Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Hotels to shed light on tourism future
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts are bringing together domestic and international experts to showcase emerging trends in international travel which can help shape the future of the industry in Sri Lanka, officials said.
"Our view is that we cannot work in insolation," Ajit Gunewardene, Deputy of Chairman of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts, which is the biggest hotel chain in the country.
"We cannot work in a silo. We believe that the direction that Sri Lanka decides to take in this industry will have an enormous impact on us and on our investments and therefore we would like to influence this direction with education and knowledge."
"We also believe that we have to work very closely with the major stake holders in the country. We cannot work in isolation. We are not alone here. We have our competitors and our partners."
Unique and Sustainable
The Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit to be held on September 28, is also backed SriLankan Airlines, a loss-making state carrier, International Finance Corporation, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
"We believe we’ve got a fantastic opportunity as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, but we have barely begun," Gunewardene said.
"So before we destroy what is great we believe this is the time to educate ourselves so that we create what would be a unique and sustainable product for the country in the long-term."
He said a bloggers conference held by Cinnamon Hotels last year had been a mutual learning experience.
Sarath Kotagama, a zoologist, a conservationist and top ornithologist would be one of the resource persons at the upcoming conference. He said tourists were becoming increasingly ‘green’.
"I see tomorrow’s traveller as a kind, knowledge based, well prior-informed, a time-bound, quality, a truth seeker, always looking for experience, a person who is looking for interpretation and trying to be inclusive," he said.
"We have seen the industry where everybody became a bit-by-bit green. I do not like to be a wash. I would like it be truthful.
"I have seen so much wrong being done in the industry since 1976 especially in the environmental side."
Global mass-market capitalist tourism began in the 1960s with the so-called ‘hippie-trail’ which ran from Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India (Goa), Thailand, Vietnam (Hoi An) and Indonesia (Bali) to Australia, giving birth to tourism hotspots which still exist today.
There were many off-shoots on the way including Sri Lanka’s Hikkaduwa. Mass market travel gathered strength after UK’s Indiaman bus company in 1957 and Swagman innovated a land route from London to Goa, at a time when airlines were state-controlled and expensive and capitalist budget airlines were not around.
The industry developed with no state intervention, no regulation other than existing building codes and sanitary regulations, no tax breaks but it changed the world, as capitalist industrial production did more than a century earlier.
Freedom advocates say the true-capitalist mass-market-style hippie trail, was full of idealistic young people especially from across the Atlantic – some just out of college – with no nationalist hang ups.
They smashed the barriers between East and West, between race and skin colour and between the former empire builders and their people they used to rule, as they smoked on a bench together going through the ‘Golden Triangle’ or danced on the beach by a fire.
Unlike high end tourism, which is similar to the feudal-era consumption pattern where only the aristocracy was able to consume the luxurious goods produced by artisans and a serf class, capitalism allowed workers to buy and enjoy the output from their own workplace or factory, whether it was a Model T Ford car, denim jeans, a television, a budget hotel room or now a smart-phone.
Though the hippie trail died with the nationalist revolution in Iran and communist invasion of Afghanistan, privately owned budget airlines, and internet booking engines have allowed the trend to flourish again, bringing more and more people together, smashing social and economic barriers.
Booking engines – mercilessly self-regulated by ongoing reviews – have empowered customers and forced service levels to go up for each price class, in a quantum improvement from the days of a state-regulated rating system where corrupt officials were easily bribed to renew a license every so often.
Unlike the old hippie trail, today’s 30-50 dollar budget hotel room, now has hot water, air conditioning, free wi-fi and especially in East Asia, satellite TV.
The budget hotels are equally used by foreign (many of whom are intra-Asian) and domestic travellers now, with rising local travel in countries with strong currencies, in another trend of true-capitalist egalitarianism.
The feudal-artisan style high-end tourism which can only be accessed by the more affluent classes (and usually out of the range of ordinary workers like in the pre-capitalist era) has also flourished alongside in many countries.
The high end product also has a place, since there are people who want higher levels of comfort and are willing to pay and do not want to mix too much with the local population, freedom advocates say.
In the Maldives, where tourism has little direct interaction with the local economy, unlike the rest of the world, a bed tax on high end hotels runs almost the entire public services of the country, helping lift living standards.
With a small population many foreigners including those from Sri Lanka help run the industry. Analysts say, a small population, a strong currency and also the official and unofficial rents earned by the lease owners due to restrictions on legal foreign ownership have made only high end operations possible in the Maldives.
Paddy Vithane, head of Sri Lanka’s tourism authority says all classes of leisure products are welcomed in the country and there is no attempt to cripple the budget sector, which is referred to as the ‘small and medium industry’. Some SME’s however have now begun lobbying for state privileges in a non-capitalist way.
The budget is also pejoratively referred to as the ‘informal sector’ by some interventionists as well as those in the industry itself who cannot face competition from a leaner sector which uses up less natural resources to please a larger number of human beings.
Vithane said already the majority of bookings in Sri Lanka are done through internet booking engines and many of the hotels are in the ‘informal’ sector.
"This informal sector is growing and it is good for the economy of the country," Vithana said. "For us the hotels in the formal sector will maintain the standards. But I think the informal sector should grow.
Vithane said they wanted to bring some regulations to the ‘informal sector’. (Colombo/Sept07/2015)