Archive for March, 2013

Mattala Rajapaksa Int’l Airport opens

Today 18, March 2013, would be a red letter day in Sri Lanka’s aviation sector when Sri Lanka opens its second international airport. (MRIA) MRIA, Hambantota, Sri Lanka’s second ‘Gateway’ to the world, springs new hopes, aspirations, ambitions and excitement for Sri Lanka’s aviation industry, business, trade and leisure sectors, opening up a major growth opportunity for SriLankan Airlines.

The new airport would fulfill one of the longest infrastructure needs of the local aviation sector, a second international airport. Previously, airlines had to carry additional fuel and used to have back up plans in case they were unable to land in Colombo and with the opening of the MRIA, this major problem has been solved thus giving the airline additional savings.

Minster of Civil Aviation, Piyankara Jayaratne, said that one of the main reasons to build MRIC in Hambantota was the demand from the tourism sector where tourists wanted to start their tour by visiting wild life parks, (Yala) enjoy the sunny beaches in the Eastern province, cool themselves in the hill country, see the historic city of Kandy, followed by the cultural triangle and return via the Elephant orphanage in Pinnawela and finally enjoying the entertainment and shopping in Colombo, before departing.

The Mattala airport will also support the international cricket stadium, convention centre, harbour and most importantly the emerging economic zone and the International IT Park. MIRA will also be the only available air strip that could land the world’s largest aircraft, A380.

“We have reduced the fees of ground operations and airport fees in Mattala. In addition, we have introduced an “Open Sky Policy” which enables the landing of aircraft anytime in Mattala”. “In addition, we have mapped out several development plans for MRIA to refute allegations that Mattala was a White Elephant.”

SriLankan Airlines Chairman, Nishantha Wickramasingha, told Daily News Business that Sri Lankan Tourism can now aim at 2.5 million tourists in 2016. “The new airport would help Sri Lanka attract an additional million arrivals to the country,” he said.

Chairman, Airport Aviation Services, Prasanna Wickramasuriya, said that they have been marketing the MRIA for a long period and said that it had a sound business model to survive.

“We are targeting charter flights and logistic flights to use MRIA as it would be more viable for them as we have offered concessions,” he said. By providing water and fuel for aircraft and also providing maintenance services, the port can earn extra revenue which would be a commercially added advantage. All operations will be done through Katunayake. Aircraft landing at Mattala will fly through Katunayake. All flights operating through Shanghai, Beijing, Male, Riyadh, Buddha Gaya, etc. will fly to Mattala via Katunayake.

Two foreign airlines, flydubai and Air Arabia even before the completion of the airport, expressed their consent to start operations at Mattala and make it a destination for their flights.

In addition, several other airlines would be flying to MRIA soon. The cost of the project was funded by the Chinese Government. During the first phase, all basic facilities and requirements were completed, including a runway, taxiways and parking facilities. Any kind of airline in the world could land to Mattala International Airport. Mattala could accommodate massive aircraft such A 380 and even the largest aircraft Antanov 225.

The airport had been constructed as an eco-friendly airport, minimizing damage to the environment. During the second stage, aviation related facilities, such as a servicing and repairing centre for aircraft, pilot training centre, maintenance hub, private jet parking, technical training centres, hotels and many more facilities would be completed.

“SriLankan Airlines and Mihin, while operating several flights, plans to set up its Aviation Academy and a Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) facility with Lufthansa to expand its business in the South Asian region.” Catering for all flights that depart the MRIA; Engineering line maintenance support; and cargo handling whilst operating the airline’s own introductory schedule of flights, initially to the Maldives, the Middle East and China.

“For SriLankan Airlines, this is a quantum leap where we have the convenience of utilizing two international airports just 90.8 nautical miles apart, affording flexibility and new avenues for innovative expansion and development,” said SriLankan Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer, Kapila Chandrasena.

“We have recruited and we continue to recruit young Sri Lankans from new regions in the island, to enter lucrative careers in the dynamic aviation industry.”

Gunarathna said that the new airport commences its operations at a time the Tourism Industry of Sri Lanka was experiencing a steady growth, recording more than 46% annual growth over the years.

“As such, Sri Lanka Tourism is delighted to witness the opening of the MRIA and feel confident that it was definitely going to contribute in a mega scale for the development of tourism.”

These attractions are situated in close proximity to the Mattala Airport and introduced recently for tourists following the peaceful environment prevailing in these parts of the country, as a result of establishing peace, law and order by the Government of Sri Lanka.”

