A major challenge facing Sri Lanka’s bid to attract more tourists, particularly from China, is competition from our tropical Asian neighbours.

This is especially the case with Thailand, with its thriving nightlife and hospitality industries combined with a sea, sand and sun culture built up over decades.

The Daily FT, Sri Lanka’s business and finance newspaper, asks the million-dollar question: “Thailand gets 25 million tourists a year. Sri Lanka gets close to two million tourists. Why?”

The answer, it seems, is mostly down to what Sri Lanka already has plenty of—sun, sea and sand—but also what we are sadly lacking: “The street life in Thailand in tourist areas has a buzz and a fizz. People wandering around. Street food in abundance, small restaurants, bars of every type, sports bars, bars with music, bars with girls.

“At the end of a day of sightseeing, a tourist does not have to wonder what they should do. If they step out of the hotel into the street, they get engulfed in the vibrant street life.

“This is something we lack. We are seeing a little of it in Negombo and Hikkaduwa and very little elsewhere.”

The paper notes that for Thailand, just as for Sri Lanka, China is a major tourism market, and that “by studying carefully the Thai branding directed at the Chinese market and understanding the media used to communicate the branding, we too can develop an effective branding strategy and use the same methods of communication”.

And with China, at least, the result may be good news. Our lack of a vibrant street life is not a problem for them: “Anecdotal information (no hard stats available) is that the Chinese tourist does not go about wandering in the night, and they stay in the hotel. So our lack of matching street life is not a major negative.”

But: “Thailand gets eight million from China and it is still growing. We must learn from the Thai experience. We should look carefully at the Thai brand promise directed at China.”

Read the full report here.

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