What is the current situation in Sri Lanka for the business events industry?
As Sri Lanka returns to normalcy after the tragic events of Easter Sunday that interrupted a decade of peace and prosperity in the island, Sri Lanka Tourism is illustrating what Sri Lankans are best at – moving forward.
With authorities’ strategic operations carried out to contain the situation and the arrest of those responsible, Sri Lanka is rapidly returning to normalcy and the industry is readying itself for what was to have been a record mid-season in what would have been a record year of growth for the tourism industry.
These tragic events came at a time when Sri Lanka was well on its way to establishing ourselves as a hub for MICE Tourism in the region. We’re at the epicenter of South Asia and at a vital crossroad between Asia’s economic powerhouses, we are determined to ensure Sri Lanka’s incredible potential is realised, rebuilding confidence in the security situation in Sri Lanka is a prerequisite to any recovery plan.
Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, as the custodian and core architects of Sri Lanka’s MICE Tourism strategy will continue its activity as planned with renewed vigour in order to inform the wider MICE tourism community and other stakeholders of the measures taken to contain the threat and reassure everyone that Sri Lanka is safe and open for business.
Were there many groups in the country at the time of the attacks?
Yes, there were many and most opted to continue on their tours. The 14th edition of The Lanka Challenge, which flagged off the day before the attacks on the April 20, successfully concluded on April 27 at Suriya Resort Waikkaka as planned.
This event was organised by Large Minority in association with Connaissance de Ceylan and sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and Sri Lankan Airlines. This unique rally saw 53 International participants ride in 20 tuk tuks across a 1,000km route that tracked through Sri Lanka. The participants came from Britain, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland.
This was an important event because it demonstrated to the world that the security threats were contained to two specific localities and that the rest of the island was entirely unaffected.
And how were the groups handled?
Ensuring security and safety for everyone in Sri Lanka has been the single focus of the government. In the immediate wake of the attack, the full force of Sri Lanka’s highly experienced Tri forces were deployed across the island and it has been confirmed that all the suspects of this small but deadly cell have been identified and apprehended.
Sri Lanka Tourism has acted to provide clear and credible information to the tourism community including and the wider business and corporate communities all over the world to ensure confidence in Sri Lanka’s emergency response protocol and recovery process which included:
- centralising the emergency coordination effort
- rapid deployment of the Sri Lanka Tourism emergency response teams to all affected hotels, hospitals and airport
- setting up Sri Lanka Tourism helpdesks and hotlines to ensure access to information
- coordination with foreign missions
- facilitation of all emergency services for tourists and groups in country during the incident and those arriving in the immediate aftermath
Are more groups arriving or are they postponing/cancelling?
While some dates have been rescheduled nine of the 10 planned conventions for 2019 are all scheduled to move forward; these include Cyber Security Conference, SAARC Film Festival, International Conference on Agriculture and Food Security, International Conference on Health and Medicine, Convention on International Trade in endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, International Conference on Architecture and Civil engineering, World Conference on Child and Youth, World Construction Symposium & the International Conference on Big Data.
Sponsorships and sporting event schedules will also move forward; as such the World Surfing League will still be held in June this year, bringing in a myriad of professional surfers from all around the world. The Amateaur Golf World Cup, set for the latter half of 2019, will bring in participants mainly from Europe and Asia, and is expected to impact over one million golf-lovers around the world and establish Sri Lanka as a golfing destination.
The West Asia Baseball Cup 2019 is another sporting activity ear-marked for July 2019. Over 300 foreign participants are expected predominantly from South Asia. Moreover, given Sri Lanka’s importance as a cultural destination, the Kandy Esala Perehera planned for August is expected to bring in travellers who seek out the historic and cultural aspects of the island’s travel experience.
Sri Lanka Tourism has also moved rapidly to ensure that Sri Lanka’s ground situation is readily accessible to those planning their itinerary, as current portals may not always carry specific information that tourists may be looking for given the surplus of incident-specific news in the last few days.
How are MICE industry stakeholders addressing the future?
Sri Lanka Tourism is focused on laying the right ground work for rapid recovery working with all stakeholders and with a team of senior international experts in destination reputation management and crisis recovery. This team has successfully worked to mitigate risk for Egypt Tourism and Lufthansa Germanwings among other famous brands.
The phased strategic plan includes: channel management and rapid rebuttal; scenario mapping and planning; and, customised recovery strategies for key source markets based on global consumer research.
We have already taken all possible steps to demonstrate that Sri Lanka’s response to the incident is effective and credible. We are now aggressively planning to reassure the world of our levels of preparedness and setting the groundwork for future reputational recovery work by reassuring tourists that all appropriate steps are being taken by the Sri Lankan Government to prevent any future incidents and ensure the continued safety of tourists within the country.
As we do this we are developing a holistic reputation recovery plan based on data and research for each of the key markets, this will be followed by an intensive global marketing campaign to further accelerate the recovery process.
What is your message for the global MICE community?
We are open for business; we need you and your support. So “Meet in Sri Lanka”. We are so strong, so resilient, so Sri Lanka!