Hundreds of visitors to this years ITB Berlin Travel Exhibition in March were mesmerised by Sri Lanka’s stand which was a model of the entrance to the historic Yapahuwa temple depicting stone pillars They stopped by and were taking photographs. The visitors beaming with smiles were overjoyed by seeing the elephants (not real) at the entrance to the stand which were a great attraction and were taking photographs to their hearts content.
But majority of them didn’t bother to walk inside the stall and make inquiries about our tourism product.
Though Sri Lanka Tourism should be complemented for making such an attractive and meaningful stand with images of the entrance to an iconic Buddhist temple, those at Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau didn’t think of making hay while the sun shines and explain them what our tourism product had to offer as a destination. The country had spent a few thousands of Euros to participate at the ITB, the world’s largest travel exhibition, but those assigned to promote the country as a destination lacked foresight and seemed to be ignorant.
At the press conference held for foreign media as customary Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Berlin Sarath Kongahage had to come to the rescue of country’s tourism industry as those who organized it acted as they were not part of it. Majority of questions posed by the international media were answered by the Ambassador much to the satisfaction the media which prompted them to ask more questions about the country and its tourism product.
Kongahage with great aplomb and a thorough knowledge about the country’s history and tourist attractions convinced the media that Sri Lanka is one of the safest destinations to visit.
Sri Lanka Tourism should make it a point to send officers who are articulate, knowledgeable and possess a good command of the language when facing the international media at such an important event.
Merely looking at a paper and reading what is in it to the audience is not what is expected from a bureaucrat.
On the other hand it should not expect to piggy back on the Ambassador and have men and women who are competent of handling an event of this nature.
Last year it was a worse scenario with Managing Director of SLTPB Rumy Jaufer failing to face the salvos fired by the foreign media and the Ambassador having had to come to the rescue of the country’s tourism industry.
He made a mockery of himself at the Economic Forum held in Kurfurstendamm, Berlin and again Ambassador Kongahage had to once again come to our rescue.
Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa under whose purview comes tourism should take cognizance of the fact that responsible positions in the tourism industry in the state sector should not be be held by qualified,experienced energetic and intelligent persons and not those who come from the back door.
If this trend continues, country’s tourism industry will suffer to a great extend and the damage caused by such persons will be irreparable.
It should noted that Jaufer’s only qualification is political influence and he doesn’t have the requisite qualifications to hold the post of Managing Director of SLTPB.
Jaufer is a far cry from his predecessors Malraj Kiriella and Dileep Mudadeniya where performance,qualifications and experience is concerned. Mudadeniya in particular was a go-getter and today he is the Vice President of a leading business conglomorate
However Jaufer enjoys the strong backing of a few key members of the travel and hospitality industry for reasons best known to them and they are his god farthers.
On the other hand if the so called bureaucrats who are ingnorant and incapable of their functions and expect Ambassadors to perform their duties at international travel fairs,they should spend the tax payers money and go for them.
Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Bhaswara Gunaratne was unable to participate at the ITB as some important foreign delegations were meeting him in Colombo during that period.
unaratne made a great impression at the WTM in London in 2012 , but since then he had not been able to take part in the two key international fairs due to commitments at home.
Rajapaksa should take steps to keep political appointees (Unless they can perform to a satisfactory level) aside and infuse new blood to state institutions dealing with tourism as this is a crucial stage in the country’s tourism industry.
There was a better representation from Sri Lanka at this year’s ITB with around 60 companies participating and the general consensus was that they had more business opportunities than last year.
The main contributory factor to this was the peace dividend and safety and security for holidaymakers among others.
But lack of greater awareness created about our tourism product in key markets and emerging markets and a cohesive policy , inefficiency and indifference by SLTPB had allowed our competitors to capitalise on potential tourists, the participants said.
[Via The Island]