“Expecting more Indian tourists for revival”
Christine Nayagam and Smiti Nandi
Interview with John Amaratunga, Tourism Minister, Sri Lanka
Months after the terror attacks, Sri Lanka Tourism has begun an aggressive promotion in the Indian market, its first source market, with a reassuring message on safety and bringing an attractive range of new packages for all types of travellers. India Outbound caught up with John Amaratunga, minister of Tourism of Sri Lanka during a roadshow in Chennai recently.
You’ve been travelling all over India, you have met with different markets, what has been the response so far?
The response that we got from Delhi and Mumbai is very positive. Every roadshow was house full, with travel agents, operators and media. A lot of questions were asked, a lot of new ideas shared and all professionals are motivated to work with us. We see more and more Indian tourists coming to Sri Lanka, and this is really positive as the two countries have been collaborating on many fronts. After the attacks, Indians showed a lot of support, especially the travel fraternity and we are very grateful for this. Indeed, India with its 1.3 billion population, even if one percent comes, it will be more than enough!
You talked about the Ramayana trail, which is one trend. But what are the products to attract the millennials of India to visit Sri Lanka?
We have developed this trail and we did identify around 51 places, but we need to market it properly in India and inform people about what is there to see and where. At present we still have a large majority of Indians visiting Sri Lanka for the Ramayana. Of course, besides that, we have a lot of adventure activities in the hills or the forests in Kandy, Sigiriya or Nuwara Eliya, a lot of beautiful beaches, nightlife options in the south and in the capital Colombo. We also have water activities, rafting, kite-surfing, parachuting, ballooning etc. the youth can opt for many options, backpacking or luxury and enjoy a great holiday here.
What has been the response after the recent visa exemption policy and the new travel packages that have been introduced in the market?
Sri Lanka has clearly become the trendiest destination in India, and now it is made even more easy to come. There are also discounts on hotels and airfares about 40-50 pc off. You can also find five-star hotels at USD 40-50. We have also noticed that Indians come for short-hauls, sometimes just a weekend and especially for gambling in the casinos! Regarding repeat travellers, they are also a target for Sri Lanka Tourism, we really focus on quality because we believe that it’s quality that will make tourists return.
What about Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE ) activities?
The MICE tourism is something that we have been working on and we have special packages for those who are coming on MICE like hotel offers, and other facilities.
It has a lot of potential in Sri Lanka and we are developing MICE offers in new locations, not only at the beaches but also in the forests and hill stations.
You have also been the minister for the Christian minority in Sri Lanka. Has the community recovered from the attacks of last year?
Now it is absolutely normal. Of course, it has been tragic and shocking for Christians. Many lost their entire family, but there is a lot of support between the Christian community in Sri Lanka. Amongst the minorities, we have Muslims, then the Hindus and Christians and they have been living in harmony. Political elements who try to create problems between ethnic groups are the culprits trying to create disharmony.
“The Ramayana trail is one of the main reasons encouraging Indians to visit Sri Lanka. Indeed, we can find more than 50 sites in the country that find a mention in Ramayana,” said Austin Fernando, the high commissioner of Sri Lanka in India at a workshop on the Ramayana Trail organised by OTOAI in New Delhi. About 40 tour operators were not only present to understand better the circuit and the possibilities of the trail but also suggest ideas to promote it better. Amongst the various sites are:
• Cobra cave – is the place where Sita was held in captivity.
• Shri Bhakta Hanuman Temple – where Lord Hanuman wandered looking for Sita.
• Ashok Vatika – the place where Sita preferred to stay in captivity under the Ashoka tree.
• Divurumpola Temple – the spot where Sita had performed her Agnipariksha (trial by fire).
• Kanniya hot water spring well – a collection of 7 wells which is believed to possess natural healing powers and the place where King Ravana is believed to have carried out the last rites for his mother.