Archive for April, 2015

‘Sancharaka Udawa 2015’ kicks off

The fifth edition of ‘Sancharaka Udawa 2015,’ Sri Lanka’s only domestic tourism fair, was inaugurated by Tourism and Sports Minister Navin Dissanayake yesterday at the BMICH. The event was organised by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SALITO) together with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB). The exhibition, a platform to showcase Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs working in the tourism industry, is on from 24-25 April. This platform has helped numerous small-medium venturesto establish themselves within Sri Lanka’s tourism industry and the popularity of the event is touted as a testimony to its success in achieving its objectives…

Addressing the gathering, the Minister said that the Government was looking forward to an influx of two million tourist arrivals by the end of this year. “We got the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) and the Promotion Bureau as well as our Hotel School together to exchange ideas and identify issues in tourism industry, therefore I feel very positive and upbeat about the outlook of our tourism industry going forward,”the Minister said. The Minister further noted that Sri Lanka had enormous potential to grow its tourism industry, while emphasising that the Government’s primary focus had been set to pass on the benefits of tourism to the masses. However he reiterated that the issues facing the industry should be addressed in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Notably, this year’s exhibition willsee the number of stalls increasing to 200 and the number of companies participating hasalso increased significantly comparedto the previous year. Organisers told the Daily FT that they expect over 2, 000 local visitors plus 100 foreign visitors to this year’sexhibition. Organisers said that often the local market was unaware of what was available to them in their own country while the bigger companies were often unaware of the new products and services available on the tourism circuit. Thus ‘Sancharaka Udawa 2015’ is the place where all these elements come together and business opportunities are explored for the benefit of all. The exhibition is an ideal opportunity for those interested in the tourism industry, including students, to get a firsthand understanding of the latest developments and trends in the tourism industry, all under one roof.
CDC Events and Travels will serve as the Professional Exhibition Organiser for Sancharaka Udawa 2015.

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MICE market to rake in US$ 400 m this year

Meetings,Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions (MICE) tourist arrivals for the current year has been reported as 150,000 tourists. This amount is a significant nearing to the 240,000 MICE tourist target for 2016.Sri Lanka Convention Bureau General Manager,Vipula Wanigasekera said 60 to 65% of this amounts to incentive travellers and they expect a revenue of around US$ 400 m this year.

“Sri Lanka is a country which has an attractive diversity, people often tend to believe that MICE is a substitute term for conference oriented tourists,” he said.

Wanigasekera said they are more focused on attracting more incentive tourists as the they spend two and half times more than the conventional tourists.

Thus the revenue can significantly increased through incentive tourists, he said.

“Sri Lanka presently have the tourist numbers on its side, thus our target is to attract the high spenders.We promote various cultural events that highlight the diversity that is present in the country that will necessarily attract these tourists,”Wanigasekera said.

The country is to host several key events from May onwards. In terms of conferences the country will host conferences of the Asia Pacific Security Repository Group, International Coloured Gem Stones Association, Asia Pacific ICT Affiance, and Civil Aviation Director Generals Conference and the International Conference on Geotechnical Engineering.

A few other events in the MICE event calendar includes, South Asian Investment Conference, National Convention on Quality and Productivity, Construction Expo 2015, Ayurvedha Expo 2015 – International Indigenous Healthcare Exhibition, IEEE Region 10 Congress and Symposium on Wild Cats of South Asia Past and Present. Sri Lanka Convention Bureau is the Government arm established for the development of the Meetings Industry in Sri Lanka, which is functioning under the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

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SL cruise tourism doubles, strong marketing push agreed

The core committee of SLITO cruise tourism with Ceylon Shipping Corporation Chairman Shashi Dhanatunge and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Rohantha Athukorala

