Sri Lanka’s efforts to develop the Northern Province and notably its capital Jaffna as a new destination for MICE and business traffic from South India seems to be bearing fruit as 45 enthusiastic hosted buyers turned up for the inaugural Jaffna MICE Expo 2023 that concluded on Sunday.
The expo was organised by Sri Lankan Convention Bureau (SLCB) under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism and Lands and began on November 30.
According to the SLCB, the objective of the event was to promote Northern Province as an ideal MICE destination, especially for visitors from South India. Jaffna will be an ideal gateway to attract the Indian MICE travellers through the South Indian connectivity via air and sea.
SLCB says that among the participants from India in the expo were leaders of South India MICE Association (SIMA), Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), Enterprising Travel Agents Association of India (ETAA) and Tamil Nadu Travel Mart Society (TTMS).
SLCB adds that the Jaffna MICE Expo was curated to offer maximum exposure to the Northern Province tourism service providers. There were two in one seller approach targetting Indian buyers and also the local buyers and that the event received overwhelming response from the local vendors and international buyers.
Besides the B2B meetings, the hosts also organised a familiarisation trip of Jaffna and its key attractions including the Jaffna Fort, Nallur Kanthaswami Kovili temple, as well as the Jaffna Public Library. The fam trip also included a visit to local market.
SLCB officials say they were satisfied with the outcome of the MICE Expo and are banking on rapid growth in terms of number of tourists from India, especially from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, due to cultural affinity.
‘‘Jaffna has always been a very potential destination for us. Simply because of the connection to South India and also looking at the diaspora living in different part of world. We want to attract them and their descendants who can reconnect with the land of their ancestors and reconnect with their families, friends and the communities,’’ Thisum Jayasuriya, Chairman, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, tells India Outbound.
Jayasuriya adds that SLCB wants to focus on developing the South Indian market first. ‘‘We will start with South India and then gradually take it to other parts of India as well,’’ he adds.
Krishantha Fernando, General Manager, SLCB says that as a significant proportion of visitors to Sri Lanka as a whole came from South India, SLCB wanted to first grow that market.
In the month of October, Sri Lanka had a total of 228,000 international visitors. Of this over 26 pc were from India and over 16 pc were from South India. So we want to capitalise on the 16 pc and grow it up,’’ Fernando tells India Outbound.
The Indian delegates attending the MICE Expo were optimistic about the potential of the destination for the Indian market, notably South Indian market.
‘‘Everyone had heard of Jaffna a few decades back as it was always in the headlines, but having come here, one can see that there is a big difference and yes what Jaffna needs now is more tourists coming here,’’ A Aarif, President of South India MICE Association (SIMA), a group that brings together key stakeholders of MICE tourism in South India, tells India Outbound.
Aarif adds that some tweaks would need to be done before Jaffna is fully geared up to receive large groups that are typically the Indian MICE groups. ‘‘There are some small issues with regard to be connectivity and some local arrangements. But there is a lot of potential for Indian tourists, but some infrastructure and logistics need to be improved,’’ he says.
Aarif says that he can start with small groups. ‘‘Of course, we can start with small groups. And I am sure we will be able to actually promote this destination. We have been doing regular Kandy as well as Colombo. And now we are looking at Jaffna, it is really comfortable and there are lots of beautiful places,’’ he adds.
Alliance Air, subsidiary of Air India, is the only airline offering direct international connectivity to Jaffna. The airline currently operates direct flights from Chennai to Jaffna. Amresh Choudhary, Chief Commercial Officer of Alliance Air says that the response to the flight has been good.
“The load factor on Chennai-Jaffna route has been above 75 to 80 pc. So it is quite a decent response. The current mix of traffic is essentially VFR those visiting families, friends a,d relatives, besides some leisure and business,’’ Choudhary tells India Outbound.
For now, he adds, Alliance Air is not thinking of connecting Jaffna with other cities in India and focus on developing the Chennai-Jaffna sector.