Sri Lanka made a great impact in promoting the country as a tourism destination by participating at the 37th staging of the International Tourism Trade Fair, FITUR, in Madrid Spain from 18th to 22nd January 2017. This event, organized by IFEMA, brought together at Feria de Madrid, 9,672 tourism companies, institutions and bodies from 165 countries and regions and has earned it’s standing as the third largest tourism fair in Europe.
The inauguration of the Sri Lanka stall was held ceremonially involving tradition and culture with the participation of Hon John Amaratunga, Minister of Tourism Promotion Christian Religious Affairs and Lands, officials of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Mr Alexi Gunasekera, Commercial Counsellor of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Paris, Ms Sarangi Thilakasena, Assistant Director- Marketing of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), Mr Agustin Llanas, Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka in Barcelona and Mr Omar Nawaz, UNWTO. Over ten leading private sector companies along with the SLTPB marketed Sri Lanka exclusively based on its vibrancy, authenticity and compactness as a destination. The first ever Sri Lankan brochure in Spanish language was launched by the Hon. Minister John Amaratunga at Fitur Sri Lanka stand in order to strengthen the destination marketing efforts to Spanish travellers. Hon. Minister was presented with the renowned travel magazine in spain “Excelencias” which carried six-page article on Sri Lanka by the editor Ms. Veronica Santiago at the opening ceremony.
During the inaugural speech Minister reiterated that participation in FITUR was a vital decision taken by the Sri Lanka tourism promotion authorities along with the assistance of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Paris. He remarked that it would no doubt help to reposition Sri Lanka in Spain as a strategic hub for the Latin American region and emphasized that it was an honour to make a comeback after almost a decade. He spoke of the timeliness of the decision particularly with the very conducive environment prevailing in Sri Lanka for the industry.
On the sidelines of the Fair, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) launched the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism” the presence of over 65 Ministers of Tourism attending the event. The Madrid-based World Tourism Organization (WTO) reinforces FITUR’s position as a major worldwide benchmark for the industry.
Minister John Amaratunga, had the opportunity of having a bilateral discussion with the WTO Secretary General. The Commercial Section of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Paris also arranged for the Minister to meet with the Spanish Travel Agents Association (CEAV) in order to seek the feasibility of holding the “Spanish Travel Agents Association Congress” 2018 in Sri Lanka following the success of the French Travel Agents Congress in 2016. During the discussions with the President and the committee members of the CEAV, this proposal was given positive consideration and agreement in principle was also reached to send a fact finding mission to Sri Lanka in May 2017.
Simultaneously, Sri Lanka was invited to attend the Meeting of the Heads of the World Travel Agents to be convened in Valencia later this year. Minister John Amaratunga and the Commercial Councellor on the sidelines had a bilateral meeting with Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO attended by Director Regional Programme for Asia Pacific and his team. During Minister Amaratunga’s discussion, he conveyed his gratitude to the UNWTO Secretary General for visiting Sri Lanka in 2016 for the “UNWTO Conference on Tourism: a Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation” in Passikuda. He referred to the productive discussions held therein towards action to be oriented for sustainable tourism development in Sri Lanka. Minister of Tourism, invited Dr Rifai, to attend the PATA Conference in Sri Lanka later this year. During these discussions based on a proposal made by Hon Minister agreement was reached to link the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Campaign with the UNWTO Year of Sustainable Tourism. He also agreed to facilitate the formulation of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Master Plan and assist in sustainable tourism development in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country. On a recommendation made by the Sri Lanka side, the UNWTO Secretary General, agreed to conduct training programmes for the Commercial Attaches of Sri Lanka Embassies to promote the country as a destination for tourism in an effective and efficient manner.
Further the Hon Minister, Commercial Counsellor and Assistant Director -SLTPB also met with H.E. Dho young –Shim, Chairperson of the UNWTO ST-EP Foundation which is the pioneering foundation in UNWTO for alleviating poverty in order to discuss obtaining assistance for Tourism Development in the context of poverty alleviation. This foundation will soon be transformed as ST-EP International Elevating it's stature and Madam Dho invited for Sri Lanka to be a signatory to this agreement which would also facilitate Sri Lanka national objective of alleviating poverty through tourism. This event will take place in March or September during the General Assembly of UNWTO.
The Sri Lanka Tea promotion counter at the Pavilion attracted a large number of visitors and there were many inquiries for promoting the Ceylon Tea brand and the Ceylon Cinnamon brand in Spain. Sri Lanka Tourism counter also received much attention with inquiries flowing in from many trade visitors and public alike. Participation in FITUR will garner the much-needed exposure for Sri Lanka to market itself as a destination for tourism with the Spanish speaking countries, contributing in a substantive manner to its overall growth strategy.