staff. After all said and done, will this young woman recommend the particular five star hotel to her friends and colleagues in Australia, who may have plans to visit Sri Lanka in the future? Not on your Nelly, I bet

Business Adventure

The foundation of any business adventure is to have a proper vision and a mission. Before the authorities contemplate on building endless hotels and expanding room capacities, they should focus on proper management of hotels by scrutinising each and every star hotel for their level of performance, charging systems particularly. The present folly appears to be that if a star hotel throws out a good menu and a lavish buffet and offers access to sea and clean beaches that in their mind would satisfy the tourist entirely.

India and China are role models to follow when it comes to market leaders in tourism. These countries concentrate on ‘budget tourists’ where their travel agents offer tourist rates between US$90 to US $100 for a double room with half board! Only a fragment of those tourists visits Sri Lanka as ‘repeat guests’ purely for gambling purposes.

As opposed to marketing tactics in India and China, Sri Lankan hotel rates tend to go through the roof. Sri Lankan tourism authorities expect an average tourist to spend about US$200 per day out of the up market tourist, which is farfetched. Is it why the star hotel in Colombo under question wanted to charge extra US$250 from the Sri Lankan tourist to put her up for 4 ½ hours in a spare room until her reserved room became available?

Price structure

Another sensitive area is the price structure of food and foreign liquor at star hotels, where a bottle of drinking water is sold at a profit margin of over 200 per cent. No wonder foreign tourists are seen rushing to the nearest corner shop to buy water while they are booked into luxury hotels.

Mt. Lavinia area is a clear cut example where tourists who book into posh hotels in Colombo visit a popular restaurant at Dehiwela to have a sumptuous meal of sea food such as prawns, lobsters, crabs etc. where six people can enjoy a lavish meal for around six Australian dollars!

Nowhere in the world will any tourist find such attractions except in Sri Lanka, and why do our star hotels have to go overboard in charging extra money just to get them ousted from tourism market? Reviewers say their shareholders govern all hotels, and the managements of hotels are orientated only towards making big profits to satisfy their shareholders!

Attract More Tourists

If the main aim is to improve the tourism industry and attract more tourists to Sri Lanka, the authorities need to concentrate and take remedial action on the following areas:

  • The quality of standards and reasonable hotel charges to be attractive.
    A ‘clean up’ of the country is essential by eradicating touts, and beggars who harass tourists, which has become a frequent eye sore.
  • Put an end to the stray dog menace at every corner of the country.
  • Installation of information kiosks at public places such as main post offices, immigration and emigration offices, customs etc. with trained and competent staff to assist foreigners as guides.
  • Review on foreign liquor charges served in star hotels which are very much higher compared with prices in Singapore and Dubai.
  • Improve on the inadequate coverage of liberal facilities to use the Internet to make online banking, payments, and transfers and email facilities.

Sri Lanka has all the attractive ingredients needed from the angle of tourism, and yet those who are responsible in promoting tourism seem to be dragging their feet without or unaware of effective marketing techniques for reasons unknown.
A British couple who has travelled round the world throughout their lifetime and has chosen Sri Lanka as their destination to retire has come out stating: “Out of our life long experience in travelling, there is no other land in the world to beat Sri Lanka, and it certainly is a ‘ paradise’ and we love it.”
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