BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation, Dhaka) was initiated as a platform to bring together the countries in the Bay of Bengal to discuss and work in collaboration to develop all aspects of 14 main sectors in a country including tourism within the region. The Member States are Bangladesh, Bhutan , India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. With its Headquarters based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the first Meeting of Network of Tour Operators was held in New Delhi, India in 2017.
During this first meeting, it has been decided to hold the second meeting in Sri Lanka. As a result, Sri Lanka was the Host country for the second meeting which was organized by Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) from 8th - 9th of December 2020 at Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management , with the presence of Tourism Ministry officials and Industry representatives from SLAITO, TAASL, and ASMET.
Mr. Waruna Samaradivakara, Addl.Secretary, Ministry of Tourism headed the Sri Lanka delegation while Ms. Pema Dekar, Chief, Service Division, Tourism Council of Bhutan, Ms. Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India, Ms. Thidar Aye, Assistant Director, Tourism Promotion Department, Myanmar, Mr. Narahari Ghimire, Under Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Nepal headed their respective delegations. Ministry of Tourism in Thailand joined as an Observer. The meeting was held on a virtual platform due to the COVID Pandemic where except for the Sri Lanka delegation, all other member states delegates joined online for the two day session.
Mr. S. Hettiarachchi , Secretary , Ministry of Tourism , graced the occasion as the Chief Guest on the 8th December . In his keynote address, he said that there is a need to promote tourism in the region and understand the importance of closer cooperation between government agencies, private sector tour operators and hospitality industry entrepreneurs. He also stressed that the BIMSTEC region has a lot of potential for intra-regional tourism, but reaching the full potential of Tourism in this region still remains untapped.
Mr. Waruna Samaradivakara, Head of Sri Lanka delegation was appointed as the Chair to conduct the meeting. The proceedings of the meeting continued with the participation of Dr. Damaru Paudel, Director in charge of Tourism, at the BIMSTEC Secretariat who presented the progress report of the previous meeting. He stressed the importance of formulating a common marketing strategy by enhancing public & private partnership in promoting tourism in the BIMSTEC countries. Each country made their presentation on the progress made so far in their destinations.
Representing the Sri Lankan delegation, Ms. Madubhani Perera, Actg. Managing Director of Sri Lanka presented the progress made in relation to Tourism promotions with BIMSTEC countries and recommended that it is essential to have a joint collaboration with the Member States in hosting Familiarization Tours, Promoting Ramayana trail and organizing Buddhist Festivals under the development of Buddhist and temple circuits.
Detailed discussions were carried out by respective Travel Industry representatives of Member States in establishing a BIMSTEC Tourism Information Centre and monitoring and utilizing the BIMSTEC Tourism fund which comes under the Ministry of Tourism in India.
The second day of the Virtual meeting discussed important subjects including the BIMSTEC brand of Tourism, Buddhist and Temple Tourism circuits, Cruise tourism, Eco Tourism and common safety protocols for adventure tourism etc. At this occasion, Dr.Rohantha Athukorala, made a detailed presentation and created the platform for a fruitful discussion, highlighting the potential of BIMSTEC as a region in attracting tourists . He further mentioned that the main three components such as Segmenting, Targeting and Positioning in the right perspective in BIMSTEC countries would definitely boost the arrivals from 58 mn to 100 mn whilst the income to BIMSTEC could be to be increased from $ 98 bn to $200 bn by end 2024.
Travel Industry representatives of the Sri Lanka delegation made the product presentations on viable areas to be promoted regionally. Mr. Asiri Samaraweera, the National Guide lecturer made a presentation on the importance of promoting Buddhist Tourism, which was welcomed by Nepal and India, where joint tour packages can be promoted. Speaking at this meeting, Mr. Kumar Sithambaram from ASMET highlighted Sri Lanka’s potential in promoting the Ramayana trail, especially among India and Thailand.
Mr .Anuruddha Bandara, representing SLAITO made a detailed presentation on Eco and Adventure tourism, and Mr. Thilak Weerasinghe President of SLAITO, proposed the idea of developing common safety protocols for adventure tourism in the region.
The presentation on cruise tourism was done by Mr. Indika Abeykoon of TAASL, highlighting Sri Lanka as a facilitator for cruise tourism in the region and the importance of by river cruises, which can be promoted combining India, Bhutan and Nepal. Mr. Nishan Senevirathne ( Past President/TAASL ) and Ms. Chandima Tissearachchi representing TAASL highlighted the potential of Outbound Tourism to the Member States.
During the discussion on the Annual Travel Mart for BIMSTEC countries, Mr. Nishad Wijetunga Vice President of SLAITO , invited all the Member States to participate at the next ‘’Sancharaka Udawa’’ Exhibition.
After a lengthy discussion with member states, it was decided to form a working group for tourism comprising the private & the government sector officials in Tourism Sector of each Member State to formulate a joint Action Plan in implementing the BIMSTEC brand of tourism.
The next meeting of the BIMSTEC Network of Tour Operators will be held in Nepal in 2021, coinciding the BIMSTEC Travel Mart. This two day meeting ended up with fruitful discussions with the hope of promoting tourism products, with collaborative promotional efforts by each BIMSTEC country, which will pave the way to enhance regional tourism.
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