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Published on Monday, July 22, 2019

Sri Lanka revival

After April's attacks, tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka slumped 70% in May and 57% in June versus last year. According to a report, the country faces lost tourism revenues of $750 million this year. Last week an event was held in London designed to kick start tourism to Sri Lanka. Here's a report from Farzana Dobbs, founder of Travel Gallery and am Clark of Experience Travel Group.

"We believed it would be a major task to get bookings flowing again after the lifting of the FCO's travel advice, but rather than wait for the recovery to happen, we seized the opportunity to organise a large-scale event in London last week, with the support of our trade organisation, AITO," said Dobbs.

"As a proud Sri Lankan living between London and Sri Lanka I was determined that we should host an event focused on helping to revive my home country, uniquely organised by the private sector, but for the benefit of the whole tourist industry in Sri Lanka.

"Working together with Sam Clark from Experience Travel Group, with support and encouragement from our trade association, AITO, plus the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, the Sri Lankan High Commission in London and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) in Colombo, has been fantastic and gave us the confidence and back-up to stage this event.

"The clear message we wanted to convey was that Sri Lanka is open for business, safe, just as beautiful, packed full of experiences and offering the warmest of welcomes to travellers and holidaymakers."

In a thought-provoking panel discussion, HE Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lanka High Commissioner to the UK, focused on the steps the government has taken to increase security and the co-operation it has enjoyed with overseas governments to increase counter-terrorism measures.

Hiran Cooray of Jetwing Group, and Malik Fernando, of Resplendent Ceylon, both commented on the steps which the private sector has taken to ensure that positive messages go out to the wider public. In particular, the private sector has united under the umbrella of the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, to provide a channel to communicate effectively, to lobby and to formulate an annual marketing plan for promoting the destination, utilising the latest marketing techniques. Fernando believes the private sector is able to respond more quickly and, with a nimble approach, to generate interest and new business more effectively.

Whilst yet to be signed off by the Sri Lankan Government, it seems likely the SLTPB will shortly launch a major $6 million international social media campaign targeting the country's top-performing markets, including the UK. It is understood these social media campaigns will be aimed at generating renewed interest in the destination and to act as a stimulus to the public, encouraging bookings in advance of the key winter travel months.

The industry has an uphill battle to get back to the heights it had reached earlier in 2019, but bookings are returning. Hiran Cooray, who operates the largest collection of rooms on Sri Lanka, commented: "We didn't expect the recovery to be fast... all the experts said it would take nine to 12 months - but the support we've had, worldwide, has been amazing. We are so grateful to travel agents and tour operators - it has been overwhelming. Bookings are recovering and we have already seen 10,000 room nights booked for August."

Sam Clark of Experience Travel Group said: "We were completely blown away by the level of support at the event, and the incredible passion shown by all guests to relaunch and revive tourism to Sri Lanka. Big thanks to all supporters who made this event possible - from AITO and our panel members, to the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, the SLTPB, hotel groups, individual hotels, plus tour operators - it is thanks to you all that we have made a significant step towards putting Sri Lanka back on the tourist map."

Whilst it is clear that the recovery will take some time, the organisers noted the goodwill and positive vibes shown to Sri Lanka by the trade and the press.

"With the public and private sectors working together, we hope that the livelihoods of the 2 million people working in and associated with the tourism industry in Sri Lanka will be restored quickly," said Clark.


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