A Way Forward for Sri Lanka Tourism

By Anjali Caldera | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 22 2021

By Anjali Caldera

At a time when Sri Lanka Tourism is seeking marketing strategies to reboot the industry which collapsed drastically in the face of COVID-19, marketing the destination via untapped potential seems to be an effective lead for the sustainability of the industry. Wedding and honeymoon tourism is one such segment which the authorities were not keen on promoting until now, though it exists in Sri Lanka.

Thus, it seems a timely action to initiate promotions on wedding and honeymoon tourism as a brand for Sri Lanka Tourism. According to Tourism Intelligence International 2009, “Wedding tourism can be defined as tourism that encompasses the features of a wedding which includes engagements, weddings and honeymoons.” Destination weddings in the tourism industry are often placed under the term wedding tourism, which refers to international trips that are taken by tourists to either get married or celebrate their wedding. 

Global market for wedding and honeymoon tourism

 A Destination Wedding Planner and Lecturer at the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM), Chaamila Rathnayake, who joined a webinar on ‘Rebuilding Sri Lanka Tourism through wedding and honeymoons’conducted by the Tourism Study Programmes, University of Colombo;segmented wedding tourism as, first time marriages, remarriages, same sex marriages, vow renewals and honeymoons.She further indicated the specific customer base under these segments; usually first-time marrying couples are experienced travellers who wish to have their ceremony with a few participants from their families and friends.Remarrying couples extremely limit their participants to a less headcount.

And the other two segments seek a change in life and have their occasion isolated with intimate participants. As Rathnayake says, globally the growth of online travel agencies has provided the opportunity for couples to do Google searches and select their best location for their special day.As mentioned on Ampersand Travel’s Comprehensive Destination Weddings and Honeymoon Report, globally 25 per cent of marriages take place abroad; thus 3,400,000 destination weddings take place each year.The destination wedding market accounts for US$16 billion in annual spending. 

Thus, on average a destination wedding costs US$28,000.The Report further said 60 per cent of couples fund their own destination wedding and on average it costs guests US$673 to attend a destination wedding. The same Report states that honeymoon tourism forms a US$12 billion-a-year industry.The average honeymoon cost is US$4,466.The honeymoon typically accounts for 14 per cent of the wedding budget and it has found that 62 per cent of couples fund their own honeymoons, whereas the rest were arranged by their relations and friends as surprise wedding gifts. 

Further, promoting the destination for honeymooners seems to be quite profitable, as 99 per cent of couples who take a traditional wedding will go for a honeymoon and 80 per cent of couples have used social media to pick their honeymoon destination over the last five years.The average honeymoon length is eight days. According to Hitched.co.uk, 2020 honeymoon trends have mostly been wrapped around ecohotels, mindful locations, number of small properties, surprise arrangements like with florals and fruits.

 Based on engagement/pre-proposal statistics, 19 per cent of engagements or proposals take place in December during Christmas or in February during Valentine’s Day. 26 per cent of proposals involved friends and family. Further, the average price for a destination wedding venue package in 2020 wasUS$3,500 per couple.In 2021, this was US$ 7,445 per couple(destinationweddings.com 2021).It ranges from US$4,000 to US$ 35,000based on location and package inclusions. 

Sri Lanka has the potential 

Sri Lanka has legally permitted to conduct destination weddings with traditional jewellery, Poruwa, followed with local traditions and customs etc. Thus, Sri Lanka Tourism does not have legal barriers to conduct destination weddings. Perhaps, the target market seems to be a niche market segment, where the industry stands a chance for a profitable income generation. According to the data provided by Rathnayake, certain regulations for marriages in competitive destinations are advantageous to Sri Lanka. Weddings in the Maldives are not legally binding, whereas in Bali to conduct a matrimonial ceremony, the couple should be from the same religion. 

In Seychelles, legally conducted marriages and the exact time of the ceremony will be given closer to the date, since it solely depends on the availability of the Registrar. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s ranking as one of the most beautiful wedding destinations in the world by ‘Kuoni Travel Trend Report,’Sri Lanka’s position in the 9th place of 15 most -beautiful wedding destinations in the world by ‘Trend Spotter’ and Galle being classified as one of the 32 best destination wedding locations in the world by ‘Hitched UK’ are facts to highlight the country’s potential in developing wedding and honeymoon tourism as a brand.

 Further, wedding and honeymoon tourism could be considered as a sustainable tourism concept as the majority who benefits from this is the locals who provide various services as in event planners, bridal dressers, tailors, decoration suppliers, music providers, traditional dancing troops, photographers, catering services etc. 

Beyond Escapes Managing Director, Leopard Nest Founder, Destination Wedding Planner and SLITHM Lecturer Ruwan Ratnayaka,who also joined the same webinar, stated that as per global statistics the package prize of weddings and honeymoons which ranges from US$ 4,000 to US$35,000not only contributes to venues by 37.2 per cent, but also for food/liquor/catering (21.6 per cent),for photography (8.6 per cent), for event planners (6.6 per cent), for music/ DJ(3.7 per cent), for floral arrangements (7 per cent),for videography(6 per cent),for cakes(1.9 per cent),for transportation (2.6 per cent) and for other favours (0.9 per cent) and for rehearsal dinner (4.0 per cent). It is evident, the concept contributes to the local economy on a large scale. Hence, it is a timely action to capitalise on the existing niche market for this concept and develop a brand for Sri Lanka Tourism. “Besides, Sri Lanka has the diversity in terms of culture, geography, traditions etc. 

Exclusivity of the brand could be created through exclusive experience, insisted Ruwan Ratnayaka. For example, Mahiyanganaya as a location with ‘wedda community’ and the ceremony to take place with their cultural traditions and customs. Excitement could be created at locations like Ella, and adventurous activities like hot air ballooning, boat rides, jet skiing, ship liners etc. 

