During the "Transcending Borders - Transforming Lives" program organized by the Indian Tourism Federation at the Bandaranaike International Memorial Conference Hall in Colombo July (06), President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed his belief that the tourism industry would significantly contribute to the country's foreign exchange earnings in the coming decade. The President highlighted that comprehensive plans had already been formulated to enhance Sri Lanka's appeal as a tourist destination and stressed that promoting tourism could lead to an increase in per capita income.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe also emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts among all the BIMSTEC countries to develop the BIMSTEC region into a thriving tourism hub, transcending national borders.
Addressing the event, Mr. Gopal Bagle, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, announced the expansion of flights between Chennai and Jaffna, which now operates only four times a week, to begin operations on a daily basis starting from July 16. He further mentioned ongoing efforts to resume the long-discontinued ferry service between the two nations, which had remained inactive for several decades.
Following is the speech delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe;
“We'll assure you that Sri Lanka's tourism, the new plans that our Minister Harin is going to implement, will certainly make it a good stay, a wonderful stay, an incredible stay. Now many of you, some of you, will, after this conference, be visiting different parts of Sri Lanka.
I would like to tell you there are things that you should not miss. Go to Trincomalee and see the Dakshinakailash. Come to Kataragama and see the shrine of Lord Vellamurugan. It's over 2000 years old, one of the oldest standing Hindu shrines in the region. I was there for the festival a few days ago, and there were over 200,000 people there. Or visit Nallur in Jaffna to see the festival that's starting there. This is a part of our culture, and it's worth a trip to see some of these, just as much as you've gone and seen the hill country and others.
High Commissioner Gopal, yes, you've seen Ella, but I've got to show you something else. The impact of the Ukraine war in Sri Lanka, where a Russian Chef is running a Japanese restaurant in Weligama. There's something more we are going to add, as I talk with the Minister, there will be a military tattoo in August together with the Nallur festival and the Kandy Perahera, not the normal arms but something like the Edinburgh tattoo which will be full of dance and music. And in January, we have the Galle Literary Festival. This time it's going to be a gala one. Every town in Galle, in the southern province, will have its own festival. Hirikatiya will have a beach discotheque, and there will be modern jazz and modern art. In Matara, there will be a number of classical music events, and in addition to that, in January, you can also listen to Andrea Bocelli singing in Colombo. So that's what we are adding on. We are trying to make tourism new and make more use of the potential.
When we faced bankruptcy in Sri Lanka, now that we are getting out of it and debt restructuring is taking place, we still have to remember that the balance of trade is not in our favour. So we have to ensure a positive balance of trade in time to come. And one of the means of raising funds which is not debt-creating, is tourism. So exploit it to the full. Use it, and we are looking at new tourism from the 2.5 million we have to go to 5 million to start with. Look at the upper end of the markets. Why not have $500 a night to $1,000 a night? We have got to learn from Maldives, the smallest of the South Asian countries. We are trying to put 7 more golf courses in, make Nuwara Eliya the centre of golf.
We want to have large resorts. We have identified one next to Dedduwa, over 1000 acres with water, good for very environmentally friendly tourism. Another one is next to Horton Plains, another 900 acres which will be another forest reserve where you can have 5-star luxury accommodation. There are many other places where yachts and yachting will start, with Mannar as one of the headquarters, throughout the Jaffna Lagoon, down into Trincomalee and further down. We will exploit the railway in different ways, just like you have gone up to Ella. Moreover, we want to hand over a large number of plantation bungalows for boutique hotels. So there are going to be more and more items that we will add on to it. Food items, dance items, to make Sri Lanka truly known as a worthwhile tourist destination. We expect to attract many visitors from Asia, including India, East Asia, South Asia, and West Asia, because it is easier for them to travel. We will open up the Eastern Province, and there will be apartments available for purchase where you can directly stay near the beaches of the Eastern Province. Why not? If you want to have a villa, we will make arrangements for that too, for buying and holding. Why not? Come here, this is the place.
The laws will be changed to accommodate our plans. So I thought this is the way we should proceed. And I was thinking to myself, why didn't we do it earlier? And I looked at what we are doing in the region. Of the three regions in Asia, of our size, East Asia, Southeast Asia has far more tourists than us. South Asia together may not have as many tourists as one or two of the East Asian or Southeast Asian countries or Western Europe. Why is it? India is good with domestic tourism. Are you going to rely solely on domestic tourism? When you can earn so much money and foreign exchange, more than what you target for, if you attract international travellers. In the next 10 years, per capita income will increase, people will travel around, and look for eco-friendly tourism. Why don't we have it?
So why don't we make our whole BIMSTEC area one borderless tourist area? Is that what you want? Transcending borders? Not just Sri Lankans traveling to India or Indians traveling to Bangladesh. No. It's one tourist area for anyone who wants to come from outside. We have so much to offer. I have seen some of your assets. I have driven from Srinagar to Ladakh, to Leh. Staying in Kargil was not the best of accommodations, but the potential you have for development. I have been to many other areas of India as well.
What is Biryani? You might think of it as just one dish, but I think of it in terms of 60-70 dishes. Each area has its own Biryani. And if you go to Batticaloa, you can have a 24-egg Biryani. Now, why don't we market it? All of us here.
The Biryani is a dish. When you come here, there are so many dishes to try. Look at how Thais have marketed their food. A country of 70 million. Why can't we do the same? All you have done is market Chicken Tikka Masala, which is not even from India. Let's make Biryani the signature dish for our region. People who want to come and taste it will have enough Biryani restaurants around the world. Why don't we have Michelin-star chefs specializing in Biryani? Look at the potential we have.
