Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau CEO Vipula Wanigasekera. From Left: Tourism and Christian Affairs Deputy Minister Arundika Fernando, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau Acting Chairman Paddy Withana, Tourism and Christian Affairs Ministry Secretary Janaya Sugathadasa and Connaisance De Ceylon CEO Chandra Wickramasinghe
Pic by Pradeep Dilrukshan
By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Sri Lanka has bagged the SNAV Congress 2016, which is being hailed as a landmark achievement for the country’s tourism sector.
SNAV (Syndicate National Des agents de Voyages) is the French Tour Operators Association, which has 1,500 state approved travel agencies with over 3,000 sales points. Over 700 of these travel agents will visit for the annual congress set to take place in October 2016.
“This is a milestone for Sri Lanka. This will make a huge difference not just in the French market, but also in other European primary markets,” Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau CEO Vipula Wanigasekera said at the first press conference organized by Sri Lanka Tourism this week.
He noted that French arrivals are set to surpass 100,000 this year, compared to around 16,205 arrivals in 2009 when the war ended.
For the first 9 months of 2015, 68,021 French tourists arrived in Sri Lanka, showing a 10.1 percent growth year-on-year. France is the 5th largest source market for Sri Lanka.
“We believe that 50 percent of the agents haven’t been to Sri Lanka before. Seeing is believing, which will make it easier for them to sell Sri Lanka as a destination at their 3,000 sales points... So, the French market is going to do well,” Wanigasekera added.
Connaisance De Ceylon CEO Chandra Wickramasinghe said that when the SNAV Congress was held in Egypt, French arrivals in Egypt shot up five-fold the next year, and Sri Lanka, as a long-haul destination, could see a doubling of tourism revenue from France after the Congress.
He added that 20 percent of the Rs.2 billion turnover in the cultural triangle is from French travellers, who are mainly interested in adventure and nature travel.
Tourism and Christian Affairs Deputy Minister Arundika Fernando said that the Tourist Board will spend Rs.40 million to host the congress, and SriLankan Airlines, and luxury hotels will provide services at concessionary rates.
“Even though we have spent billions of rupees in the past for promotions, this spending may be more valuable than that,” he added. Sri Lanka Association of Professional Conference Exhibition & Event Organizers Secretary Paddy Paul noted that the country will recover the Rs. 40 million through the spending of just 250 of the agents who will be visiting Sri Lanka.
“The public relations value will be immeasurable,” Wanigasekera added, and said that this is the first time in 10 years that SNAV is visiting a long-haul destination, which would raise Sri Lanka’s profile further.
The French market generates 24.6 million trips annually, with an average overseas stay of 7.4 days, and an average spending per trip ranging between 1,800-2,875 Euros. Around 60 percent of the French tourists travel between April and September, with 88 percent travelling for leisure, according to Tourism Board statistics.
The conference will be held in Negombo, and the agents will be given tours in the cultural triangle, while many are expected to stay beyond the conference days and tour other parts of the country. “This is an opportunity to promote places within Sri Lanka that have hitherto not been promoted,” Wanigasekera said. He said that the SNAV committee unanimously voted for Sri Lanka due to the creative bid document, timing of Sri Lanka as an up and coming destination, and the letters of commitment provided by Sri Lankan government institutes, hoteliers, tour operators and the national carrier.
Wanigasekera praised the current and previous tourism portfolio ministers, the Sri Lankan negotiating team in Paris, the team which created the bid document, and all other stakeholders who made the achievement a success.