In a bid to discuss strategies to promote Sri Lanka better to the American traveller, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington on Monday (22 May 2006) hosted heads of leading travel agencies in the U.S., catering to the Sri Lankan market. Travel representatives from Washington, Virginia, New York and Los Angeles were among those who participated in this event, which was also attended by the Honorary Director of the Ceylon Tourist Board and representatives of SriLankan Airlines.

Opening the meeting Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke said even though Sri Lanka tourism suffered a set back due to the Tsunami, following the tourism revival programme ‘Bounce Back Sri Lanka’, which also received assistance from the Asian Development Bank, total arrivals in 2005 were marginally less than the previous year. While 549, 308 tourist arrivals were recorded in 2005, the expectation is that arrivals in 2006 would exceed 600,000. The Ambassador noted that Americans were long-known to have visited Sri Lanka, including Mark Twain, who in 1896 marveled that Sri Lanka was “beautiful and sumptuously tropical”. He noted that in 2005 alone over 25,000 U.S. travellers had visited Sri Lanka, despite hardly any promotion. The Ambassador said it was time to focus attention on marketing Sri Lanka to the American traveller, particularly the American high-end traveller, who had special interests such as diving, surfing, bird watching, trekking, hot air ballooning, white water rafting and eco-tourism. While acknowledging that the recent escalation of violence in the North and the East caused some concerns to travellers, he emphasized that it is important to note that during the entirety of the conflict foreign tourists have not been targeted or been directly affected, compared to situations such as in Egypt or Indonesia. He said this is possibly due to the fact that the LTTE did not wish to antagonize governments that hosted sizeable Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. The Ambassador also noted that no country has issued travel advisories warning their citizens against travelling to Sri Lanka, although certain countries had advised their citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to the North and the East. He emphasized the need for all Sri Lankan agencies and Sri Lanka connected personnel in the U.S. engaged in travel and tour business to collaborate in promoting Sri Lanka to the American traveller.

The Honorary Director, Sri Lanka Tourist Board Pushpa Rajini Jagoda, observed that the Tourist Board was planning to host an important travel event in New York this year and also to fly a group of tour operators to Sri Lanka to provide a first hand experience of the variety of activity and excellent facilities available to the traveller. President of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and travel consultant Ravi Corea, presented a ‘virtual tour’ of a possible Sri Lanka package tour that they intended marketing to the American traveller.

The SriLankan Airlines Senior Vice President North America and Canada, Ken Campbell, in his remarks, provided an up-date on the quality of service afforded by the SriLankan Airlines and their commitment to promote Sri Lanka as a tourist destination. He said “The American public wasn’t traveling to Sri Lanka not because of the unrest, but because they do not know about what the country has to offer”. He emphasized the need for more aggressive marketing of Sri Lanka as a product to the high-end American traveller, particularly through ‘special interest’ marketing.

During the Q & A session that followed, participants were able to clarify their concerns regarding the bottlenecks that seem to prevent greater tourist traffic from the U.S. While it was noted that there were sufficient connections from Europe and Far East to Sri Lanka, the absence of ready connections to and from the U.S. was a major impediment affecting American travellers choosing Sri Lanka as a destination. Mr. Campbell said at present the SriLankan Airlines had a code-sharing arrangement with Emirates to fly to New York. They were contemplating flying SriLankan Airlines to North America, but it was likely that a destination in Canada such as Toronto, from where a considerable regular ethnic traffic is generated, would get precedence over American destinations at present. Attention was also drawn to the fact that in addition to 30 day visa granted on arrival, Americans can now secure 5 year multiple entry visas to Sri Lanka from the Embassy. The need for both the Tourist Board and SriLankan Airlines to collaborate with the Embassy in getting a cohesive message across to the American traveller was also emphasized. Ambassador Goonetilleke noted that the Embassy was currently engaged in an exercise to build a network of Sri Lanka related interest groups living throughout the U.S and was hopeful that this endeavour could also support carrying the message outside the major cities in the U.S. The participants noted that this was the first occasion that the Sri Lanka Embassy had recognized their silent services to Sri Lanka tourist promotion and sought to meet them as a group. They expressed appreciation for the initiative and assured that they would in future seek to more vigorously promote Sri Lanka individually, as well as a part of their marketing of the Indian Sub Continent.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

23 May 2006


Home | Sri Lanka-US Relations | Trade | Investment | Travel | Consular | Press Releases |
Statements | Features | Reports & Publications | Archive | Contact I Ideas Line