‘Transcending borders, Transforming Lives’ defined the spirit of travel and tourism at the 67th TAAI convention held at Colombo recently. Held at the invitation of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Board and in association with SLAITO (Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators) the event was attended by more than 500 delegates from various sectors of tourism, aviation, hospitality. The convention also brought together 150-200 Sri Lankan stake holders.
The 3 day event was marked by the attendance of President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe followed by the Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardhana, Speaker Mahinda Abeywardena, Sri Lanka Tourism and Land minister Harin Fernando, India’s Ambassador to Colombo Gopal Bagley and other dignitaries from foreign missions and high ranking government officials.
The convention saw business, networking and brain storming sessions in the day. The evenings witnessed cultural performances by Sri Lankan artists. Post convention tours were conducted by Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board for delegates to Kandy, Sigriya, Minnarayi National Park and other iconic places to give them a feel of Sri Lanka’s vast tourism potential.
President Wickremesinghe, in his inaugural address at TAAI (Travel Agents Association of India) Convention urged travel industry to explore BIMSTEC region and enhance connectivity and tourism in the region that is yet to be explored as compared to other parts of the world.
Interestingly giving example of Chicken Tikka having become trademark cuisine in India he asked Sri Lankans to make good use of Briyani that has myriads of cooking styles across the region. ‘You think of Biryani in terms of one dish, I think of it in terms of 60-70 dishes. Each area has its own Biryani. Why don’t we market it!’
He emphasized on exploring Cruise Tourism in BIMSTEC region. ‘If we start now & plan, we in 10 yrs we will be ahead,’ he said. As for the rich culture of Sri Lanka he said, ‘we have the potential of getting 100 million tourists in the island.’ He talked of cricket being a major attraction and connecting point.
The President thanked TAAI President Jyoti Mayal for coming to Sri Lanka and offered to work together to revive tourism back.
On an optimistic note Jyoti Mayal, President TAAI spoke of the ways to transform travel as much as help Sri Lanka revive and get back on its feet by hand holding their tourism sector. She said the focus of the convention is completely futuristic. ‘Tourism doesn’t need borders and that the India market will undoubtedly become one of the most sought after markets globally given the immense potential of outbound tourism. As a 3 trillion dollar economy, India will be an increasingly important source of outbound tourists to the world.’
On India Sri Lanka Tourism potential Mayal said, ‘India and Sri Lanka, and the wider region, possess a unique opportunity to leverage their rich natural and cultural heritage, strategic location, and robust bilateral and regional ties. Together, we can create a competitive and appealing destination for travellers worldwide.’
‘With India and Sri Lanka standing as two of Asia's fastest-growing economies, boasting a combined population of over 1.5 billion people and a burgeoning middle class, rich heritage and attractive tourism destinations, the potential for growth in the travel and tourism sector is tremendous. These nations are home to iconic landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, the Kerala Backwaters, and the Sri Lankan Tea Country.’
Naming the key challenges that impede its growth and development she said, ‘These challenges include enhancing health and safety standards, promoting digital transformation, adopting sustainable practices, fostering social inclusion, and strengthening regional cooperation.’
As per reports Sri Lanka has had 75,000 tourists this year until April 30 making India the biggest resource market for tourism.
Speaker Sri Lanka Parliament Mahinda Abeywardena expressed gratitude to India saying, ‘During the trouble that we had last year, you (India) saved us, India saved us otherwise, there would have been another bloodbath for all of us. So, that is how India came to help us.’
Touching the cricket nerve Chairman SLTB Chalaka said, ‘India Sri Lanka are going to play cricket in September. A 360 degree campaign is being planned. There are key projects in the pipeline.