The strategic location of the new airport would also be significant in around the Eastern and Southern Provinces to serve the purpose of the frequent travellers who wish to travel at short transit times to visit tourism hot spots such as Nuwara Eliya Galle Arugam Bay, Yala National Park, Willpattu National Park, etc. Reaching these key tourism destinations from Mattala Airport is less time consuming than traveling from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.”

Veteran hosteller Chandra Wickramasinge of Maalu Maalu fame said that the MRIA would be a major boost to the development of tourism specially in the Eastern province. Tourists can now come to the East in less than three hours,” he said.

Chairman, Master Divers and Former Director of the Southern Development Authority, Ariyasiri Wickramanayaka told the Daily News Business that the new venture of opening the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) is a highly commendable step taken by the government.

“I am one of the pioneers who proposed to take this development into Hambantota. In fact, it was me who proposed to build the Hambantota port as Galle was not large enough. Therefore, I am happy that the new international airport is being built in Hambantota because it is where we are meant to be,” he said.

According to Wickramanayaka, Hambantota will be the next capital of Sri Lanka due to its ample space vacant for opportunity. According to him the fact that the airport and port, being bigger than the Katunayaka Airport and Colombo port, will attract many business opportunities.

“This is where we belong. Galle was the capital when the Dutch were here and Colombo was the capital when the British were here but now it is time we go back to the capital which was truly local and before the invasion, the late Magampura and the present Hambantota, we are going back home,” he said.

According to him opening the MRIA is a practical step as people would be drawn there business wise and it will be the future economic hub.

“If people want to earn a US $ 200 salary in future, Hambantota is the place to go, and that is were people will go to earn a good living as there is plenty of job opportunities,” he said.

Minister Jayaratne

Nishantha Wickramasinghe

Prassana Wickramasuriya

Bashwara Gunaratne

Ariyasiri Wickramanayaka

Krishanthi Weerasinghe

Chief Executive Officer, Hambantota Chamber of Commerce, Krishanthi Weerasinghe said that Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport will bring in a lot of opportunities for the business community because of the development in the tourism sector.

She said that with the new airport, all the other areas in the vicinity, namely Tissamaharama, Tangalle, Belliatta and other towns will develop rapidly. Weerasinghe said that there is ample chance for the development of infrastructure facilities due to the opening of opportunities in the area.

The majority of land belongs to the government, therefore, the government could easily provide more opportunities for the development and attract foreign investments into the country.

General Manager, Peacock Beach Hotel, Nalin Fernando said that this area was neglected for sometime and with the opening of the new airport there would be a big boom in the hotel and tourism sector in the area.

He said this would be a great move by the government to create a window of opportunities not only to the area but also to the whole country. This airport would bring enormous opportunities to the country from medium to long term perspectives.

Meanwhile, taking an international visual aspect on the proceedings of MRIA, a delegation from Germany and France visited Sri Lanka to enter into deals regarding rubber with one of Sri Lanka’s well known Rubber exporting companies, said that it will ease their burden of travel and that the location, though is highly condemned is by no way an inconvenience.

According to these delegates they expect MRIA to reach the international standards and is sure that this new initiative will make way to increase the already expanding tourism industry. Taking a more general perspective, Daily News Business spoke to some constant travelers, former FedEx Sri Lanka Manager who travels as a hobby said that the MRIA will actually increase the convenience of travel as there might be less traffic in reaching the airport.

“The MRIA is bigger than the Katunayaka International Airport and thus, in my opinion, traveling from Sri Lanka is about to be a more comfortable experience,” he said.


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SRI LANKA TOURISM: up, up and away!

Being perhaps the most senior travel journalist in the country today, beginning in 1962 as the travel correspondent of the Ceylon Daily Mirror which was the morning daily of the Times tallest in the country, on Bristol Street of Ceylon Group of Newspapers housed in the six storey building, then the, Fort, where the Customs Department has its headquarters now, I thought that I could make a few observations on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.

Tourists enjoying the scenic beauty

As a little boy, I used to stand beside the railings of the quaint wooden Old Jetty of the Colombo Harbour and gaze at the picturesque sight of the passenger and cargo ships berthed on the deep green waters.

I used to accompany my father to his office at the Central Y.M.C.A. and then stroll across to the Old Wooden Jetty which was then located at the Colombo Port Commission Head Office building opposite the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH).

The atmosphere, which prevailed at the time, still fills me with a deep nostalgia. I dreamt of faraway places some of them with strange sounding names. In 46 years of journalism these dreams have largely been fulfilled.

I watched with awe as boatloads of excursion tourists spending from a few hours to a couple of days moved back and forth from ship to shore. Traders in canoes loaded with an assortment of locally produced goods-curios, batiks, a full range of other handicrafts, tea, fruits etc. engaged with tourists on deck in hectic bargaining.