Authenticity to be created with our historical and ancient sites as in Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya etc.” Chaamila Rathnayake indicated that the concept could also be developed to reduce the seasonality in the industry, as weddings could be planned throughout the year. Meanwhile, the recent announcement made by the Chief of Sri Lanka Tourism Kimarli Fernando, that Sri Lanka is currently working with the Indian Government to promote wedding and honeymoon tourism is obviously an encouraging statement to destination wedding planners in Sri Lanka. 

Learning from best practices 

When tapping the concept of wedding and honeymoon tourism in Sri Lanka, the relevant parties should concentrate on the market intelligence; modern growing trends under the concept, analysing best practices of the competitors and other business development insights. There are certain areas where the wedding and honeymoon market will experience a particular growth. Second marriages, and those marrying later in life (the 35-45 age group), will generate demand for weddings and honeymoon tourism. The number of remarriages is increasing, and is set to continue. Hence, the number of second honeymoons will also increase. According to a ‘Caribbean Report on Wedding and Honeymoon Tourism,’the gay/lesbian market has significant potential. Generally, they have above average annual income and have a disposition to travel that makes them a particularly strong demographic group for honeymoons. Due to strenuous work demands, particularly in the US where holiday time tends to be used at certain times of the year, there is an ever-increasing trend of newlyweds taking a honeymoon that suits their employer, thus foregoing the traditional holiday immediately after the wedding. 

Besides, according to an Indian travel magazine, ‘The Business of Travel,’‘theme weddings’ are fast becoming a popular facet of Indian weddings, with hotels deploying dedicated teams to cater to the wedding parties. Heritage properties see a steady stream of weddings that prefer a historical background to add to their special day. Beach weddings have become an aspiration for several youngsters. Further, there is tendency towards pre-wedding trips to destinations and a rising popularity in bachelorette destination trips. 

Besides, understanding the consumer preferences is the key to develop the concept effectively. The couples look for convenience; googling the right destination for their special day. Thus, the online presence of destination wedding planners is a must to capture this market segment. According to Chaamila Rathnayake, there is opportunity for innovative and tailor-made packages which are available online. 

She also highlighted that themebased buffets, eco-friendly, adventure fairy tale concepts, drone videography over traditional photography, inspiration over luxury as a once-in-alifetimetrip opportunity are some of the growing trends of wedding and honeymoon tourism which Sri Lanka needs to cater to. Ruwan Ratnayake, also pointed out that learning from best practices of the concept is also the way forward to develop the concept in Sri Lanka Tourism. 

“Turkey is world famous as the best engagement destination, they promote fairytale locations, balloons in pink skies, red valley viewpoints, create attraction for photographs. Saint Luciapromotes the view over the Caribbean Sea. Santorini promotes the view with volcanoes, while Hawaii is considered as the best gay destination in the world with its exclusivity, excitement, adventure, romance, photography etc. Hawaii is the number one wedding and honeymoon destination for 10 years in a row with its good presence in online search engine results, traveller’s recommendations, travel influencer’s listings, destination ranking etc.” “Maldives has also captured the same sex marriage market.”

 How can Sri Lanka Tourism capture the market? 

According to Ruwan Ratnayake, it is evident that identifying the diversity in different regions(farmers’ life/ traditions/ nature),developing different wedding themes for different sub destinations and also the hotels following the same theme and creating different products under the same theme are effective strategies. He further insisted that a proper action plan is required to be discussed with all the stakeholders in the region to increase value – how to train people to add different values to this concept, thus developing different niche markets and different products for different markets are essential to be successful in the concept. 

“Identifying target markets and promoting diversity, exclusivity, excitement, authenticity, adventure and photography and improving online reputation of Sri Lanka as a wedding and honeymoon destination are must do’s, as this market segment is quite keen on convenience and googling.” “Sri Lanka Tourism should have a wedding handling support service to expedite the legal process and issue the wedding certificate very soon,” he highlighted “and this could be done using new technology and creating processes for wedding handling and document management.” “Make use of new trends and develop products to exploit those segments,” he further said. 

Challenges for Sri Lanka Tourism

 Certain regulations associated with marriages seem to be a sort of a challenge for Sri Lanka Tourism to freely operate the concept of wedding and honeymoon tourism in the destination. Presenting of a valid visa to travel, unmarried certificate or declaration, divorce certificate, wedding certificate to be certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relevant Embassies as per requirements in different countries are a few regulations which seem to be challenging for a foreign couple to select Sri Lanka as their wedding destination. 

Ruwan Ratnayake presented a few other issues that Sri Lanka Tourism is experiencing as barriers to promote the said concept as a brand.“Poor understanding about the destination wedding market among the relevant parties, segmenting, targeting and positioning issues; have not been done properly, only targets the beach weddings which is competitive where Hawaii and Maldives have already captured the market.” “Lack of product development and value additions; no unique selling propositions, low online reputation as a wedding destination, legal barriers for conducting LGBT nuptials are also a few challenges.” He also pointed out that lack of understanding and support from the Government organisations and embassies are also a big challenge to Sri Lanka Tourism to promote the concept as a brand. Yet, the Government’s current enthusiasm to sustain the Sri Lankan economy in the face of COVID and debts and tourism being the most effective way to bring foreign currency to the country, Sri Lanka Tourism stands a chance to come forward with these new concepts to reboot both the industry and the Sri Lankan economy. 

About the writer: The writer is a former Business Journalist attached to Ceylon Today, a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Kelaniya & SLIIT, a Freelance Writer and a Sworn Translator.(B.A & M.A in Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, and a Postgraduate in Tourism at the University of Colombo). 

By Anjali Caldera | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 22 2021

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