Australian tourists bored with Bali look to enjoy international holidays in Sri Lanka

Australian tourists bored with Bali look to enjoy international holidays in Sri Lanka

5 April 2019 06:32 am

A growing number of Australians are shunning Bali and Thailand in favour of holidaying in Sri Lanka, according to a Sri Lankan tourism operator.

Rahula Perera has been operating wildlife tours in Sri Lanka and is currently in central Queensland, along with three other Sri Lankans and about 70 delegates from across the north of Australia, to hone their skills as tourist guides.

According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, the annual growth in the last five years of Australians travelling to Sri Lanka was 10.7 per cent.

Mr Perera said the rivalry between the two countries on the cricket pitch had certainly played a role in promoting the country as a holiday destination for Australians.

"Wherever I go, even though we have more than 70 years of diplomatic relations, people don't know anything about Sri Lanka other than the tea and the cricket," he said.

But Mr Perera said he hoped to change that.

"We are targeting Australia more and more because more Australians are travelling to Sri Lanka nowadays," he said.

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'Everyone wants new destinations'

Mr Perera said there were a number of factors contributing to the growth in Australian tourist numbers in his country.

"If you have been to the same location forever, you get fed up — that's happened with Bali," he said.

"Bali and Thailand are a little bit exhausted now and everyone wants new destinations for their holiday."

This is reflected in statistics from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, which uses information provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Indonesia had a 4 per cent decline in Australian visitors, China, Singapore and Japan dominated as travel destinations for Australian tourists from January 2017 to January 2018, with an average growth of 8.9 per cent.

Thailand saw a drop of 3.7 per cent of Australian tourists in 2017, visitor number did bounce back by 7.7 per cent the following year.

"Sri Lanka is something exotic, something small that you can manage easily. It's an island the size of Tasmania … and a culture going back from third Century BC up to colonization and other than that, the fantastic food," Mr Perera said.

"The Sri Lankan spices are changing the world history."

Mr Perera said it was his third time in Australia and he hoped the Sri Lankan tourism industry could learn a lot from the Australian model.

"A lot of people don't just want to see and take a selfie and go," he said.

Australia's top overseas travel spots:

  • New Zealand — 1.4 million
  • Indonesia — 1.17m
  • USA — 1.08m
  • UK — 600,000
  • Thailand — 590,000
  • China — 540,000
  • Singapore — 400,000
  • Japan — 400,000
  • Fiji — 340,000
  • India — 370,000

*As of January 2018

"They want to learn and experience — that's happening in both places.

"But the trouble is in Sri Lanka, the infrastructure and the policies is not supporting that mindset."

Mr Perera said volunteers in the community are trying to change that.

"I am with a volunteer organisation called Federation of Environmental Organisations. We are trying hard to train all the safari drivers," he said.

"The Sri Lankan model is different. They have safari operators just close to the park, so that's income for the local people, so we are training the safari operators to do a better safari because these people only have a drivers license and a vehicle.

"We are teaching them the animals, their behaviour, how to do the driving — it's hard work but we're trying to do that."

Tourists looking for experiences

Russell Boswell manages a tour guide network across northern Australia, and said the Sri Lankan tourism operators were keen to work with Australians.

"They have a developing tourism industry and a lot of growth at the moment," he said.

"This group is really interested to see if they can learn some lessons and maybe even partner with us to see if they can try and help improve the professionalism of their guides."

Mr Boswell said the course was helping tourism operators think outside the box when it came to telling stories about an area.

"We like to inject some sensory touches, so maybe a smell experience or a taste experience, and all of the emotions of course in stories and the human stories," he said.

"There are so many stories in Australia, particularly in regional Australia, that we're always trying to work with these guides to say 'what are the main points?' and 'what are the best ways to get those across to a different range of visitors?'."

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For Mr Perera, it was not just the lessons from the course that he'll take away from his visit.

"This is my third visit to Australia and I travel about 45,000 kilometres on road and every kilometre I learn something," he said.

"This is a fantastic country to travel and there are so many things to learn on tourism aspects.

"The country has geared itself as a great tourism destination."

abc.net.au