The “Visiting Travel Blogger and Journalist Programme” is an annual project which Sri Lanka Tourism hosts in order to diversify and spread the visitation of foreign travelers visiting the country and also generate income for Micro, Small and Medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Sri Lanka. Over time, the consistent pattern of international travelers has been limited to areas like Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Yala. However, through the visiting blogger and journalist programs, interest has been created to popularize the lesser known attractions such as the Jaffna Peninsula, Pidurangala, Wilpattu, Riverstone-Matale, Seelogama – Belihuloya, Bandarawela, Monaragala, Maligathenna-Gampaha, Ridi Viharaya- Kurunegala, Diyaluma Falls, Kondagala-Kandy and Tangalle in Sri Lanka. Thus, more experience driven opportunities and diversity will be created and added to a visitor’s expedition in Sri Lanka.
“So Sri Lanka”, the theme that was used to provide travelers a lasting taste of the authentic Sri Lankan life; from authentic local food, nature, rich cultural values and lifestyle. Most travelers are now looking for unique experience-based options which Sri Lanka is able to provide, with the support of the rapidly increasing micro, small and medium businesses.
International Travel Journalists and Travel Bloggers were identified based on their engaging content creation skills for travel blogs, popular social media platforms (such as YouTube, Instagram Facebook), overall influence been made within their global virtual audience to highlight unexplored places on the map which needed attention to develop the local and regional economy.
The Modern Traveler is seeking undiscovered wildlife reserves, beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails. On the way to these attractions, they would ideally stop at a small eatery to enjoy a cup of tea, drink king coconut from a road side vendor or simply to indulge in an authentic culinary experience at a Sri Lankan household.
Previously, locations like Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Passikudah, Badulla, Riverstone, Bandarawela, Wilpattu and Belihuloya and Monaragala, hardly saw tourists, which were not on the regular guided tourist routes before. However, now these locations are part of the campaign to enhance their visibility and also ensure that these areas which contain small and medium enterprises, become a beacon for more travelers.
Ireland based Female Travel Blogger, Janet Newnham who has an international travel blog site called ‘Journalist on the run’, started blogging about Sri Lanka, commented that “I never expected to find some of the most beautiful hotels in the world in this small, but perfectly formed South Asian nation”.
Consequently, now dolphin watching in Kalpitiya, elephant safari in Minneriya and Wilpattu, are becoming popular. Travel Bloggers, journalists and tourists are now unearthing places like Pettah, venturing in to the unseen spice markets to buy spices from local wholesalers, then expanding their trip to Riverstone in Matale for hiking trails. Tourists are now stumbling upon waterfalls like Diyaluma, Sera Ella, Bopath Ella, Bambarakanda Ella, Duwili Ella and stopping over at homestay accommodation in the areas.
Another highlighted activity planned to uplift the local community was “Day with the locals” which was conducted in Selagama a remote village in Belihuloya and Kilinochchi (North). This program offered to create a community based rural tourism experience for the foreigners, who were able to pick up a few Sinhalese and Tamil words and bond with the local villagers and get involved in the paddy farming and cooking delicious meals from their farm fresh gardens. Local communities were engaged and benefitted substantially ranging from homestay providers, Village Safaris, boat rides, vendors selling their own crafts and creations and a grandma cooking that authentic Sri Lankan meal (local culinary demonstrations).
The captured content over these journeys were shared and published on popular travel blogs, online & print publications and social media platforms which reached the masses of people from different demographics of travelers around the world. The prominence is making pronounced strides on the distribution of the arrival of travelers and easing the traffic to well-known attractions and ensuring all parts of the country is able to gain intrinsically, financially and non-financially from tourism.
The lasting impact of the travel journalists and bloggers program can be viewed through the positive feedback it received where the YouTube and Instagram accounts of these social media influencers and bloggers were flooded with comments like, “I definitely want to visit these places” and “I would love to go see beautiful Sri Lanka” which showed that Sri Lanka was positioned on the minds of the enthusiastic and potential travelers.