The cruise travel business better known as the ‘ floating marine resorts of the world’ that attracts the most wealthy globally has doubled in business for Sri Lanka with 14 cruise liners calling the country in 2012/13 registering visitor arrivals of 19,615 cruise travellers whilst in 2013/2014 Sri Lanka attracted 22 cruise liners into Sri Lanka with visitor numbers going up to 27,317 whilst this year the numbers have spiked to 40 cruise liner arrivals and overall visitors expected to be 50,000 plus which is a sizable market to focus on said Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman Rohantha Athukorala who met the core committee of the SLITO working group on cruise tourism headed by veteran Bernie Dole. Also present was Ceylon Shipping Corporation Chairman Shashi Dhanatunge who explained the new infrastructure planned to be invested in the next three months focussing on cruise tourism.
The key steps agreed at the meeting was that whilst the supply chain efficiencies needed to be developed such as luggage handling, passenger liaisons, vehicle logistics for easier access into the city and back the demand side require immediate focus. The Sri Lanka promotion chief immediately agreed to facilitate for Sri Lanka to be present at the key cruise tourism travel fair in Busan, Korea in July this year together with the private sector. We will also make a pitch for top cruise organisations like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and MSC to have turnaround visits and include Sri Lanka in to the ternary committed Athukorala on behalf of Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau that drives a Rs. 5 billion budget on global promotions.
On behalf of SLITO Bernie Dole explained that even in the 2016 Tourism master plan the cruise segment was not included and the new enthusiasm and drive is very positive given that there is a 9% cater growth in the last nine years globally even when the whole world was in recession which is the purchasing power of cruise travellers. We will support the Government on the development plan agreed today and be present at the Busan Fair. Athukorala said that the number 8 market globally which is US attracts only 39,000 visitors which means that cruise travel segment is in fact larger in size than the top 10 sourcing destinations for tourism as per the 2014 visitors. We must make this segment 100,000 tourists within two years voiced Athukorala who has given strong leadership not only to the tourism industry but also to trade and commerce by championing the World Expo 2015 presence as directed by the cabinet on the intervention of the Prime Minister.

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ME grow by 20.1% in Q1, SL Tourism target Riyadh

Whilst the country was celebrating New Year, Sri Lanka Tourism was focussed on building brand Sri Lanka in Riyadh and Damman and thereby pegging overall numbers from the Middle East said a communique from the Sri Lanka Promotional Bureau.

“The overall thrust on 12 April by Sri Lanka Tourism was in the backdrop of the overall numbers increasing by 13.6% and the Middle Eastern market increasing business by 20.1% with Saudi Arabia way up at 37.8% and UAE at 16% and Oman at 42.1% but we are very concerned that these numbers don’t reflect the overall occupancy of the formal sector. This needs to be properly researched and a strategy in place to be captured,” said Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau Chairman Rohantha Athukorala.
“The numbers are encouraging given that the middle eastern travellers are essentially summer tourists that will help iron out the off season occupancy issue in the formal tourism sector but the work we did last week in the Road Shows in Damman and Riyadh that attracted over a hundred top travel agents to engage the key 12 companies that went was very important and unique given that we did a market blitz in the whole region and got strong share of media to Sri Lanka than just taking part only at the Riyadh Travel Mart,” voiced Athukorala. The special nature of the Sri Lanka pavilion was that the country came first with Sri Lanka Tourism, Sri Lanka Airlines and Sri Lanka Tea Board in unison being in the Sri Lanka pavilion which is what Sri Lanka require said Athukorala. We will further extend this at Expo 2015 and then at the Arabian Travel Mart which the biggest fair that is in the Middle Eastern calendar for tourism development agenda.

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Patterns of tourism development in the Maldives and Sri Lanka

Similarities and differences: realities of geography

This, the first of an intended exclusive series of articles by the writer, will attempt to examine the tourism industry of the Maldives and Sri Lanka from different perspectives, with a view to highlighting similarities and differences as it develops and impacts the national economy of both countries. This, the first article, attempts an understanding of how the realities of geography have fashioned the development of the industry in different directions even while we share almost the same  location on the globe


Sri Lanka and the Maldives are geographic, cultural and economic neighbours whose lives and livelihoods have been historically and even today intermingled and integrated. Occupying a total length of less than 1300 km north to south, within the larger expanse of the Indian Ocean, we share the same climate and experience the exact same monsoonal forces that fashion our existence. While sharing so much and even as both are islands, Maldives and Sri Lanka are also broadly different in their geographical reality. This differences in geographic reality have fashioned our tourism industry in very different ways and led them down separate paths to the reality we experience today. This article will examine, in the main, how geography has defined the tourism industry of both countries through the availability of geographical space and diversity of the tourism product.

