National Tourism Policy UNDP, Sri Lanka

From February to September of 2021, I assisted on the implementation of a National Tourism Policy in Sri Lanka with the UNDP. Below I detail the organization and my involvement.

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The United Nations Development Programme and Sri Lanka

As part of the global development network of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme focuses on three development contexts:

  • Eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions
  • Accelerate structural transformations
  • Build resilience to shocks and crises

The following six signature solutions are proposed as ways around which to align resources and make an impact to guide sustainable development:

  1. Keep people out of poverty
  2. Governance for peaceful, just, and inclusive societies
  3. Crisis prevention and increased resilience
  4. Environment: nature-based solutions for development
  5. Clean, affordable energy
  6. Women’s empowerment and gender equality

Following the Ministry of Tourism’s decision to initiate the development process for a National Tourism Policy in early 2021, the entire tourism industry has been engaged in mapping a plan for Sri Lanka’s recovery. With those overarching contexts and solutions in mind, the UNDP has been providing technical support to the government of Sri Lanka. 

In addition to the UNDP’s technical assistance, the participative process of developing this policy has included members of the Ministry of Tourism, the Inter-Ministerial Tourism Committee, the Advisory Council, the Tourism Ministry Working Group, the Ministry of Finance, the Private Sector stakeholders, and Provincial Council representatives.

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UNDP & Sri Lanka

With the UNDP, we were actively involved in working with the group dedicated to Sri Lanka. Starting in March, we began almost weekly conversations and e-mail exchanges with a core group of 4-5 UNDP representatives. This process includes developing a questionnaire and organizing consultation meetings with different stakeholder groups. As we developed drafts and documents, we would exchange regularly for feedback and direction, providing updates on materials and timelines. Starting in April and going through May and June, we held Zoom meetings with these stakeholder groups, first to present results from the original questionnaire and ask qualifying questions, and then later to follow-up on the proposed reforms of the second questionnaire. 

Beyond COVID-19, Sri Lanka as a country has had a fair share of difficulties over the past few decades, including the tsunami in 2004, a civil war that ended in 2009, and a terrorist attack on Easter Sunday in 2019. Much of the conflict comes between two ethnic groups, and though it has subsided, it has left a significant developmental gap and economic impact on the country. This was clear not only in the research and analysis stages but in the stakeholder meetings as well as different groups spoke about the incidents in different ways - some politically correct, some quite blunt - and these territorial and political differences can be seen affecting tourism development. It was also seen in the implementation of this participative process. Though meetings were generally conducted in English, Sinhalese, and Tamil language meetings with certain provinces occurred, and official questionnaires were also available in all 3 languages. This suggests much of the social fabric is still affected by the cultural differences throughout the country.

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The overall deliverable for Sri Lanka was a National Tourism Policy. Because delivering that policy required a participative process, many of the tasks that I performed were aligned with supporting the creation of the documents used throughout each phase of the participative process.

Over the six months of the project, my work supported this participative process through research, analysis, and writing. Though not officially broken down into three phases, the below sections help to delineate the process and my role within it.

Part I: Research, First Questionnaire, and Issues Paper

To better understand the current tourism situation in Sri Lanka, as well as what efforts had been made toward creating national tourism documents in the past, this first phase was primarily about the research necessary to create a Tourism Policy Issues Paper.

  • SWOT Analysis - Based on many scholarly texts, private consultant analysis, and other publicly available materials, we created a SWOT analysis for Sri Lanka to be included in the Issues Paper.
  • Data Analysis - To better understand the tourism situation in Sri Lanka, I worked on a range of statistics and data, including accommodations, tourism employment rates, tourist arrivals, and comparative regional analysis.
  • IRAMUTEQ - One specific tool used in this research is a data visualization software that takes inputs from Tripadvisor reviews and can create a wide range of representations, including word clouds [Appendix 1]. In taking in over 400,000 English Tripadvisor reviews from the nine provinces in Sri Lanka and filtering them for adjectives describing hotels, restaurants, and attractions, we were able to understand not only a general sense of the impressions of tourists, but the ratio between the three types of reviews illustrated what the tourism offer was like in certain regions (if, for example, there were proportionately more restaurants and attractions than hotels then tourists likely were not spending as much time in that region). This analysis was used in the widely distributed Issues Paper and presented to Sri Lankan tourism stakeholders.
  • Issues Paper - This was an evolving process to ultimately arrive at a 67-page document whose purpose was to pose key questions raised by public and private stakeholders that inform the debates for the formulation of the new public policy on tourism in Sri Lanka. It was the first intervention and shared a wide swath of information and assessments, from international benchmarks, growth, job creation, and tourism forecasts to key issues like economic and institutional recovery, the natural and built environments, infrastructure, product development, marketing, and human resources. I assisted in writing and editing the document, as well as updating it after each stakeholder meeting to ensure new information and ideas were incorporated.

Part II: Second Questionnaire & Stakeholder Meetings

After the completion of the Tourism Policy Issues Paper, the meetings transitioned from an understanding and analysis of the tourism situation to potential reforms that could have a lasting impact. Through these stakeholder meetings - and supported by independent research - reforms were considered and built into a second questionnaire which was distributed to all stakeholders. As results came in, we were able to reach a general validation for the majority of the reforms, which then led to the writing of the National Tourism Policy.

  • Questionnaire Construction - While the first questionnaire sought more general inputs on areas that public and private stakeholders had concerns about, including domestic and international trends, the second questionnaire was necessarily more specific as it was informed by our meetings and their proposals. Many of these we had captured in some form as open-ended questions in the Issues Paper, so I worked to condense them into a more manageable number for the outreach.
  • Additional Research - To support participative stakeholder meetings and begin proposing solutions to the situations they were encountering, I created research documents based on subjects like alternance/apprenticeships, the legal structures of public companies, and the decentralization of the Sri Lankan government. These topics helped inform potential reforms that were included in the distributed questionnaires.
  • Results Analysis - I took the raw data from the second questionnaire (nearly 200 results spread over three languages - English, Sinhalese, Tamil) and created visual representations for the popularity of each reform, as well as cross-referencing approvals for reforms between public and private stakeholders to better understand if the support was proportionate within each group. Additionally, I grouped relevant stakeholder comments from the surveys in each language, from tourism association documents, and from meetings into a list of policy-specific questions we used to guide the last stakeholder meetings.

Part III: National Tourism Policy

From the last few meetings in July and into August, we were able to start filling in the National Tourism Policy document.

  • Developing KPIs, activities for Action Plan - As many stakeholders were keen to know just how the policy would be implemented, it was important to create a comprehensive Action Plan for achieving each of the reforms, complete with activities and key performance indicators. I assisted in creating the first draft of the Action Plan as we were beginning to write the National Tourism Policy.
  • Assisting in Writing National Tourism Policy - Far be it from me to say I had an outsized role in writing a National Tourism Policy, but I assisted in writing a number of the principle sections as well as editing and revising throughout. We also developed an annex that was similar in style to the aforementioned Action Plan, in which I created a good number of indicators and KPIs to measure the policy’s implementation.

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