Asia Pacific Updates

‘Don’t abandon Sri Lanka,’ travel industry urges

Industry unites to support Sri Lanka’s emerging business events sector following recent terror attacks.

The travel and tourism industry in Sri Lanka is rallying together following a series of terror attacks that killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday.

The bombings – reportedly a retaliation to the mosque attacks in Christchurch last month – occurred nearly simultaneously at three churches and three hotels in Colombo: The Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury.

Following the end of a 26-year-long civil war, the country’s tourism and emerging business events industries have been gaining momentum. Rajeev Kohli, joint managing director at DMC, Creative Travel, which has operations in Sri Lanka, says the timing of the incident could not be worse.

“The attacks in Sri Lanka this past Sunday have indeed been unprecedented in a country that has seen peace and a strong resurgence in tourism since the end of the civil war over a decade ago. The country has a very strong dependency on tourism in its economy and this could not come at a worse time. Unfortunately, this is not a unique incident in the world today and will probably not be the last of its kind.”

The Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo (source: Times of India)

Noting the resilience of the Sri Lankan people, Kohli urged the global business events community to support the island nation.

“It is important for the international travel community, especially in incentive travel, not to abandon the destination. The nation survives on tourism and needs the support of the global travel industry. Many nations over the past few years have gone through traumatic natural or man-made incidents that have impacted tourism. But we have also seen many of them getting the affection and support from the tourism fraternity.”

Despite heightened travel warnings from the US, Australia and China, Kohli says he has not received any business event or FIT cancellations.

“In fact, we’ve received an outpouring of support to a communique that we sent out globally to over 70,000 travel industry professionals. I think people recognise the larger picture now of supporting destinations in distress,” he says.

Creative Travel has two impending group bookings for Sri Lanka – a 35-pax incentive from Belgium in May, and a group of 50 parents and students for a cricket tour in June – both of which have indicated they will not cancel.

Over the past 12 months, the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau was actively promoting the destination to international meeting and event planners, and Kohli says corporate travel business in Sri Lanka was “getting stronger and robust”.

BI Worldwide also reported an increase in enquiries for Sri Lanka in 2018, with interest from across Asia, particularly from clients in Australia and Singapore.

Natural attraction… Sri Lanka’s Nine Arches Bridge in Demodara

“Sri Lanka has become an enviable destination,” BI Worldwide senior vice president Asia Pacific, David Litteken, says. “Its appeal is in its authenticity as its tourism is just coming of age. We certainly have seen an increase in client enquiries and we have been positioning Sri Lanka a bit more, as well. The interest is primarily for board meetings, smaller conferences and incentive travel experiences.”

Litteken, who visited Sri Lanka in 2018, says the destination has huge motivational appeal, but is now encouraging clients to “take a pause”.

“Unfortunately, we are not immune to safety and security concerns. Other fantastic destinations such as Bali, Christchurch, London, and Paris have suffered tragic incidents recently. The key is to watch how Sri Lanka responds and what preventative measures they begin to put in place.”

In the last couple of days, security near the bomb sites has tightened. The Cinnamon Grand hotel has resumed operations and has begun accepting bookings, and its restaurants will be opened once the curfew is lifted. The Kingsbury is excepted to reopen today, while The Shangri-La will remain closed until further notice.

Shangri-La’s executive vice president, sales, Nichlas Maratos, tells Biz Events Asia the group’s immediate priority continues to be the safety and wellbeing of all affected.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm that we are aware of a number of casualties among our guests and colleagues. This includes three of our colleagues who were fatally injured in the course of their duties.

“We will continue to work closely with local authorities and emergency services to provide our fullest assistance and support to all affected parties. Our hotel remains secured by the military and the police,” he says.

According to a number of reports, Indian intelligence officials warned their Sri Lankan counterparts of the attack just hours before the first bomb was detonated, but local authorities failed to act. It was the last in a series of unheeded alerts, including a warning on 4 April and an intelligence memo on 11 April that warned of attacks on churches and named the plotters, all of whom were well-educated, middle-class Sri Lankans.

Main image: The Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo (source: Newshub NZ)