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June 12, 2009

Sri Lanka’s back on the meetings map after years of conflict

Asia’s growing meetings and events offer has received a boost recently, when a stunning country with an already developed venue and hotel infrastructure, emerged from years of conflict to lay down a serious challenge to the more established states in the region.

Sri Lanka expects to see strong growth in the tourism and events sectors with the re-establishment last month of the rule of law in all parts of the country. The beautiful tropical island emerged from a quarter century of conflict in May, when government security forces reclaimed all land held by the rebels in the north.

The success signals the resumption of the tourist industry particularly in the famed eastern coastline of the country where star-class hotels have languished for decades maintained with the minimum staff and only serving the occasional visitor despite its unspoilt beaches, excellent surfing as well as diving and snorkeling. At a time of economic upheaval across the globe, Sri Lanka could be the answer for companies looking to combine a real wow factor with great value for money.

More options
The country recently focused a major marketing effort on the Middle Eastern countries culminating with the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where a strong industry delegation was led by the country's deputy minister for tourism, Faiszer Mustapha.

“The restoration of normalcy in the north will result in more options for meeting planners and greater opportunities for successful deliberations and relaxation,” explains Vipula Wanigasekera, general manager of the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau.

“Sri Lanka offers great value for money with more quality options at a lower cost in comparison to other destinations offering similar facilities. With a highly trained workforce in the hospitality sector, we can offer a great experience whether it is a group of just ten or one thousand,” he added.

Local expertise
The country, which has attracted travelers from around the world for centuries, first showcased itself as a major destination for meetings when it hosted the Fifth Non-aligned Summit in 1976.

“That was the first major event at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall which was also the first purpose-built convention centre in South Asia,” said Wanigasekara.

Sri Lanka's Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall

“The country has come a long way since then. More facilities have been added, and the industry has developed to a stage where professional local organisation is available and programmes can be tailored to suit individual tastes, whether they  are small or large groups.

“Our expansion programme continues, and the government recently approved the setting up of a four-star hotel and convention centre by an Indian investor with an investment of US$ 25 million in addition to the state-of-the-art convention centre coming up in Hambantota.”

Sense of adventure
Outlining some of the incentives for business travellers, Wanigasekara added: “Sri Lanka offers a variety of activities that can challenge and bond a group, whether it’s adventure, jungle trekking or simply having a water-fight in the warm blue sea. You can decide whether you want to stay in a straw covered hut among the lush rice paddies or relax in a seaside resort looking far out at the sea. Either way, you will have excellent comforts and a choice of gourmet food, to make your event a memorable one.”

There are several companies that partner with the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau offering professional local services for staging conferences and exhibitions from people who have a strong first-hand knowledge of the country.

“Each meeting you have in Sri Lanka can be a different experience because there is so much variety,” said Wanigasekara. “We are confident that, at a time when the global economy is facing a downturn, Sri Lanka will be able to offer excellent opportunities for business meetings and interaction in an atmosphere of relaxation and enjoyment at an affordable cost.”

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