“Real North”: Eye on Indian tourists, Sri Lanka to focus on Northern Province

Direct connectivity to Jaffna from India to boost travel: Sunil Dissanayake
/ New Delhi
“Real North”: Eye on Indian tourists, Sri Lanka to focus on Northern Province

The Northern Province is home to numerous attractions such as the Jaffna Fort

To expand the offer of destinations and experiences that it has for international visitors, Sri Lanka Tourism is putting special emphasis on the Northern Province, which has remained largely unexplored by foreign tourists. Tourism veteran Sunil Dissanayake, chairman of the country’s largest expo centre BMICH, nominated to head Northern Province tourism bureau has big plans for the region.
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Sri Lanka government has put in place an aggressive plan in place to revive tourism in the Northern Province of the country, which has remained largely untapped, especially by foreign tourists coming to the Emerald Island.

To promote tourism, a campaign, called “Real North” has been mounted by the Northern Province Tourism Bureau (NPTB), which comes under the Ministry of Local Government of the Northern Provincial Council. The campaign covers the districts of Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, and Mannar, as well as seven islands of Delft, Kayts, Karaitivu, Nainativu, Eluvaitivu, Punkudutivu, and Analaitivu.

Though the NPTB has been in existence since 2018, it has not been very visible in the international arena. But it is all set to change as with the nomination of veteran hospitality and leisure sector expert and management professional Sunil Dissanayake by Jeewan Thyagarajah, Governor of the Northern Province, as the Chairman of the NPTB to lead the revival of tourism in the province.

“The ‘REAL NORTH’ programme will see a well-coordinated, multi-pronged approach to develop the tourism potential of the Northern Province. It will be supported by the participation and involvement of domestic and international air travel services, Destination Management Companies, train services, airlines, ferry service operators, infrastructure developers,’’ Dissanayake tells India Outbound.

“The programme will be supported by a promotion and marketing campaign locally and internationally to achieve the NPTB’s vision to be recognised as the best regional destination for diverse, authentic and untouched experiences, while uplifting the sustainable socio-economic condition of the Northern Province,” Dissanayake adds.

Chairman Sunil Dissanayake (centre) with the staff of the Tourism Bureau Northern Province

Under the programme, each of the districts and territories has been rebranded, he says. “We have developed a strategic plan with short, medium, and long-term objectives that aim to portray the natural and scenic beauty, and the traditional Sri Lankan hospitality and warmth of the people in the North to the world and the rest of Sri Lanka. Several initiatives have been identified to be rolled out to achieve our objectives including conducting awareness sessions both locally and internationally. The Northern Province is home to numerous attractions such as the Ketheeswaram temple in Mannar, Nagadipa in Jaffna, the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil, the Jaffna Fort and Keerimalai Tank,” says Dissanayake.

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Boosting connectivity, with eye on India

An important component of the tourism development plan for the Northern Province is to improve connectivity, especially keeping in mind the Indian tourists, who are by far the biggest chunk of visitors to Sri Lanka. Hence, the launch of international flights from Tiruchirapalli in India to Palay International Airport in Jaffna will prove to be a big factor in promoting the Northern Province in the Indian market.

According to reports, Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, is set to commence these flights by mid-August. In addition, there are also reports of domestic air services from Colombo to Jaffna could also start in the near future. These air services are expected to provide a major boost to tourism to the Northern Province from India.

In addition, a new Colombo-Jaffna night intercity train service has been introduced on weekends, in order to encourage tourists. Also, on the anvil is an air-conditioned ferry service with 120 first-class seats and 300 economy class seats from Karaikkal in Puducherry to Kankesanthurai port in Jaffna.

The journey is expected to take three hours, and it will return the same day. A unique feature will be that it will be able to carry 12 20-foot containers of cargo and 40-48 cars on a roll-on/roll-off basis. It is scheduled to commence operations in the first half of 2023.

All these measures are bound to go a long-way in promoting the Northern Province in the Indian market, Dissanayake says. “We are very excited at the challenge before us. We believe that the Indian market will be the one that will take off the fastest and provide the highest number of tourists in the shortest possible time. We are developing innovative low-cost but high impact “Call to Action” campaigns on-line, and we are confident of success,” NPTB board member Suresh Murugaser says.

Dissanayake adds that the promotion of the region across the world will be undertaken in association with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, in order to cement the ‘REAL NORTH’ firmly in the minds of the consumer. He adds that a booking engine will be added to the ‘REAL NORTH’ website which will be designed and developed to provide information as well as online services such as booking tickets for attractions, tours, tour operators, hotels and home stays.

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