Sri Lanka railway to provide backpacker tourist accommodation

Sri Lanka railway to provide backpacker tourist accommodation

Tourism Development Authority of Sri Lanka (SLTDA has announced its plans to explore the possibility of tourist accommodation to budget travelers. The initiative is joined by the Railway department who aims to renovate discarded railway carriages as accommodations. It also expects to lease out unused land which exist in railway stations for the purposes of creating tourism accommodation.
The project at the initial phase will focus on Colombo Yard, Mahaiyawa Sub Railway, Nanu Oya, Ambewela, Ella and Dodanduwa. This in initiative is a result of a joint proposal made by the Minister of Transport Nimal Siripala de Silva and the Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake. A key objective of the project is to provide affordable accommodation as well as trump up additional revenue for the department of railways by using existing assets. These locations provide massive potential as each of these locations provide ample access to many of the backpacker attractions such as trekking and hiking plains as well as scenic beauty and as these are located in close proximity to the railway network instant access to many parts of the country at a much lesser cost. Also, due to an extensive railway network which provides access to many historic sites and remote locations this project is very much in line with the experience a backpack tourist will seek.
This comes in the backdrop of Sri Lankan tourism showcasing impressive growth in terms of numbers. However, in terms of achieving the targets set, it has not been entirely successful. Sri Lanka has recorded 604,953 tourist arrivals in the first 3 months of 2017, a 3.4 increase on the previous year. Although this is an improvement, the original number of visitors expected for the year 2016 was 2.2 Million and yet it fell short even from the revised tourist arrival target by approximately 150,000. A trend which can yet be continued this year as well as there is a 2.5 million target and a downturn already being visible partially owing to the closure of the Katunayake Airport for over 3 months which already has had a relatively lower number of visitors compared to previous years’ statistics especially in February and March. This will be further impacted by the deliberation over pulling out from markets such as Germany and Rome and a reduced focus on Europe.
However, this was not a major setback as this figure was a 14.0 increase from the year before with a total of 2,050,832 despite missing the 2.2 million target set. John Amaratunge, the Minister of Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs, highlighted that this number has been the highest ever in Sri Lanka however, he also noted that this is a far lesser number than countries such as Thailand and Malaysia which is able to attract visitors close to 25 – 30 million annually. He also noted that the revenue from the Tourism industry had risen to US$ 3.5 Billion from US$ 2.8 Billion in 2015.
The Backpacker tourism is a segment which is picking up more and more steam on the international markets as well. Especially in countries such as Australia where it has become even a source of labor and income towards local businesses due to working travelers. Australia even launched a 10-Million-dollar campaign to attract European backpacker tourists. As evident by the efforts and importance placed by a country such as Australia, the initiative by Ministry of Transport is particularly a step in the right direction in trying to attract more backpacker tourists.
The tourism industry has undergone massive shifts in the global arena in preferences. A particular trend is rather than high spending organized tourists, backpacker tourists who travel on a budget has become more common and as this is more mass market oriented numbers have risen as well. Also, global trends suggest that these backpacker tourists more often than not become repeat visitors as their visits are about the experience than just visiting the country.
Statistics reveal that close to 32,000 visitors were finding accommodation at location rated below 3 stars or even less, choosing to make their bookings through various online portals such as Booking.com or agoda.com. Also, the statistics suggest many of these travelers do maintain high spending although away from the places a high spending traveler would spend on which puts the backpacker traveler on a more broader and longer spending cycle and a stay in Sri Lanka.
A more visible indicator of the level of attraction these visitors form with Sri Lanka is visible through the social media posting and recommendations they make over digital avenues. Sri Lanka has been constantly rated one of the best destination for Backpacking by Backpackers themselves. This is not with any promotional activity taking place to promote these posts. Sri Lanka as with many other global countries are adapting has recognized the need to attract Lonely Planet type of tourists who prefer longer and repeat visits over high spending short and once off visits.
Sri Lanka has so far grown in Backpacker tourism with relatively little or no promotion actively being conducted to attract such visitors. As such there has been no visible branded experience in backpacker tourism in Sri Lanka and the initiative to convert railway carriages and offer railway land will fill a void that will remain key to developing tourism revenue in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, as some analysts suggest the post Brexit weakening of the pound can result in driving tourists away from existing top destinations such as Maldives to other countries where the pound is in good value still. Although the high-end markets are unlikely to severely be impacted the budget travel segment will respond in a more widespread manner. If the recent initiatives could be promoted also within the massive promotions campaign totaling Rs. 800 Million for years 2016/2017 there is much potential for growth in the industry. The trend for backpacker tourism is also likely to be helped by various festivals and events that are planned for the year 2017 and beyond, buoyed by the increased revenue gained in the year 2016.

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Article Code : VBS/AT/28042017/Z-1

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