The tiny canoes, which were popularly known as bumboats were a great attraction and added to the old world charm. They were paddled to and fro carrying excited tourists on rides round the harbour, while passenger launches chugged along on their routine rounds servicing all the ships anchored in the port – a beautiful blend of ancient and modern.

Colombo Harbour

Alas! The picturesque bumboats are now as rare as excursion tourists. As in all other things, the old order yielding place to the new. The old wooden jetty is also no more. Instead, we have the modern terminal building beside the Queen Elizabeth Quay.

Whale watching, very popular with tourists

It was in the Colombo Harbour that the pioneers of the local tourist industry cut their teeth. Dedicated men like P.A. Ediriweera, Don Liyanage, Jim Wanigatunge, Eustace Ranasinghe, Charlie Nanayakara, Amara Amaratunge using excursionist traffic as bread and butter tourism began building the tourist industry brick by brick through blood, sweat and tears, while seeking new pastures in the West targeting the foreign individual tourists and small groups.

They sought and found discerning high spending tourists in the United States, UK and Western Europe who found Sri Lanka a demi paradise, to scour potential markets, clients.

There were times they had to go hungry, sell their possessions to keep afloat. The excursion traffic reached its peak during the 1950s and 60s with hordes of migrants from the UK and Europe voyaging to Australia to begin new lives Down Under.

During this boom, the big ocean liners such as Canberra, Oriana, Stratheden, Himalaya, pride of the P and O fleet, were regular callers in Colombo. There were also Lloyd Triestino passenger ships doing the same run while the impressive Bibby passenger cargo vessels were a regular feature. Also, luxury liners such as Kungsholm and later, the Queen Elizabeth II which usually berthed by the quay named after it.

Prominent figures in the port’s passenger operations were Cyril Lawrence, the dedicated Manager of McKinnons, Conrad Ephraims, Herbert Wijekoon, Fabian Hendricks and Egerton Hobbs of Aitken Spence. At the Customs Baggage Office were Nawaratne Senerath who became not only my best contact, but also a very firm and loyal friend, Rex Breckendrige, who actually was more of a friend of my father than mine, Preventive Officer Rajasuriya and many many others. V. P. Vittachchi who was Principal Collector of Customs, a first class administrator, who became a close friend and mentor and his deputy Gayanath Cumaratunga were the source of many scoops when I took to journalism.

In 1948 at the age of 13, I accompanied my father on board the Bibby Liner ‘Herefordshire’ to bade farewell to our small contingent bound for the Olympic Games in London.

It was a memorable picture yet framed in my mind, standing on the deck quite thrilled in the presence of such greats as the captain of the team Duncan White who won a silver, Albert Perera, to my mind the best boxer we have ever produced, Alex Obeysekere, Leslie Handunge, Eddie Gray, G.D. Peiris and a few others. It was evening and sun was setting in the west, very poignant, still etched in my memory. However, since the early 1960s, increasingly large numbers of tourists arrived by air, individually, in groups and in planeloads of back-to-back charters.

Large business conglomerates, which had hitherto not entered the hospitality industry, began investing heavily in the tourist plant. These firms are the bulwark of Sri Lankan tourism operating in all areas of the industry, generating tourist traffic, operating hotels, providing transport and other ancillary services.

The Ceylon Hotels Corporation also continues to play a significant role and has been revamped in keeping with modern trends. Hotels such as Ceylon Intercontinental and Oberoi (now the Cinnamon Grand), the Hilton, Taj Samudra, Holiday Inn strengthened the already existing hotel sector. However, the cornerstones of Sri Lanka’s hotel industry were and continue to be Galle Face, Mount Lavinia Hotel, Grand Oriental, Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela Hotel, New Oriental, Galle, Queens, Kandy, which are aeon years old and steeped in history and rich tradition.

The key figures who ushered in modern tourism plant were Ken Balendra (John Keells), S. Sivaratnam (Aitken Spence), M.P.K. Furqhan (Confifi Group), George Ondatjie (Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya and Nilaweli, Trincomalee) and Herbert Cooray (Jetwing).

The resort hotels led by the Bentota Beach which was opened by Sirimavo Bandaranaike as Prime Minister, was the harbinger of the chain, extending from the entire southwestern to the southern coasts. Mrs. Bandaranaike, from her first term as Prime Minister, took a personal interest in the development of the hospitality industry.

