|Saturday, 17 May 2003|
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Destination Sri Lanka
Today, (17), will be a red letter day for Sri Lankan tourism. The opening of the country's biggest ever tourism fair - Destination Sri Lanka 2003 - at the BMICH, Colombo signals a new beginning for the local tourism industry which has bounced back to normal levels after the twin disasters of 2001, namely the attacks on the Colombo airport and the World Trade Centre in New York.
'Destination Sri Lanka-Gateway to South Asia' will bring together travel professionals from the seven SAARC nations and more than 25 other countries. Thus the six-day event, while primarily focusing on Sri Lanka, will be a common forum for South Asian countries to showcase their tourism potential as one geographical region. Our seven countries have much to offer, individually and collectively, to the discerning traveller.
As the extended title of Destination Sri Lanka implies, Sri Lanka is well poised to become the 'Gateway to South Asia' thanks to its location and frequent air links especially with India and Maldives. South Asia must seriously consider forming a tourism alliance to attract more travellers to their region which now gets only a fraction of the world tourism market.
They should not neglect intra-regional travel. Easing visa restrictions, as Sri Lanka has done, and commencing more direct flights and inexpensive ferry services linking SAARC destinations will enable more South Asians to discover the delights of their region. The local tourism industry must also focus on domestic tourism as more Sri Lankans from all social strata are travelling within their own country.
Sri Lanka, now being popularised as 'a land like no other', should use the current exhibition as a springboard for greater success in the tourism industry. Sri Lanka posted a tourism revenue of US$ 220 m in 2002. More than 40,000 tourists arrived here last month alone. The main reason for the turnaround is the peaceful atmosphere resulting from the Government-LTTE ceasefire. A healthier economy and extra direct flights from leading tourism markets have helped. If the peace process continues successfully, 2003 will prove to be the best ever year for tourism after 1982.
That said, there is still for improvement. One of the biggest problems facing the local tourist industry is the lack of airline seats into Colombo. More scheduled carriers should be encouraged to fly into Colombo and those already operating services to Sri Lanka persuaded to increase their frequencies. Better road links like expressways and more domestic air services will also boost tourism.
The authorities must also ensure that Colombo becomes a regular port of call for cruise ships which usually carry very up-market passengers. A proper country promotion strategy, spearheaded by global events like Destination Sri Lanka 2003 is also essential. Destination Sri Lanka could be turned into an annual event to update the global travel trade.
The industry should also look beyond Western Europe and tap new markets. Finding new tourism markets, especially in Asia, is essential. China, which recently granted destination status to Sri Lanka, was a major breakthrough.
The international travel trade predicts that more people will be taking to the skies in the next few decades, discovering new places all over the world. We have to bear in mind that Sri Lanka is not the only pebble on the beach. We are engaged in a fierce competition within the Asian region for a slice of the tourism pie. We must stand out with a unique product and live up to the slogan 'a land like no other'.
Produced by Lake House