With the first direct flights from Gatwick to Colombo already on sale, I reflect on Sri Lanka as a corporate and luxury travel destination.
A Country on the Up
Sri Lanka truly seems to be on the ascendant from a travel industry point of view. The World Travel Industry Report has tipped it as an emerging destination alongside other SLIMMA countries (Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Argentina) just this month, and British Airways is selling seats on its direct Gatwick to Colombo route which will be jetting off three times a week from the 31st of March 2013. These developments are the result of a general economic and political progression that’s been happening in Sri Lanka in recent years after a period of troubles. Previously, there had been devastation in the country after the Asian Tsunami in 2004 and the civil war from 2006, so when peace was declared in the country in 2009, it marked the resumption of growth, and of travel. Now with GDP growth of 8.2%, Sri Lanka has the seventh fastest growing economy in the world. But enough with all the stats, what can Sri Lanka offer the corporate travel industry?
Three Destination Tests
Before seriously considering a new and untested destination I like to reflect on three criteria.
- Firstly, there has to be the potential for luxury- this comes from availability of a range of venues and opportunities for relaxation and comfort.
- Secondly, there is nothing worse for me than a destination which offers limited scope for entertainment. Our clients should never be bored, so it’s important to have access to a range of activities, or, the means to design activities ourselves.
- Thirdly, the ideal destination has to be unusual and exciting for delegates who want to experience something unique.
A Little Luxury?
According to the official tourism website for Sri Lanka, the island has loads to offer in terms of luxury. The Island boasts 14 large 5 star hotels which is a good base for accommodation. There are also many buildings from the colonial period which, by design, suggest power and privilege. Some of these have been turned into more exclusive, smaller boutique hotels which certainly seems to tick the box for luxury accommodation! In addition to hotels, the ‘beauty of Sri Lanka as a destination’ was highlighted by the World Travel Industry Report as a reason to choose the island above a similar destination. The quality of the beaches and general atmosphere seems well suited to luxury travel. What makes Sri Lanka stand out for me as a luxury destination is an emphasis on spiritual and physical healing. The island’s Buddhist history emphasises relaxation and spa treatments. The traditional form of spa services is called Ayurveda. This consists of a mixture of baths, massages, meditation and herbal remedies whilst other forms of eastern and western therapies are now also widely available in spas along the west coast. Overall, the availability of this sort of luxury accommodation and relaxation suggests Sri Lanka’s potential as an elite destination.
But What of Activities?
It is easy to cite the culture of Sri Lanka when looking for activities. There is a wealth of history to be explored and local customs and cuisine to be savoured. However, when looking from a design perspective, it is important to recognise potential to design activities which are off the beaten track. Recent investment in infrastructure leaves opportunities open for designing a unique experience with relative ease. After all, a beautiful blank canvas with good infrastructure is all we need! As for ready-made, tried and tested activities, Sri Lanka surprisingly seems to offer lots of sporting activities. Cycling is a unique but popular way to travel into places where local culture really comes alive, as this report from the independent shows. See the importance of local culture as an integral part of travel in our blog about incentive travel in China. Other than bikes, there are plenty of beaches for water sports which always go down well. It seems that even upon first investigation there would be plenty to ensure our delegates don’t suffer from boredom.
So is Sri Lanka unique enough to add something new to our destination portfolio for corporate clients? Since the very north of Sri Lanka was off limits to tourists until fairly recently it may still be seen as an unusual destination, especially if you leave the comfort of the resort and deliver an activity-filled adventure. There is also the possibility to present Sri Lanka as one of twin centres with the Maldives. BA is even going to touch down in Male on the way to Colombo. This would add an extra dimension to an already exciting destination prospect. In conclusion, Sri Lanka is definitely on the radar for investigating luxury and corporate travel for our clients in 2013. Time will tell whether it can live up to such high expectations.