We are looking at a cruise, a ship that has come from India to Sri Lanka. Why don't we open up to BIMSTEC? Why don't we use the Bay of Bengal for cruises? We are bigger than the Caribbean. Look at the potential. If people from East Asia, India, Southeast Asia, West Asia, and Africa come together, why travel all that way? Look at how we can develop and showcase the places in Sri Lanka. Look at Mahabalipuram. See Odisha. These are the places Europeans and others must see. Look at Cox's Bazar. Explore the Andaman Islands. They are already popular among Indians. When this happens, prices in the Andaman Islands will go up. Look at Myanmar. They can travel down to the Andaman seas, all the way down to Singapore. If we start now and plan ahead, in 10 years' time, we will have a completely new industry.
Why don't we have travel arrangements? We can arrange it. You can go to Lumbini, and the next flight can bring you to Buddhagaya. See those places, and the next flight can bring you to Colombo, so you can visit the Temple of the Tooth and the Bo-tree. We need to arrange our connectivity in such a way. Why not climb up to the base camp and then come down to an island in the Maldives? These are the unique holidays that no one else can offer. We can think of so many other holiday options. Look at all the different dance forms we have. The various dancers in different regions. This is the potential we have to attract millions of tourists every year to our region. Why not utilize it? And this is my idea, that BIMSTEC should be one big tourist area. We can also showcase Biryani and other cuisines.
Look at cricket. When we were small, everything was decided at the MCC. Today, cricket is identified with India. If we have achieved such a big success in cricket, why can't we come together and make tourism equally successful? Let's go upmarket and charge more. It means our rural people will have a better income. Let's all work towards it. Let's think about it. Maybe all of you here from the Sri Lankan industry and from India can learn something. There's something we can learn from the Maldives, and we can talk to Nepal. Let's look at it and develop a thriving tourist industry. A place where millions of people visit our region, making it prosperous for the people in our countries.”
Addressing the gathering Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay said;
“I am inspired by the presence of the Honourable President, and if I may mention, it was on his visit last weekend that the diplomatic envoys embarked on an unforgettable train journey through some of the most beautiful parts of Sri Lanka, aboard a vintage train called the Viceroy Special.
I mentioned this not just to reminisce about the beautiful journey through the misty forests, plantation areas, and picturesque landscapes of Sri Lanka, but because it reminded me of two things. One is the resemblance of the area to Vasuri and Nilgiris, which some of you might be familiar with, especially those who have come from India. The altitude is roughly the same as Visuri, but due to the tea plantations on both sides of the railway tracks, it gives the impression of passing through Nilgiri. However, this is not the reason I am mentioning it. When we reached our destination, a place called Ella, which is famous for, among other things, the world-renowned nine arches bridge, I couldn't believe my eyes. Just six months ago, when I visited, there were hundreds of tourists on either side of the railway track and all over the place.
There were tourists from India, Sri Lanka, and other countries. For some of us on the train, it was a stark reminder of how different that moment was from about a year ago.
Mr. President, your presence here is, to me, a vote of confidence in the present and the potential, as well as a reiteration of the partnership between the people of India and Sri Lanka for progress. It signifies a step towards even closer cooperation for the prosperity of both nations.
The theme "Transcending Borders, Transforming Lives," is precisely the spirit of the India-Sri Lanka relationship that has brought these two countries together as civilizational twins. We are all aware of the geographical proximity of India and Sri Lanka, but over the course of millennia, this proximity has been layered with history, culture, civilization, religions, languages, music, films, cricket, democracy, diversity, plurality, respect, peace, and harmony.
When you visit Sri Lanka, it also reflects the values that we cherish and share, as demonstrated by Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi.
I express my gratitude to the Minister of Tourism and the invaluable guidance and leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Over the past few months, we have not only resumed the Chennai-Jaffna flights, which used to operate four times a week, but these flights will now operate every day starting from July 16th. We are also working on resuming the ferry services, which have been inactive for decades, and the idea of an international cruise from India to Sri Lanka is no longer just a concept.
The use of Indian currency in Sri Lanka is a boost to tourism, as Indian tourists can now conveniently use their currency for payments. Additionally, efforts are underway to enable digital payments between the two countries. This will not only facilitate transcending borders and transforming lives but also build upon the legacies that form our common heritage.”
The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau extended an invitation to host the Conference of Travel Agents of India 2023 in Colombo, from the 6th to the 9th of July. This prestigious event is particularly noteworthy as it marks the 67th time that the Indian Tourism Federation, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Domestic Tour Operators Association, organizing the conference and exhibition.
The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) has appointed its members as tourism ambassadors, and their involvement in previous summits has consistently led to a significant four-fold increase in tourist arrivals to the host destinations. In light of this success, the conference features a two-day business session and buyer-seller meetings, at the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La hotels.
With a strong turnout, 500 members of the Indian Tourism Federation participating in this highly anticipated event. The promotion of Sri Lanka's tourism industry has been a focal point of discussions throughout the conference. Additionally, 50 Indian journalists have joined the gathering to cover the proceedings, highlighting the significance of this occasion.
In conjunction with the conference, the Sri Lanka Inland Tourism Operators Association (SLAITO) and its member associations have meticulously organized a post-summit tour encompassing popular tourist destinations such as Bentota, Galle, and Kandy. This initiative aims to showcase the beauty and diversity of Sri Lanka's attractions to the attendees.
The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) Colombo Summit has garnered support from four major airlines, namely SriLankan Airlines, Air India, IndiGo, and Vistara. These partnerships will facilitate seamless travel arrangements for the participants and further enhance the success of the summit.
Dignitaries and key figures attending the event included Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Ports and Maritime Affairs, Harin Fernando, Minister of Tourism and Lands, and Ms Jyoti Mayal, President of the Indian Travel Agents Association, among others.