The red tape bound Ceylon Tourist Bureau which was located near the Port Terminal Building was moved to the location which now houses the five-star Taj Samudra Hotel. The Bureau was renamed the Ceylon Tourist Board.

Since then, successive governments of both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party have played strong and active roles in the development of tourism. Both J.R. Jayewardene and his Deputy Anandatissa de Alwis, as Minister, the former as Minister and President and the latter as Secretary Ministry of Tourism and Minister played very significant roles and if my memory serves me right were the architects of the open skies policy which gave unrestricted access to international carriers Air Ceylon was the first national carrier and had tie ups with KLM, BOAC and Qantas on international routes.

National airline

With the advent of air travel, a number of international airlines began operating in this country, some by having flights into Katunayake while others had their offices here. Among them were TWA, Swiss Air, Alitalia, Aeroflot, UTA French Airlines, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathy Pacific and others, while Indian Airlines, Pakistan Airlines and Air Ceylon operated regional flights. Later we saw the opening up of the Middle East market with the advent of Saudi Air, Kuwait Airways and the back to back charters carriers, such as Condor which flew in the first jumbo jet, Lauda Air, LTU and others whose names do not come to mind at the time of writing.

It was unfortunate that the agreement signed with Emirates was very one-sided, weighted heavily in favour of the Dubai-based airline.

The value of having a national airline must be realized from the fact that during times of crises such as the JVP insurgencies which threatened to bring the country to a standstill and three decades of naked LTTE terror, it was the national airline that carried the tourist industry and the country’s international travel links on its shoulders.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has had the wisdom to abrogate the agreement with Emirates in the national interest. It was during the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga that this disastrous agreement with Emirates was signed. The UNP was very critical at the time of this tie up. But when Ranil Wickremesinghe came into power, the UNP did sweet nothing to correct the situation.

The new management must tread carefully, take wise decisions in the national interest, have proper planning and must be allowed to take professional decisions which they should be found accountable. Nothing ad-hoc. If this is done, we will have a profitable truly national carrier for the first time in the history of aviation in this country.

Foreign exchange

According to reports, tourism, which is the country’s fourth largest foreign exchange earner, has targeted one million arrivals in 2008, this was achieved in 2012. This is almost double that of the total for 2007, which was 494,000.

There has been a steady increase this year with the Middle East, India, Japan, China and several other markets becoming more active, but whether we will reach the desired one million mark is as yet somewhat of a question. At the same time, the traditional traffic from Western Europe with Germany being the largest segment, and the UK, continues despite all sorts of doomsday predictions made by anti-national, anti-social elements in this country.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has replaced the Sri Lanka Tourist Board and with Renton de Alwis, a dynamic private sector oriented administrator with expertise in marketing heading it as chairman, the administration is breaking the shackles of red tapeism. There is also the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Authority. The former is the regulatory body and the latter tasked with promoting the hospitality industry. It is essential that these two key bodies should dovetail into each other for the rapid growth of tourism. The private sector has and must continue to play an, essential vibrant role in the development of the country’s hospitality industry.

In promoting tourism, we have to be up date with the latest world trends, both in marketing and in service. Today, consumers are increasingly making their own choices as to the destinations. And this is evident by the large volume of direct inquiries being made through the Internet.

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SLTPB wins global accolade at ITB

Heralding a thriving era for the tourism industry of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) won the third place at ITB 2013 for being the Best Exhibitor of Asia/Australia/Oceania division.

Rumy Jauffer, Managing Director, SLTPB with the award and other officials.

This award was organized by Cologne Business School which organized awards under several categories including the awards for ex air services-carriers, hotels, travel support and media, travel organizations, NGOs and destinations.

Since Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), under the guidance of Basil Rajapaksa, the Minister of Economic Development, has identified Germany as a Key market among the traditional tourist markets of Sri Lanka, actions were taken to set up an attractive stall in the ITB, inclusive of all the tourism products related to the market of Germany.

The selection process for the above award was based on particular criteria which included design, activities, services, information material and first impression of the pavilion. As per this criterion, Korea and Indonesia ranked first and the second respectively whereas Sri Lanka secured the third place.

It was a remarkable achievement compared to the size of the Sri Lankan tourism industry.


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SLTB luxury bus service to Mattala airport

The Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) will commence a luxury bus service between the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport and Colombo Fort via the Southern Expressway to facilitate travel for air passengers from the Mattala airport.

An SLTB spokesman told the Daily News that the luxury bus service will start concurrently with the opening of the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on March 18 (Monday).

He said 10 luxury buses will be deployed on this route initially. “We plan to add more buses from the North and East and main towns and cities across the country on this route in due course.

