Two independent UK-based tour operators, Travel Gallery and Experience Travel Group hosted “Sri Lanka Revival” on 16 July in London. The event, focused on encouraging holidaymakers to return to the beautiful paradise isle, drew in over 90 UK tour operators, 40 journalists and 50+ representatives from Sri Lankan hotels and Destination Management Companies (DMCs).
“The clear message which 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,” said Farzana Marikkar Dobbs, the founder of Travel Gallery and The Rosyth Estate House – a boutique hotel in Sri Lanka.
Farzana and her husband Neil Dobbs alongside other private sector players worked tirelessly to lobby the UK Foreign Office to get the Travel Advisories lifted. “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 organized by the private sector, but for the benefit of the whole tourism industry in Sri Lanka,” says Farzana.
90 UK tour operators, 40 journalists and 50+ representatives from Sri Lankan hotels and DMCs attended ‘Sri Lanka Revival’ in London
She added, “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 event was primarily crowd-funded by the private sector with the tourist board stepping in towards the end, with the costs under-written by a personal guarantee from Farzana and Neil. As boutique hotel owners in Sri Lanka, with Rosyth Estate House in Kegalle and the attached Rock Villa suites, they intimately understand the predicament faced by the private sector in tourism at present. “Like others, we are invested in making sure that guests return to Sri Lanka to enjoy our country’s unique landscape, scenery and people, and the properties we have invested in with so much passion,” said Farzana. “This event is for those that have faith in Sri Lanka as a beautiful destination, and also for those- like our staff and the small business owners we work with- who depend on the sector for their livelihood.”
In a thought-provoking panel discussion, HE Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK, focused on the steps which the government has taken to increase security and the co-operation it has enjoyed with overseas governments to increase counter-terrorism measures; she also reinforced the message that Sri Lanka remains a beautiful destination.
We didn’t expect the recovery to be fast” said Hiran Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing Symphony and Jetwing Lighthouse.
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 reach 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, utilizing the latest in marketing expertise. Fernando believes that the private sector can respond more quickly and, with a nimble approach, to generate interest and new business more effectively. Sam Clark of Experience Travel Group, representing UK tour operators, spoke of the need for a sustained recovery, not simply price-led marketing, allowing all stakeholders from the local tuk-tuk driver or coconut seller up to the luxury hotel owner, to benefit from the recovery.
The audience learnt that SLTPB plans to launch a major (USD 6M) international social media campaign targeting the country’s top-performing markets, including the UK. They will be aimed at generating renewed interest in the destination and encourage bookings in advance of the key winter travel months.
Reuters estimated that Sri Lanka faces lost tourism revenues of USD 750 million this year. Bookings are beginning to return, and July saw and increase of international arrivals, up to 4,000 per day at the end of the month.
Hiran Cooray, who operates the largest inventory of rooms in 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.”