India’s oldest and largest travel agents’ body, the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) says it has received an overwhelming response from its members to participate in its annual convention that is slated to be held in Sri Lankan capital Colombo in April. “I am truly delighted for receiving such an overwhelming response from the industry ever since we have announced the Convention in Sri Lanka,” says Jyoti Mayal, President of TAAI.
Mayal was addressing a press conference organised by TAAI as well as key stakeholders from Sri Lankan and Indian tourism sector, held in New Delhi last evening. Present on the occasion was a high-powered delegation from Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, including its tourism promotion board as well as the national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines and travel agents’ body, the Sri Lankan Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO).
The Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board is hosting the TAAI convention along SLAITO, while Sri Lankan Airline is the airline partner of the event that will be held Colombo from April 19-22. At the press conference, TAAI unveiled its convention brochure and theme logo.
Mayal told the press that the theme of the convention was ‘Collaborate to Conquer’ which underlined the need of the hour if tourism as a whole has to revive rapidly in the region and elsewhere in the world. “In the present scenario, there is an immediate need to build on our regional strengths and to explore more opportunities for growth in travel and tourism. The theme of the convention ‘Collaborate to Conquer’, will focus to promote and establish travel and tourism between the two nations of Sri Lanka and India. SLTPB, being the main sponsor for the 3-day event in Sri Lanka, is looking forward to showcase their products and services to the Indian stakeholder partners, who shall boost bi-lateral tourism into and from Sri Lanka. We have survived a tough phase and now have embarked the revival journey with positivity and vigour. Our mission is to build trust and confidence to deal with the challenges that exist in the new normal and move forward with a unified strategy for future sustenance through collaborations,” says Mayal.
Though she was not present at the event, Sri Lanka Tourism chairperson, Kimarli Fernando sent a message on the occasion. “It is a pleasure to partner with TAAI to host its 66th convention and exhibition in Sri Lanka. India being one of the main source markets for Sri Lanka, TAAI Convention is a great opportunity to promote tourism experiences of Sri Lanka to the Indian market. Key tourism product segments such as culture, and religious tourism, weddings, films will have a great potential in attracting Indian travellers. India has become a vital market for Sri Lanka Tourism in a post pandemic environment with many airlines operating to major tourist generating cities in India. Sri Lanka Tourism believes that the industry stakeholders will take the maximum exposure by engaging with the Indian travel trade during the upcoming TAAI convention,” Fernando said.
SLAITO President P Thilak Weerasinghe, who also addressed the media, says Sri Lankan tour operators are excited about the convention and the multiplier effect it can have on tourism from India to Sri Lanka. “India was already our largest market for some years now. And despite the pandemic, it has maintained its position, rather strengthened it. Now, with the TAAI agents able to see the country and what all it can offer to a tourist, we expect a major boom from the Indian market as once the agents are convinced, they can easily convince the travellers,” Weerasinghe tells India Outbound.
Sri Lanka Tourism board’s acting managing director, Madhubani Pereira agrees that the convention is key to a strong bump in traffic from India. “Before the pandemic, about 200,000 Indians visited Sri Lanka each year and it was a fast-growing market. Now that it is reopening and with this convention, we think that India will quickly regain the numbers and by end of this year we can even see over 400,000 visitors from India. Our target is to have 1 million tourists from India by the year 2025 and this convention will help us get to our target,” Pereira tells India Outbound.
Weerasinghe says that there is a wide variety of attractions and all sectors of tourism can be targeted form India. “We have a great destination for any kind of tourism – be it wedding, honeymoon, leisure or even MICE. Sri Lanka’s unspoilt nature and rich wildlife are also attractive options as well as adventure activities on land, air and in the water. As India has tourists for each of these categories, we have the offer to suit them. In addition to the variety, our advantage is the proximity geographically and culturally. So even vegetarian food or cuisine is not a challenge and neither is language or any other cultural barrier between our two nations,’’ Weerasinghe adds.
Sri Lankan Airlines, the partner airline of the event, says India is its biggest market and supporting such events can only be beneficial to it, especially as Indian government has decided to allow foreign airlines to operate normal, scheduled flights unlike the bubble agreements that had put strict limits on number of flights to be operated by a foreign airline. “With the normal flights being permitted, we expect a rapid ramp up in our services to India. So far, we are operating 55 flights a week from key stations. Now, for our summer schedule, we have plans to take this number to 88 and I hope that we can go back to 100 flights a week before the end of the year,” Ravindran Veeraperumal, Regional Manager of Sri Lankan Airlines tells India Outbound.
Mayal says that for her TAAI convention will lead to not only a growth of tourism from India to Sri Lanka but will also get more Sri Lankan tourists to visit India and its variety of travel destinations – ranging from spiritual to adventure and luxury.