Model of development
While Maldives is geographically almost twice the length of Sri Lanka, the country is almost 99.9% sea and the country consists of upwards of a thousand very small islands that are separated from the each other by expanse of deep water. When tourism first started in the Maldives back in 1972, the pioneers, who on their original visit actually stayed in guest houses in Malé, the capital, decided that tourism would be borne and developed on small uninhabited islands separated from the inhabited islands. They visited several nearby islands during their initial visit, and decided to develop the uninhabited islands of Vihamanaafushi and Bandos; both very close to the capital city, to lay the foundation of the tourism industry in the Maldives. Two uninhabited islands were deliberately chosen so that tourists would spend their holiday away and detached from the life and livelihood of the Maldivian. Therefore, tourism was deliberately started as an activity that will be removed from the living space of the people. As tourism developed and grew, this distance in space from the Maldivian way of life was maintained and resort hotels were geographically separate from the urban centers. Tourists spend their vacation in their exclusive resorts and do not intermingle with the local population, unless through an organised day tour to an inhabited island.

While tourism started in islands that were in close proximity to the capital and has now spread throughout the country, each resort hotel was developed in an uninhabited separate island and tourists were transported to and from the airport by special ferries, charter flights and water taxis. They continued to spend their day, mostly restricted to one specific resort diving, swimming and relaxing by day and night. International hotel chains and brands started investing in the Maldives and the Maldivian tourism industry has, over the last decade, been largely seen as the favoured exclusive destination for the rich and the famous. This model of tourism development; where tourists and their holiday behaviour have been separated from Maldivians and their daily life have meant that there have been breadth and depth for the industry to develop without impinging on the culture and ethos of the Maldivian people; a 100% Muslim country from the 12th Century onward.

This model of separateness and uncoupling of the tourism industry from the living space of the Maldivian life, has allowed an industry that started in 1972 with 266 visitors to grow into an industry that hosted more than one million visitors in 2014 without causing consternation or alarm by a population, whose cultural norms and ethos are largely different from those of the visitors. While Sri Lanka too is very much an island country, the internal geography of the two island countries differs tremendously and have therefore allowed tourism development to forge a separate path in Sri Lanka. Unlike its neighbour, Sri Lanka is, on the whole very much a one large island, thereby enabling land transport to and from its regions and cities.
While history records that there was a Government Tourist Bureau since 1937, it is in 1966 (just six years before tourism started in the Maldives) that the need to develop and foster tourism in a centrally planned fashion was identified and the Ceylon Tourist Board was instituted as a statutory Board by an Act of Parliament.

As the Ceylon Tourist Board started its effort to welcome and house tourists, one of the first attempts were to ensure that there were adequate accommodation facilities for the incoming guests. The network of accommodation facilities, built by the British administration, in their effort to administer the country, were selected and converted as tourist accommodation.
Some of the accommodation that in fact later became hotels were even residences of the governors and their working offices. Therefore, the fact that the original tourism accommodation were facilities developed to house officials and allow for administration, inter alia meant that these accommodation, while maintaining some distance would still be very much accessible to population centres, markets and centres of culture and commerce. Even today, while the major hotels of Colombo are enveloped by a perimeter of about seven km within Colombo 1 and 2, they do not hinder guests to mingle with people and their life.

