Sri Lanka is looking at the possibility of introducing AliPay to the market in a bid to encourage more Chinese travellers to visit the country and ensure their payments will be made prior to arrival, a key government official said on Wednesday.
Ambassador-designate to China Palitha, Kohonna speaking at the discussion on “post COVID Tourism from China” at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said that there is a possibility of introducing AliPay. The event was organised by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO).
AliPay is a mega payment app operated from China and is currently one of most popular mobile payment platforms available solely for Chinese nationals.
Responding to issues faced by travel agents and tour operators that Chinese travellers delay their payments, he noted that through this platform and under the COVID-19 concerns they could make use of this opportunity to request payments prior to arrival.
Mr. Kohonna said that Sri Lanka has to make a number of improvements in terms of our service levels, airport and airline.
He pointed out that the tourism industry needs to make sure Chinese tour guides will not be authorised to operate here and that in future the industry should be protected.
In addition he noted that they should not rip off the customer when they visit the country and in this sense he asserted Sri Lanka should retain its hospitality.
Fluency in Mandarin is essential to cater to the requirements of the Chinese traveller, he noted since most Chinese were comfortable in conversing in their own language and not in English.
Mr. Kohonna also called for improvements in SriLankan Airlines as well that operates as the national carrier to a number of destinations in China.
Recalling that about 169 million Chinese travel globally it was a “disappointing state of affairs” that Sri Lanka attracts only around 260, 000.
With about 60 per cent of Chinese between the ages of 18-45 years using social media it is imperative that the tourism industry engages them through this medium to visit Sri Lanka, he explained.
“We know tourism and how to cater to tourists. So we should cater to Chinese in a manner that will be more proactive,” he said.
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairperson Kimarli Fernando addressing the gathering said that Sri Lanka will be ready when the Chinese next travel to the country.
In this respect, she noted as the country has evolved into catering to a low-end category of tourists the industry needs to work on moving to a higher spending visitors.
Ms. Fernando said the authorities were having discussions on re-opening the airport and that a cabinet paper had been submitted to bring down smaller groups to the country with PCR tests.
However, healthcare officials insist that tourists need to remain in one place and this will be a big challenge since Chinese are apt to take to a round-trip tour of the country when they visit the destination.
Responding to queries from the industry she noted however, that Sri Lanka should not compare itself with the Maldives in trying to bring down visitors.
In the Maldives she noted each resort hotel was likely to be located on one island and travellers could access that place directly however, Sri Lanka is one big island.
SriLankan Airlines CEO Vipula Gunatillake said that they were awaiting the re-opening of the airport by the first quarter of next year to commence flights and has already drawn up a marketing plan.
He pointed out that Chinese travellers were keen users of technology like WeChat and through these platforms they could gain target their future customers.
Pre-COVID SriLankan had plans to double capacity from China and noted that they continued to operate flights to the market even now.
Sri Lanka has been seeing a boom in Chinese arrivals since 2013 and it is currently the second largest market next to India, Mr. Prabhath Harshakumar stated in delivering a presentation on the Chinese Market Overview.
He noted that since 2017 Chinese Destination Management Companies are operating in the country and through this Sri Lanka loses out on its foreign exchange.
“Sri Lanka is perceived as a cheap and mass market destination,” he said adding that the native Chinese are guiding the tourists visiting Sri Lanka thereby depriving the Sri Lankan guides of an opportunity.
Moreover, he noted that collection of payment for services provided to Chinese is a grave concern as Chinese tour operators drag the payment upto 190 days, he noted.
Sri Lanka participates in a number of travel fairs and had regular flights to and from China into a number of its destinations, Mr. Harshakumar said