“Timetables and fares of luxury buses plying on this route will be released in the coming days,” he said.

“We will purchase these luxury buses from India’s Ashok Leyland on an earn and pay basis,” he added.


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Korean Air commenced Seoul-Colombo direct flights

Group Photograph Taken with the Pilots  Cabin Crew  Mr. Chang Hoon Chi President  C.O.O of Korean Air Mr. Tissa WijeratneAmbassador after the inaugaration

Korean Air launched its direct flight service between Seoul and Colombo on Saturday (09). Korean Air will fly from Seoul to Colombo three times a week on Monday, Wednesday & Saturday and will return to Seoul from Colombo on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday of each week.

An inaugural ceremony was held with the presence of Chang HoonChi, President and C.O.O of Korean Air, Tissa Wijeratne, Ambassador of Sri Lanka, and senior officials from the Incheon Airport and Korean Air.

The establishment of direct flights between Korea and Sri Lanka will facilitate the movement of people and goods, providing new business opportunities for the aviation industries of both countries.  Furthermore, this initiative will allow Sri Lankan and Korean companies to expand their business/investment ventures, enhance bilateral relations, broaden cultural understanding, and overall, deepen the friendship that binds Korea and Sri Lanka.

Tourism is also expected to increase  with  the commencement of  direct flights. During the year 2012, Korean tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka increased by approximately 43% compared to the year 2011, owed greatly to successful tourism promotional activities. With the support of Korea Air, the Embassy and the Sri Lanka Tourism promotion Bureau plan to enhance tourism promotional activities.


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Sri Lanka targets China tourists

Sri Lanka will invite over 100 travel agents from China as part of efforts to boost visitors from the country where outbound tourism is growing, minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said

The cabinet of minister had approved a proposal by minister Basil Rajapaksa to invite the travel agents on a familiarization tour of the country.In 2013 Sri Lanka is targeting 60,000 Chinese visitors as part of efforts to attract 1.25 million tourists an ambitious 25 percent growth over 2012.

In 2012 visitors from China grew 58.1 percent to 25,781.

China has become a key outbound travel market in recent years with the country becoming the top source of visitors for many East Asian nations. Chinese are also a key contributor to Maldives.

Minister Rambukwelle the Chinese market was being developed as part of efforts to reduce the dependency on European visitors with India and China becoming large economic powers.

India does not need special promotion because of cultural affinities and because it is very close he said.

Visitors from India started to grow after visas were lifted in mid 2010. Last year visas were re-imposed. Growth fell to 2.9 percent.

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Sri Lanka, Maldives should cooperate, says Maldivian tourism minister

Maldives Tourism Minister  Ahmed Adeeb Gafoor reiterated his call for  Sri Lanka to work together  with the Maldives in capturing potential markets as it would be mutually beneficial for both countries in a highly competitive market.


Gafooor said that Maldives was grateful to Sri Lanka for bringing an end to terrorism since it would have affected the entire region if it was allowed to continue as it would have caused immense problems to the tourism industry not only in Sri Lanka but other countries in South  Asia as well, he said speaking to The Island Financial Review on the sidelines of the ITB in Berlin, Germany.

“With the dawn of peace in Sri Lanka, Maldives will soon be launching a cruise ship service between Male and Colombo and it is likely to commence operations in December,” the Minister said.

The Minister said that China tops the list of tourist arrivals to the Maldives and he was of the opinion that Sri Lanka should join together with Maldives and promote joint packages to the Chinese as Sri Lanka has more to offer than beaches.

“During the next few years Maldives tourism industry will lay more emphasis on development of infrastructure while attracting more investments,” he said.”

The country celebrated 40 years in tourism in February 2012 and we are moving into a new and challenging phase during the next ten years and we will be adding  more value to our product,” Gafoor said.

The Maldives is developing its existing airports and are going  in for new ones to meet the demand in the tourism industry, the Minister said adding that the airport in the   Gan Island, the former British airbase, was being developed with an investment of  US$ 30 million and on completion of the project  it would have the capacity to land A 340s and Boeing 777s. At present, only aircraft such as A 320 could land there. It is also strategically important as Addu  Atoll, to which Gan Island belongs, is being developed as a major tourist resort.  Leading brands such as Hyatt, Jumeirah, Robinson, Shangri-La have already  invested  there and there is a total of 6,000 rooms.

Gafoor said that  the contract of an Indian company to  operate the  Hululle Airport in Male

Was withdrawn and Sri Lankan Airlines would be provided with more incentives with the new change taking place.”

More than making Hululle airport a bigger one, it will be developed to operate as an efficient Airport,” he said.

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