Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance & Australia’s Deakin University Collaborated to Analyse Market Demand for Sustainable Tourism in Sri Lanka
In 2020, Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance partnered with one of Australia’s leading universities, Deakin University, and collaborated with their students on identifying industry best practices in sustainable tourism. A combination of Undergraduate and Postgraduate students studying Bachelor of Business, Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Business (Sport Management), Master of Marketing and MBA (International) collaborated with Tourism Alliance as part of their curriculum.
Easter Sunday bombings and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have had a devastating impact on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, however this has provided an opportunity to reset and rebuild a more sustainable sector. The collaborative findings have identified factors influencing consumer demand for sustainable tourism.
Sustainable & Regenerative Tourism: A model for the future
Sustainable Tourism refers to activities, management and tourism development that preserves ‘natural, economic and social integrity’ and guarantees ‘maintenance of natural and cultural resources’ (Niedziółka 2012). Regenerative Tourism is a relatively new concept, focusing on ‘methods in which tourism can be used as a tool for local well-being, revitalization and sustainability’ (Duxbury et al. 2020). Regenerative Tourism means that ‘tourism leaves a place better than it was before’ and is focused on ‘giving back’ and actively contributing to the development of communities, cultures, heritage etc (Haugen 2020; Duxbury et al. 2020). Whilst Sustainable Tourism focuses on not causing any additional damage to society and the environment (Haugen 2020).
Post-Covid Travel Demand
Post-Covid-19, it has been identified that tourism should focus on promoting products centred around being climate friendly, community driven and having sustainable production and consumption, as there is increasing consumer demand for such offerings. It also highlights that ecotourism will dominate travel post-Covid-19 due to increased awareness of climate change and its impacts.
The Deakin Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance Sustainability Findings provides simple suggestions for developing sustainable tourism experiences, which creates a win-win for the business, local community as well as the environment. These include:
1. Minimize negative ecological and social impact from ecotourism products/services
Tourism providers should strive towards a greater level of carbon neutrality like Australian tourism nature based tour operators Nullarbor Traveller.(now called Untamed Escapes) This may involve replanting trees, making efforts to reuse and recycle materials and implement renewable energy sources (i.e. solar panels). Clients can be encouraged to participate in replanting trees and recycling efforts, which engages them and enables them to be involved in sustainable practices and the co-creation of value. These initiatives will promote a greater reputation and brand image for the tourism business.
2. Deliver an authentic and unique ecotourism experience
Operators can offer low-cost transformations to promote an eco-friendly experience like Tree planting, Fruit picking and juicing/eating, Recycling and composting practices and Nature browsing. Engagement in such initiatives enables consumers to feel they are participating in nature focused, outdoor leisure activities, which Australian consumer demand exists for. Furthermore, this gives tourists the sense they are contributing to something greater – a more sustainable planet.
3. Preserve and conserve local tourist attractions (regenerative)
Operators should consider conducting native eco-tours which increase tourist appreciation for native wildlife and vegetation. These native eco-tours could be targeted to travellers and local community members (e.g. school excursions). This involves guides taking visitors through their reserve, showcasing their local wildlife, Indigenous cultural and traditions and native flora and fauna, discussing their sustainable initiatives, and offering environmental preservation knowledge. This empowers tourists/community members with knowledge of sustainability practices whilst fostering respect and understanding of Indigenous wildlife, nature, and culture.
4. Market sustainability effectively by promoting a customer benefit and positive consumer experience
Local operators are suggested to take inspiration from campaigns such as “Make Holidays Greener” & “Leave No Trace” which are hugely popular in countries such as Australia. These campaigns encourage healthy competition and light-hearted fun, whilst also yielding a positive environmental impact.
5. Source products locally to support the local community and economy (regenerative)
Employing a local based supply chain by sourcing produce from local suppliers can not only be good for the planet, it will help you bring down your costs. Operators should highlight the food’s origin on menus to ensure that tourists are aware, adding further credibility to the business.
6. Embrace local and Indigenous culture, wildlife, and environment by driving understanding and fostering respect
Operators should incorporate local, authentic experience wherever possible, which not only allows the tourist to immerse themselves in the local culture but also allows them to experience first hand, the efforts the business has gone to, to remain sustainable. Communication is key so these elements should be highlighted on the business website and social media and explained in greater details during the guest’s stay.
7. Aim to leave the environment and society in a better position than it was before (regenerative)
Using single-use plastics in tourism is no longer acceptable and providing customers with free alternatives to plastic products and printing branding/marketing and sustainability information on recycled materials should be done to encourage eco-friendly practices. Guests can be encouraged to take these plastic-free alternatives home for long-term use, which inadvertently promotes the business to promote their branding and sustainability missions with new markets.
8 Employ and engage local community members in ecotourism programs/practices (regenerative)
There is no one else that knows the history, cultural significance and the interesting details of that particular region/food/archeological site, other than the local community. Being community driven will enable the experiences to be sustainable whilst making it interesting for the touris. Specific focus should be on promoting SL’s unique culture and authentic experiences in enabling visitors to:
• Cook and eat cultural foods with locals.
• Explore natural sites with a local guide
• Guided visits with locals to sacred sites and local attractions off the beaten track
9. Share knowledge, tools, and resources to empower local community members about sustainability initiatives (regenerative)
Operators can incorporate a range of cultural tourism activities – I.e. Seeing natural wildlife, eating local food, and experiencing outdoor adventures – whilst imparting their knowledge of sustainable practices onto tourists. This may involve tour guides discussing ways to conserve and preserve the natural wildlife and environment. Guides may engage in a range of activities to promote the sustainability of their services and lead by example by:
• Removing all plastics.
• Using reusable products.
• Sourcing food locally.
• Recycling and/or reusing all waste (e.g. through composting activities).
• Changing a bus tour to a walking tour.
10. Personalise ecotourism programs to the unique needs and tastes of the consumer
Travel operators should market the authenticity and uniqueness of visitor’s sustainable travel experiences which are created through immersion in Sri Lanka’s culture. These experiences should be personalised and adapted to the wants and needs of the tourist, based on where they would like to go and what they would like to see.
Combining these elements creates a powerful narrative, selling a sustainable, unique, and authentic travel experience. The findings also support that showcasing these features by incorporating personal interviews and strong visual images on their websites, which hint at culturally rich and diverse tourism experiences, will allow tourism operators to attract and retain clientele. Tourism operators should strive to create a memorable tourism experience which is ‘like no other’.