Tourists who travel to Sri Lanka are free and encouraged to travel and experience the length and breadth of not only the capital, but also the considerable wealth and diversity of the Sri Lankan landscape. They do not necessarily restrict themselves to a single hotel or indeed to even a region. Even if they do register at a single hotel for the duration of their stay, the day is spent in tours and visits to other regions, markets and other places of interest. Therefore, even while tourism have developed in close geographical proximity, in a global sense, the internal geography and national circumstances have fashioned two very distinct types of tourism in both our countries. In Maldives tourists have been very much limited to exclusive resorts and tourism detached from the daily life of the population. Yet in Sri Lanka, just an hour’s journey away, the model of tourism development have not restricted tourists to single hotels or even regions but have allowed tourists to travel the breath of Sri Lanka and have afforded for greater interminglement with the people and their daily life.

Diversification of the tourism product
While the model of tourism development has differed, it is also evidently true that the diversity on offer have also largely been determined by internal geography of both countries. This has defined the tourism product of Maldives in different terms to the tourism product of Sri Lanka even while we are just less than 700 km away from each other. The Maldivian tourism product is famous for the tropical getaway holiday of sun-sea and sand. It is the dream destination of honeymooners and the rich and famous have marked Maldives as their own. Within the Maldivian tourism experience, there are indeed different types of holidays to be experienced from the live-a-board holidays in traveling safari boats to diving holidays to world class diving sites like the Fotheyo Kandu in Vaavu Atoll. Maldives also offers top class opportunities to surfing enthusiasts and professionals at famous locations such as Kuda Vilin’gili in Male’ Atoll among others. With variety and differences, it is also true that Maldivian holidays have a largely nautical tinge to it, as the geography of Maldives is largely ubiquitous across its length.

Thus while Maldives offers spectacular white sandy beaches, turquoise blue lagoons and rich marine life, the attractions are very much the same from the north to the south of the country. Days on the beach or in the sea. Nights of luxury and indulgence. Expensive spas and underwater restaurants. The packages of the different resorts differ from the degree of luxury and opulence and by the number of stars coveted by the brand that make the offer. However, while the length of Sri Lanka about half the geographical length of Maldives, Sri Lanka offers a considerable expanse of diversity to its clients, a veritable smorgasbord of richness from luxurious beaches to lush jungles and forests and lakes filled with rich bio diversity. Six UNESCO recognised world heritage sites and a rich mix of culture and religion with ancient venerated sites add additional charm and attraction to the Sri Lankan holiday. There are offers for those inclined to rest and relax, for the adventurous, for the nature lover and for the curious and the inquisitive.

Tourists, while spending some time in urban Colombo, spend a lot more time traveling and experiencing the diversity of richness that is Sri Lanka; from the cooler climes of Nuwara Eliya and its rolling tea plantations, to the jungle flora and fauna of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This mix is made richer by opportunities for Kayaking and canoeing in the Kalu Ganga and the Kelani Ganga, or because of a culturally enhancing visit to a sacred city like that of Anuradhapura. Therefore, while Maldives and Sri Lanka both share very much a similar global location, the realities of geography has not only defined and customised both our tourism industry and taken them down different paths, the diversity of the tourism product, too, is different in our two countries.

Change being an inevitable process, even while the model of development has been different in both countries, there are changes happening in the tourism industry of both the countries. The model of tourism development in the Maldives, where tourists were detached and distance from the local population has started to shift in 2008, with the then incoming government allowing and supporting development of tourist hotels in inhabited islands. Commonly referred to as guest house tourism, this fork of tourism development has grown from 400 guest houses in the year 2008 to over 1918 guest houses in 2013; an increase of over 375%. Tourists, today are being hosted in island communities and spend their vacation intermingled with life on an island and the culture of the Maldivian people in their daily life.

Guest house tourism has allowed SME involvement in the tourism industry and generated employment and commercial opportunities to small islands giving a much-needed boost to the island economy, elevating entrepreneurs and strengthening SME development throughout the country. Yet, as guest houses develop, Maldivians may have to learn the tourism industry all over again. For 40 plus years tourists have flown into the country and spent their holidays in resort islands. They were a presence largely known but rarely physically felt. They contributed to the swift development of the economy but did not intrude into the daily life of most Maldivians. Yet, with the introduction of guest house tourism tourists will occupy the same space and interact with the life of the island people on a daily basis.

