Red Carpet: The Indians are coming!
Leading a delegation to India and describing the country as ‘the obvious place to promote tourism,’ Chairman- Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, Prema Cooray will aim at tapping its potential for conferences and meetings.
Prior to his departure however, Mr. Cooray reflected on a time during the late 1990s, “There were three problems then- Flights were very few and always full; Indian Airlines had an older fleet and couldn’t increase capacity. Secondly, any Indian had to obtain a visa to come to Sri Lanka and it used to take three or four days to get a visa. Today, of course, Sri Lanka is the only country within the SAARC where a leisure tourist gets a visa on arrival. Third, India’s currency regime was restrictive, not allowing people to take foreign exchange out, even on a current account. We worked on clearing those impediments and we have no problems in those three areas today.”
He went on to say that at the time Sri Lankan travel packages were very expensive compared to options like Singapore, Malaysia Thailand or Mauritius.
In November 2001, then Sri Lanka Tourist Board Chairman(SLTB), Udaya Nanayakkara and Cooray recognised people’s fear of traveling. This was four months after the LTTE attack on the Katunayake International Airport and two months after 9/11.
“SriLankan Airlines was approached to make an attractive offer. They asked us to put a package together - and they gave us a thundering ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ offer. You won’t believe what price does to people… 20,000 Indian leisure travelers visited in four months! Since that day, we have not been able to stop the Indians from coming,” said Cooray.
But Cooray believes that Sri Lanka has not touched even the tip of the iceberg yet and that it made sense to go to India at this time. Taj has more than 60 to 70 rooms booked on meetings; which itself is a ready-reckoner that the market has potential. “We have done our research with our Indian counterparts, with Taj and with the corporate community,” he said.