Sri Lanka Appealed To Online Travel Agencies To Cut Commissions To Help Revive Tourism

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The Sri Lanka Government will not leave any stone unturned in the process of revving the tourism industry. Offering free tourism visas on arrival, reducing airline charges to encourage carriers to reinstate flights, and asking online travel agencies to cut commissions are some initiatives undertaken by Government. But the question remains that how reasonable is it to expect the likes of Expedia and Booking groups to cut commissions as part of recovery efforts? And how effective is such a measure as waiving visa fees in bringing back tourists, especially from a market like China, which is also being pursued by a slew of other countries that has eased visa policies?

Impacted by the April 21 Easter Sunday bombings on hotels and churches in Colombo, the government is trying to match excellent private sector work to push one of its top three foreign exchange earners. Since August 1, it has waived visa fees typically costing $20 to $40, for citizens from 48 countries, including top three sources India, China, and the UK. Further, plans to slash ground-handling charges, aviation fuel prices and embarkation fees to encourage airlines to return have been in force beginning this month. Both programs are reportedly for a period of six months. Sri Lanka Tourism Minister John Amaratunga also told local reporters he was going to meet representatives of global online travel agencies to request that they reduce commissions for a period of time, according to a report in the local Daily News.

IN SUPPORT TO SRI LANKA
In support to revival of Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, many have put forward their views. Robert Hauck, who has just returned to Munich after his posting as general manager and area vice president of Galle Face Hotel and Ceylon Hotels Corp said, Online travel agencies should reduce their commissions during a 12 to 18 months recovery period to support Sri Lanka to get back onto its feet, “This would send such a strong message to the world and make a huge impact and I am sure this gesture would not be forgotten by Sri Lanka. Actions are more meaningful than just words,” he said. “We received overwhelming support from international media and tour operators. Sadly we didn’t see that from OTAs,” said Hiran Cooray, chairman of the Jetwing Symphony and The Lighthouse Hotel. “In a way that’s understandable since there’s no heart and soul in the online world. I wish they had come forward and proposed a reduction rather than government or associations having to ask for a reduction. On the contrary, of late, Booking.com has started charging a 15 percent commission on the 10 percent service charge for staff as well. This is sad. “Our letters to them have gone unanswered so far and those who objected or refused to pay, have been warned by them saying, they will be suspended,” said Cooray. Speculation Remains Between Increasing Awareness Or To Cut Commissions The speculation remains between two points, whether increasing awareness or to cut commissions would work as remedy. What is the point of commission cuts if travellers aren’t booking in the first place? “One obvious but impactful way that we help destinations rebound is to help them increase awareness — either once they are ready for the spotlight or in the case that they were never actually impacted by a nearby disaster,” said Hamblin.

“Without awareness-building, potential travelers might not have realized that a full 70 percent of the Caribbean was untouched by the 2017 storm season,” he pointed out.

The online travel agency most recently worked with the Jamaica Tourism Board to increase winter business, Bahamas Tourist Office to bump up package bookings, and various hotels within the Dominican Republic for bookings-focused joint campaigns. “One way that we can give destinations an advantage is by helping them understand which regions travellers are considering alongside theirs. Destination marketers are often surprised to learn that their competitive landscape includes distant destinations with a wide variety of characteristics,” said Hamblin.