By Bandula Sirimanna SIGIRIYA – With the resumption of flights to Sri Lanka after a 15-year absence, British Airways (BA), one of the largest airlines in the world, plans to encourage Sri Lankan and British Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) to expand overseas, an offcial at the helm of the company said. The airline [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

British Airways to boost businesses of Sri Lanka’s SMEs


By Bandula Sirimanna

SIGIRIYA – With the resumption of flights to Sri Lanka after a 15-year absence, British Airways (BA), one of the largest airlines in the world, plans to encourage Sri Lankan and British Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) to expand overseas, an offcial at the helm of the company said.

At Sigiriya, viewing the frescoes

The airline hopes to offer travel incentives and facilities including reward schemes for small and medium scale businessmen of both countries helping them open up new opportunities and reinvigorate business travel to reap the benefits of doing business face to face, said Chief Executive Officer of BA, Keith Williams in an interview with Business Times soon after climbing Sri Lanka’s World Heritage site, the Sigiriya lion rock in Matale District on Wednesday.

“The value of face-to-face meetings is incomparable and British Airways will be supporting Lankan SMEs, giving them a chance to expand into new markets through this initiative,” he added.

British entrepreneurs will also get an opportunity to invest in Sri Lanka with the opening of this air travel avenue, he said.
“This business initiative is part of our commitment to stimulate Sri Lankan and British business and forge long-term relationships with our important business customers,” he added.

BA CEO Keith Williams enjoys the sights. Pix by Hasitha Kulasekera

Keith Williams has been the Chief Executive Officer of British Airways Plc since January 2011. He is a Chartered Accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He holds BA in Medieval History and Archaeology from Liverpool Uiversity.
He was fascinated by Sigiriya, an ancient engineering marvel with immense archeological value, and noted that the country’s heritage should be promoted to attract more foreign travelers.

Speaking to the Business Times at the Vil Uyana hotel near Sigiriya, he pointed out that the method used to take water up to fill a tank located on top of the Sigiriya rock by a hydraulic system using wind power from the ground level was unbelievable. “Sri Lanka has so much to offer visitors from beach, spa or adventure holidays, to cultural, wildlife and nature breaks,” he said adding that there is a high potential growth of tourism in the post war period of Sri Lanka.

Over 117,000 British travelers visited Sri Lanka last year and this trend is expected to continue, he revealed.

On the other hand about two million Sri Lankans are living in Britain and British Airways could

Climbing the rock

facilitate their air travel between the two countries following the end of war in the island, he said.

The UK has the second largest number of tourists visiting the island after India so it’s a great opportunity for them to fly with British Airways from Gatwick, he added.

Sri Lanka’s current economic situation and the improvement of infrastructure facilities and the anticipated tourism boom were the main reasons for the airline to resume flights after 15 years, he disclosed.

Mr. Williams said that, according to an English daily he read on Wednesday, April 17th, the country’s economic growth is expected to recover gradually to 6.8 per cent in 2013 and to 7.2 per cent in 2014 and this was a good time for the airline to re-establish links with the island nation.

A load factor of around 25 per cent will disembark in Colombo on the Boeing 777 – 200, the long range twin engine jet aircraft of the British Airways, that would be used on these long haul flights Gatwick to Colombo via Male and the percentage of load factor to the Maldives is also increasing due to the increase in leisure travelers, Mr. Williams revealed.

The Sri Lankan market is made up of leisure travellers and business travellers as well as Sri Lankan expatriates.
“With more customers wanting to travel to and from Sri Lanka for both business and leisure made the resumption of flights necessary,”

BA pilot Kiran Mediwaka. Pic by M.A.Pushpa Kumara

he said.

He noted that BA was looking at emerging economies in Asia adding that both Seoul in South Korea and Chendu in China were added as new destinations.

The recession experienced in Europe including Britain is gradually diminishing and BA’s outbound market for Asian region countries including Sri Lanka is increasing and it is entering into new markets as well, he disclosed.

Sri Lanka has topped the 13 destinations categorised as popular favourite places to visit in 2013. This ranking has been accorded to Sri Lanka by a panel of experts assigned by British Airways to compile a list of the top 13 new destinations and popular favourite places to visit in 2013.

The panel of experts made their determination based on tourists heading to the island in increasing numbers after the end of terrorism, attractions like beaches, elephant treks and a large number of UNESCO world heritage sites to visit in the country, he revealed.
Mr. Williams said, “This is an extremely exciting new route for them”.

Sri Lanka is experiencing a boom in tourism, and the industry is expected to grow further. The addition of BA would give British tourists additional flexibility, and create value for both the aviation and tourism sectors, he added.

British Airways is the flag carrier airline of the United Kingdom and the largest airline in the UK based on fleet size, international flights and international destinations. Following its merger with Iberia, the International Airlines Group, IAG, created the world’s third-largest airline in terms of annual revenue and the second largest airline group in Europe, serving over 150 destinations in 76 countries.

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