A huge turnout of over 100 delegates from around the world was recorded for the first-ever in-person Sri Lanka MICE Expo 2023 that got underway at Shangri-La hotel in Colombo on Tuesday. The organisers, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and SriLankan Airlines, selected 105 fully-hosted buyers from India, South East Asia, Far East, Middle East and Europe for the event which has been promoted as a key activity to position Sri Lanka as a global MICE destination.
Dozens of other MICE stakeholders from all over the region were also present at the event which kicked off with a traditional Sri Lankan cultural performance. The day-long buyer seller meet was preceded by an opening plenary session addressed by Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Harin Fernando and SLCB Chairman Thisum Jayasuriya.
Inaugurating the Expo, Fernando said that Sri Lanka was an ideal MICE destination for companies from around the world and that unlike most other destinations, it was a year-round destination. “When it comes to MICE, Sri Lanka has all that it needs to host conferences and has bagged several large MICE events for the year 2023,’’ Fernando told the gathering.
“We are one of the very few countries in the world that offers you everything from coastal train rides, breathtaking mountainous regions, wildlife, adventure sports, wellness retreats, and many other attractions in a few hours of each other,” Jayasuriya said on the occasion.
According to the organisers, besides the huge delegations brought in by Tata Steel and Lupin Laboratories from India, some other key events lined up for the year include the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) Annual Convention, to be held in July as well as a reality show that will be hosted by Zee TV in Jaffna.
As part of the Expo, the hosts organised a series of buyer-seller meetings as well as numerous discussion sessions, highlighting the key strengths of Sri Lanka as a MICE destination. The delegates would also be visiting key destinations in the country to get an orientation about the MICE infrastructure that Sri Lanka possesses as well as the vast range of activities that can be organised for the MICE delegates.
Sri Lanka is betting big on MICE as a major pillar of its tourism recovery process. The organisers say they hope to see the results of the buyer seller meetings to quickly convert into MICE business for the country which is banking on tourism as a key economic activity in its ongoing efforts to recover from unprecedented economic crisis.
The organisers say that the turnout and the buyer-seller meetings were encouraging for them. ‘‘I think even I am surprised to see an event of this magnitude. I think my team, with the help of the Sri Lanka Association of Professional Conference and Event Organisers (SLAPCEO) did a very good job. Very positive response from the industry and the media. I hope to continue the momentum and I think this is the time that Sri Lanka Tourism is picking up after the crisis we had in the country. I think the future looks great for us. Events like this are definitely going to help to position Sri Lanka in a great way in the world,’’ Thisum Jayasuriya, Chairman of Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB) tells India Outbound.
The organisers say that they were overwhelmed by the response and selecting the 100-odd hosted buyers was a challenge. ‘‘We had over 250 applicants and from that we had a two-tier screening process. With that, we qualified 110 out of which 105 attended. So I think that is a very good turnout for the first MICE Expo organised by us,’’ Krishantha Fernando, General Manager of SLCB tells India Outbound.
SLAPCEO, which gathers all major MICE stakeholders from Sri Lanka, is a key part of MICE Expo and has been involved in the organisation of the event, right from the word go. ‘‘We are happy to have hosted the MICE Expo 2023, which is the first ever physical MICE Expo that we are doing. We did have a MICE Expo in 2021, which was the virtual one and from the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and SLAPCEO have worked tirelessly to pull this event through,’’ Imran Hassan, President of SLAPCEO, tells India Outbound.
‘‘We are very happy with the turnout. We have over 100 buyers here predominantly from India and from other countries like Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan Thailand, Middle East and other Southeast Asian, and South Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. So, the key factor is that they are very happy with the turnout of the local suppliers who have come to meet them,’’ Hassan adds.
The organisers say that the feedback from the buyers was also extremely positive about the quality of the event and the arrangements made for them. ‘‘I was told by one of the Indian participants that he had been visiting travel fairs, and travel marts and events of this nature for over 28 years. Yet, this is the first time ever that the buyers were given a table to sit and have the vendors and local suppliers are visiting them,’’ Hassan adds.
‘‘So we are happy that such positive comments have come. We decided to do this because buyers are the most important people to us, and when they are in one place, our local suppliers can go around and talk to them in an organised manner,’’ says Hassan.
The next challenge for the organisers is to follow up on the leads generated at the buyer-seller meeting and to convert them into real business for the destination and the various local MICE stakeholders who also attended the MICE Expo in huge numbers. “The next few days are going to be full of learning and sharing of ideas and exploring new opportunities,” says Jayasuriya.
‘‘So, there is a lot of queries coming in. Only problem is, we don’t have a proper mechanism to see how much they materialise in terms of revenue coming in after the things. So, we are hoping that once you go back with the hospitality that we have provided, they will figure to bring more events to Sri Lanka,’’ says SLCB’s Fernando.