As Maldivians, while we are famously known for our hospitality, we shall still have to develop new rubrics of interaction and contact that will allow guest house tourism to prosper while still preserving and maintaining intact, the Maldivian way of life.
In Sri Lanka too, there are developments happening in the geographical landscape. After being hampered and restricted for 25 years, Sri Lankan tourism too is undergoing rapid development. While Maldives has hosted the world’s biggest brands in hospitality for some time, their venture into Sri Lanka has been understandably muted. Yet, today, billboards in Colombo herald the coming in of Sheraton and Shangri La among other luxury brands preparing their entrance to the Sri Lankan tourism industry. The entrance of such giants of the hospitality industry would surely change the tourism dynamics of Sri Lankan tourism undoubtedly.

Because of the travesties of the war that bound Sri Lanka for a quarter of a century until 2009, tourism development has naturally been impeded. During this period, Maldivian tourism has grown and expanded including developments from Sri Lankan investors. As Maldives enters the guest house tourism market, and Sri Lanka welcomes the big brands of hospitality, there will be much for entrepreneurs and people to learn from each other. With a firm understanding of the differences and similarities and the reasons why they have emerged so, there will be many experiences to be shared and lessons to be learnt.

(The writer, who can be reached via, is a Maldivian who writes on economic related issues. Comments, criticisms and insights both to this particular article and to the developing series are welcome in order to improve the series as it develops and morphs.)

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Kerala to work with Sri Lanka on tourism

Thiruvananthapuram: Sri Lanka and Kerala are to collaborate in the tourism sector. In addition to developing existing tourist locations, the move would also seek to enhance the flow of tourists to the two destinations.

A team led by minister A P Anilkumar is to meet Sri Lankan tourism minister Naveen Dissanayake in the coming two days. A road show of Kerala tourism would also be held at Colombo in a day. Malayala Manorama had earlier published a story on the advances made by Lankan tourism and a brainstorming session that followed the story here suggested closer ties with Sri Lanka for mutual development.

Chinese and other tourists from eastern nations visit Lanka the most and Kerala is also targeting that section of tourists. While initial official-level talks were initiated with Sri Lankan authorities during the Berlin tourism festival, Kerala received invitation from Sri Lanka for discussions at the ministerial level later. Since Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi have visa-on-arrival facility, tourists from Lanka can easily visit the state. Discussions would also revolve around developing such facilities in future.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who visited Kerala a day earlier said that his nation was ready to cooperate with Kerala in the tourism sector. It is in this background that ministerial talks are expected to be more effective. (Source: The Kerala tourism department is also planning to forge alliances with Lanka and Maldives to create a tourism circuit.

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Sri Lanka participates at TUR Travel Fair 2015 in Gothenburg, Sweden

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau along with the Sri Lanka Embassy in Sweden and representatives from several Sri Lanka travel agencies participated in the TUR Tourism Exhibition and Travel Fair 2015 held from 19-22 March at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden. The Sri Lanka pavilion was inaugurated by Thomas Myrén, Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka in Gothenburg.

The Sri Lanka stand at the Travel Fair showed attractive displays showcasing the cultural heritage and natural beauty of Sri Lanka. The Ceylon Tea Boutique was the most popular section of the stand, and throughout the Fair there was great demand for Ceylon tea. Traditional Sri Lankan food was offered to the public.
A wide cross section of people and travelers attended the fair, and made inquiries on future travel to exciting and exotic destinations such as Sri Lanka. The Fair recorded a high attendance of 14,864 visitors and 274 exhibitors, with representatives from 133 countries and regions. 165 exhibitors from 61 countries and 755 entrepreneurs of the tourism industry, also networked through pre-arranged business-matchmaking system that was started at the Fair for the first time.
The TUR Travel Fair 2015, provided an opportunity to promote Sri Lanka as emerging and a popular destination among Scandinavian tourists.

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