Innovation Amidst the Crisis – Athula Makavitage, Founder/CEO of Club Waskaduwa Beach Resort & Spa

Born and bred in Kandy, Sri Lanka, Athula Makavitage is a persistent multilingual entrepreneur, ambitious go-getter who has pursued many development studies such as Literature, Arts and Design, Public Relations, Sales and Marketing, Shipping, Gemmology, Business Management, Travel and Tourism, and is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Café Colombo and the Colombo Assets, the Chairman of the Board and the major shareholder of Premier Ceylon International, and is the Founder and CEO of his childhood dream of owning a resort business and traveling the world that has indeed given birth to an effective leader with a proven track record of supporting organizations to thrive and thrive, in addition to developing start-ups, BOT and navigating them to become profitable ventures.

His childhood dream – Club Waskaduwa Beach Resort and Spa recently won the 2020 Luxury Ocean View Resort award in the South West Asia Region. It is a five-star luxury boutique hotel located in the south, offering its guests an exceptional experience.

Apart from his achievements he is working on a few diversified business line ups with foreign partnerships that will resuscitate and additionally is currently pursuing an organisational leadership course at Harvard University.

Expressing his views, Athula shared through his perception on how sectors can revive in the current pandemic situation; “We are also focusing on refurbishing and preventive maintenance, introducing new technologies such as cashless payments, remote check in and check out, mobile apps, QR codes, working with more online booking platforms and channel managers while strengthening our existing relationship with Destination Management Companies and tour operators, so that when things slowly fall back into place we are well prepared.”

Speaking about the impact of international brands on the performance of local hotels, Athula encouraged this action as he went on to say that these brands while allowing healthy competition, assist to promote Sri Lanka and highlights SL on the world tourism map which in return help attract more tourists and further on states “..us as Sri Lankans need to focus more on our authenticity with more organised and improvised products.

In further discussion, the Founder and CEO of Club Waskaduwa Beach Resort and Spa differentiates his organisation in comparison to his competitors by stating;  

“We are a medium sized luxury boutique hotel located on a scenic beach easily accessible from the BIA and the two main cities of Colombo and Galle. We offer three restaurants, three bars, a spa, in-house boutique, gym and a travel desk apart from many recreational activities on demand when in full operation. Our rooms are better equipped, spacious and luxurious than most brands. We have not compromised on the quality of our product. We have custom made bedding – way comfortable compared to many larger international brands. Hygienic TOTO Japanese electronic washlets are there in all the rooms apart from all other luxury amenities you expect in a 5 star deluxe resort. We are also in the process of adding a water sports club and a Pier in order to facilitate marine sports and leisure activities direct from the resort. Our team members are also hired as multitaskers and encouraged and compensated to engage and provide a more personalised service to our guests.” We are also working with Miss England organisation and a few French and Japanese Universities where we bring in university students as interns who work and train with us for a few months and promote Sri Lanka and our resort internationally.

Athula has participated in a number of international destination marketing, travel trade fairs, road shows and conferences and some with association with SLTDA and some representing his previous and existing companies. Hence, with his vast knowledge, he states his positive and negative notions on the nation’s destination marketing strategy;

“One negative thing I noted was people in the higher positions were sometimes appointed without a related skill set. In some cases, when someone with skills is appointed, they are removed before they are able to make any possible impact.

“We need to be more innovative and keep improving our marketing or destination showcasing strategies every time we face a global audience, instead of sticking to the old outdated methods that are not doing any good to help improve or justify the image of the destination.” 

He further elaborates the importance of being innovative, especially in ever evolving global hospitality trends which Sri Lanka needs to be prepared for, and advises to be different as our bountiful country has advantages which a very few countries can offer the yearning travellers.

“Far East is taking a lead and changing more and more hotels into smart hotels like using robotic staff, voice control devices, contactless payments, self-serviced outlets, self-check in and check outs. This is done in order to fast track the operation while reducing staff and other overheads. These trends are slowly implemented by most ME, European, and other destinations as well.

“While the world is going high tech, travellers are going to receive less and less personalised services and they are going to want it badly and at any cost. This is a vacuum we can fill using our existing resources such as diversity, natural beauty and natural resources, access to organic edibles, Ayurveda, affordable and friendly man power to name a few. What we need to do is to implement necessary and effective new technologies, invest on our stakeholders, improve their lifestyle, knowledge, exposure to new technology, professionalism and empower them.”

As tourism plays a major role in the global economy, he believes that tourism within these two years’ time will be challenging for the industry and the stakeholders. However, he assures the readers that with a rising educated middle class, in developing countries, tourism without a doubt will flourish; “Tourism is a major part of the global economy and accounts for 7% of global exports in goods and services. Global tourism has also experienced a steady growth for over six decades despite many challenges and catastrophes. Global expenditure on tourism more than doubled from $700 billion to 1.6 trillion during 2004-2018. 1.2 billion Travellers were reported in 2016, 1.5 billion in 2019 and this is expected to rise to 1.8 billion by 2030 which may very well surpass far earlier. With emerging educated wealthier middle class and proportionate rise in the aging population and their eagerness to see and know the world, tourism will keep on growing.

“In addition, if we as a destination contain the situation by practicing sustainable health orders and practices while implementing innovative and effective marketing strategies it will be plausible to get back in business sooner.”

On a concluding note, Athula stated that this is a season of improvisation, and hence to add value and reposition themselves in the market and prepare “..for the revival of post pandemic tourism boom” as they diversify their business by looking into more innovative ways on combining hospitality and wellness.

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