A leading travel-related association of India has resolved to help Sri Lanka in reviving its tourism sector by promoting the flow of tourists to the island nation that is making comprehensive efforts to recover from the devastating economic crisis last year.
The three-day Indian Travel Congress, which was held in Colombo as part of the 67th convention of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), concluded on Saturday with a dazzling display of fireworks, gala dinner and music and dance performances with many famous Bollywood numbers sang in Sinhala language by performers.
“We are both alike, India and Sri Lanka, our food, language, culture and dresses, and tourism builds bridges between two communities and two countries, and we at TAAI support Sri Lanka in its efforts to revive tourism, above and beyond this convention,” Jyoti Mayal, the President of the 72-year-old TAAI, said in her address.
After her address on Saturday night, she asked TAAI delegates to take a pledge that each Indian in an individual or institutional capacity will help in bringing tourists to Sri Lanka.
Over 500 delegates, including tourism and hospitality industry experts, tour operators and other key stakeholders from India and Sri Lanka participated in the grand convention that kicked off on July 6.
The theme of the TAAI convention was ‘Transcending Borders, Transforming Lives’. Mayal in her address at the closing day dinner reception hosted at a beach hotel just out of Colombo city, called the convention a “resounding success”. She thanked the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and the Sri Lankan Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), for their support in organising the convention.
The 66th convention of TAAI was to be held in Colombo in 2022, but due to economic and political turmoil, it was eventually hosted in Singapore on board a cruise. SLTPB chairman Chalaka Gajabahu in his address thanked TAAI for choosing Sri Lanka as the host country for its convention and said the partnership between the two sides should grow further from here, “as we make efforts to recover and revive our tourism sector” that is showing signs of improvement.
In 2022, there was a significant increase in international tourist arrivals to the country, with 719,978 visitors recorded for the year, a 270.2 per cent increase compared to the 194,495 tourists who visited in 2021, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
Sri Lanka government officials said “comprehensive efforts” are being made in the tourism sector as the cash-strapped nation endeavours to rebuild the economy. Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe attended the formal opening ceremony of the convention that took place at the historic BMICH (Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall) in the Sri Lankan capital.
In his address, he suggested making the BIMSTEC area a “borderless tourism” region to tap the huge potential offered by the countries in the seven-member grouping. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional grouping that comprises India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
Wickremesinghe also spoke about several projects, including seven golf courses and more resorts, planned by his government to help speed up Sri Lanka’s recovery from the 2022 crisis. In April 2022, Sri Lanka declared its first-ever debt default, the worst economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1948, triggered by forex shortages that sparked public protests. Months-long street protests led to the ouster of the then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in mid-July last year.
High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Gopal Bagley attended the inaugural ceremony and address delegates on the second day of the Indian Travel Congress as well. He described India and Sri Lanka as “civilisational twins” in his address at the inaugural ceremony.
On the second day of the Indian Travel Congress 2023, Sri Lanka Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena graced the occasion as a chief guest at a dinner reception in Colombo. Expressing his gratitude to trustworthy friend India for saving Sri Lanka and preventing a bloodbath during its unprecedented economic crisis last year, Abeywardena said that not a single nation has extended that kind of assistance to Colombo as done by New Delhi.