SriLankan Airlines, the national airline of Sri Lanka, is bullish on the growing Indian market, mainly from Chennai. It is planning new developments like hub strategy and focusing on new travel segments like MICE, the airline’s Chairman Ajith Dias shares in detail.
The emerald waters and greenery of Sri Lanka have become even more inviting. Tourists are pouring in and so the national airline SriLankan Airline is on the expansion mode. The airline currently operates 89 flights to seven destinations in India – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Trichy, Trivandrum and Kochi. Of these, Chennai has the lion’s share with 26 weekly flights. Now SriLankan is eyeing even more flights. The airline’s Chairman, Ajith Dias, says, “India is a key market for the airline and one of the fastest growing markets is south India. Srilankan Airlines, continues to make significant operational and financial investments in India, which are bringing tangible benefits to the country’s aviation and tourism sectors as well as the Indian economy in general.”
As a part of boosting the tourist traffic flow into Sri Lanka, the airline is looking at several new Indian destinations, including Vishakhapatnam, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. Along with this, the Lankan national carrier is in the process of revamping its fleet with the addition of some more new aircraft of different configurations over the next few years, informs Dias. “The aim is to push up the total number of flights to India from existing 89 to 100.”
Code-share to strengthen ops in India
Recently, SriLankan Airlines announced a code share agreement with Mihin Lanka for the operations of flights between Kolkata and Colombo, creating new travel options for the business traveller and holidaymakers from Kolkata to access Sri Lanka delivering a boost for local tourism.
Dias, says, “This agreement is based on the Kolkata traveller’s convenience, and will facilitate greater access to Colombo on Mihin Lanka, and affording seamless connections with SriLankan Airline’s convenient schedules to key destinations in Europe, Middle East and the Far East. The promotional introductory offer also extends to the Maldives, with a stopover in Colombo.” The airline has already existing codeshares for other Indian routes such as Madurai, Varanasi and Gaya.
Promoting Colombo as a hub
In addition, SriLankan Airlines is also promoting Colombo as a hub like Dubai and Singapore so that travellers from India can board connecting flights with minimum transit time. “Around 45 per cent of passengers from India travel beyond Colombo, mostly to Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, London, Paris, Frankfurt and destinations in the Gulf nations. There are direct flights from Colombo to China, the Far East, Gulf, Europe and Southeast Asia with convenient connections for travellers from south India.”
Pitching for MICE business
Seeing the potential for MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions/ conferences and exhibitions) opportunities, SriLankan Airlines is seeking to increase flights to India, connect new destinations with Sri Lanka Convention Bureau wooing corporate entities pitching for MICE business from India. According to Dias, the MICE business has been steadily growing from India with the likes of Philips, Sony Ericsson, Cadbury, Canon India among a number of others choosing to host their meetings in Sri Lanka.
He says Sri Lanka has become a hotspot today for incentive travel, with a variety of attractions ranging from beaches, ancient cities, and mountains to the island’s new attractions such as whale and bird watching, surfing, elephant gathering and leopard safaris. “The overall tourist arrivals into Sri Lanka exceeded 1.5-million mark in 2014, up from a mere half a million tourists in 2009. This was projected to cross 2 to 2.5 million by next year, where MICE would play a big part in its growth volumes,” the chairman adds.
Developments at Colombo airport
The Colombo airport is also going through developments for the convenience of the travellers and to help SriLankan Airlines to implement its hub plans.
Dias informs, “Colombo Airport is currently going through a major development which includes a brand new terminal. A lot of investment has gone into Sri Lanka as a destination for tourists, as well as business, so a new terminal was needed. Once the new facility is completed it will help expand the airport’s operational capacity significantly, allowing us to implement this hub strategy.”