The pearl of the Indian Ocean – Sri Lanka has always been a world-renowned travel destination. With numerous visitors every year, the island’s tourism industry is an integral part of its economy. It is the country’s third-largest source of foreign income and employs almost 11% of its working population. However, the tourism sector has taken a severe hit following the Easter Terror attacks in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic soon after. While some may look at it as a setback to the industry, it may also be viewed as a wake-up call for Sri Lanka to adapt future proof approaches and attract new-age travellers through technology and eco-consciousness.
Good Life X – Creating good growth
“Sri Lanka is not tapping into the fullest potential of all the abundance it has to offer, and we aim to change this narrative,” introduces Founder & CEO of Good Life X (GLX), Randhula de Silva. Originally a development project under GiZ in 2018, Good Life X has transitioned from an Accelerator Programme into a private entity that catalyses growth for both startups and SMEs in Sri Lanka. “GLX strives to be the bridge between the luscious resources Sri Lanka has, the booming possibilities around innovation and entrepreneurship, and cater to what the conscious consumers of the world are demanding,” says Randhula.
As such, GLX hosts a series of programmes to provide customised solutions for businesses to accelerate their growth through innovative solutions. The Digital Evolver Programme by GLX is one such initiative that serves as a launchpad for entrepreneurs to replenish the tourism sector in Sri Lanka and provide a window of opportunity to make a stronger comeback. Throughout the programme, companies improve their business resilience and sustainability practices, the right digital strategies and use storytelling for their benefit under the tutelage of 10 esteemed experts.
Digital Evolver – A Boost to SME Tourism
The Digital Evolver Programme is a 12-week programme implemented by Good Life X (GLX) in collaboration with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Sri Lanka and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Designed to enable local travel and tourism businesses to ride the rapid digitisation wave and utilise this knowledge and tools to meet their short and long term business objectives and create net positive impact as a whole.
The massive benefits of going digital
To see the true impact of the GLX Digital Evolver, one only needs to look at how the companies that participated have transformed. Many of these efforts can be categorized under 4 pillars – Business Operations, Channel Management, Branding, Digital Marketing. The common thread between these pillars was a detailed evaluation by the experts who then capitalized on digital technologies to lead the companies to revamp their operations to attract the new age traveler.
One example of this success is Rediscover Sri Lanka, which like many other tourism companies in the programme was keen to directly engage with their customers. However, they were held back with antiquated manual processes. The experts of the Digital Evolver Programme strengthened its processes for the digital age by implementing a Swiss cloud-based platform called TrekkSoft. Being one of the first organisations in Sri Lanka to adopt the platform, Rediscover Sri Lanka can digitally manage reservations, take online bookings, process digital payments, and carry out channel management seamlessly.
Another example of this success is Gileemale Retreat. With a rich history of over 300 years, the Digital Evolver programme was the key to its next chapter of growth. Prior to its acceptance, it had a minor digital presence and no online distribution strategy. Working with the experts of the programme, Gileemale underwent a rapid re-branding campaign that gave the historic property a fresh new look and meaning. Afterwards, the experts helped the property get listed on Expedia, Airbnb, and Booking.com. Before long, Gileemale received its first online booking!
Another example is how Eco-Grip, a local tour operator that was primarily reliant on international tourists adapted to the pandemic. With global travel grinding to a halt, the company saw 95% of its revenue disappear overnight. Fighting for its survival, the Digital Evolver programme supported it innovate and pivot to the new normal. Eco-Grip went on to launch an innovative line-up of virtual kayaking tours, adapted its existing tours for the domestic market, and reworked its social media strategy to generate more sales which led them to a fully booked out season ahead!
Across the programme, many of the companies underwent a transformation to attract their reach into new markets. Jungle Beach Ahungalla refreshed its look by bringing well-being to the forefront to attract mindful tourists keen on experiencing nature, inner healing and energizing activities. Infinity Vacations was able to introduce a new brand called That’s a Holiday that caters to millennial and Gen-Z travellers and offers a 24/7 online itinerary building service. The Travel Concierge also worked with the experts of the programme to update their existing website to cater and expand into the B2C market.
Empowering communities through authenticity
Ultimately, the efforts by GLX through the Digital Evolver programme is empowering local communities across Sri Lanka. Speaking to Arteculate, Shenali pointed to Gileemale Retreat, which offers authentic Sri Lankan cuisine made with ingredients sourced from nearby village farmers. Similarly, Rediscover Sri Lanka offers bicycle tours across the island to explore hidden hotspots and experiences with local communities.
“Having some plain tea at a local shop, interacting with local communities and drawing from their daily way of life. These are the types of immersive experiences being offered by these companies.,” said Shenali and continued, “Every company in a GLX programme is actively working on making their businesses and experiences planet and people-friendly. It’s not just using metal straws but going beyond that.”
This strong focus on regenerative practices results in a powerful ripple effect. By enabling these companies to grow, GLX is empowering their local communities to embrace and continue practices that make a positive impact overall. In turn, helping improve their quality of life. Add it all up, and it can potentially drive a transformation of the tourism industry, where conscious and authentic local experiences are the norms.
In addition to Digital Evolver, GLX is also the proud initiator of several other programmes enabling SME’s and startups to reach their full potential in Sri Lanka. “By adding value through the simple act of reshaping thought patterns, and bringing in innovation and novelty to sectors that are overlooked, we are nudging the Sri Lankan economy to take off in the right direction and make ourselves future proof,” states Randhula. GLX is currently in the process of setting stones for its new chapter in this journey, taking its expertise and business models global in the upcoming months.