Colombo gears up for the largest Indian tourism conference
The profound historical bond between India and Sri Lanka, which dates back several millennia, contributes to the immense importance of the 67th TAAI Convention.
The convention of the Travel Agents Association of India, after an 18-year hiatus, is scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo from July 6 to 9 with over 700 participants primarily from India, RRM Lilani wrote the report. The historical connection between India and Sri Lanka, spanning thousands of years, adds to the significance of the 67th Convention of the TAAI. TAAI's 2022 Convention, originally planned for April 19 to 22 in Colombo, was postponed due to political unrest and economic crisis but today, as Sri Lanka is on its revival path, the Convention has been brought to Sri Lanka to promote a regional tourism network.
Sri Lanka Tourism said that India continues to lead among the top ten markets, with the number of Indian tourist arrivals expected to double by 2023. To promote Sri Lanka's attractions, cultural value, and travel opportunities, Sri Lanka hosts roadshows in India to create a positive perception among Indian tourists.
In Colombo, TAAI, the largest and oldest tourism agency in India, is set to showcase the theme of 'Futuristic Focus on Transcending Borders' and emphasize Sri Lanka's position as a safe, convenient, and welcoming destination for Indian tourists, at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. The convention, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators, has received strong support from Sri Lankan Airlines.
The event would be inaugurated by Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, along with other key dignitaries and delegate members from both countries. The Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Gopal Bagley, will deliver a welcome address, highlighting the significance of this prestigious event and providing a platform for networking and knowledge sharing among participants from various countries.
Prime Minister Gunawardena is scheduled to participate in the event on July 7th. The celebrations and dinner will be hosted at Lemon Trees, the Prime Minister's Residence, providing a unique experience for delegates attending the Indian Travel Congress, according to RRM Lilani. Under the theme "Transcending Borders," the convention aims to explore the evolving landscape of the tourism industry, emphasizing the embrace of new adventures and destinations.
Sri Lanka has the popular Ramayana Trail, which attracts North Indian tourists, and last year, Sri Lanka Tourism introduced the "Murugan Trail" for South Indians. The "Murugan Trail" includes approximately ten places of worship, from the north to the south of Sri Lanka, including the Jaffna Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil and the Kataragama or Kadirgamam Murugan Temple. Lord Shiva is also worshipped as one of the main deities among the South Indian community.
India and Sri Lanka share a legacy of historical, cultural, religious, spiritual, and linguistic ties that date back more than 2,500 years. The Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed by the Governments of India and Sri Lanka in 1977 forms the foundation for periodic Cultural Exchange Programs between the two countries, India High Commission noted.
Tourism plays a vital role in the bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka. The Government of India introduced the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme for Sri Lankan tourists on April 14, 2015, and reduced the visa fee as a goodwill gesture. In 2019, out of a total of 1.91 million tourists, 355,000 tourists arrived from India. Sri Lankan tourists are also among the top ten sources for the Indian tourism market. The tourism sector in Sri Lanka, which was severely affected by the Easter Sunday attacks, received a boost from Indian tourists. India included Sri Lanka in its free visa-on-arrival scheme to further strengthen ties on July 24, 2019.
During the Virtual Bilateral Summit held on September 26, 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a USD 15 million grant assistance for the protection and promotion of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka. This grant is the first of its kind by India and can be utilised for the construction/renovation of Buddhist monasteries, education of young monks, engagement of Buddhist scholars and clergy, development of Buddhist heritage museums, cultural exchanges, archaeological cooperation, and reciprocal exposition of The Buddha's relics.
At the 67th TAAI Convention, Jyoti Mayal, President of TAAI, highlighted the significance of transcending borders in both travel and personal growth. She emphasized the transformative power of tourism in bringing prosperity, peace, and economic development to countries. Mayal stated, "As the industry evolves, our minds must evolve too. We need to focus on growth and embrace the future to transform lives."
Over the course of the two-day event, various topics related to transcending borders will be discussed. Renowned industry experts such as Arvind Singh, Former Secretary of Tourism, Government of India; Madhavan Menon, Managing Director, Thomas Cook India Limited; Nipun Agarwal, Chief Commercial and Transformation Officer, Air India; and K.B. Kachru, Chairman Emeritus & Principal Advisor - South Asia, Radisson Hotels Group, among others, will deliver speeches on subjects including The Boundless Potential of the Skies, Experiential Travel - A Paradigm Shift in Tourism, NEXTAAI - The TAAI Members' Technology Initiative, Differentiating Travel - Perspectives from Industry Experts, Transcending Borders - Strengthening International Relations for a Transformed World, and TAAI - The Road Ahead, as per RRM Lilani.
Notable industry experts attending the convention include Ashish Gupta, Consulting CEO, FAITH; Pieter Elbers, CEO Indigo; Amitabh Khosla, Country Director - India, IATA; Praveen Iyer, Co-Founder & Chief Commercial Officer, Akasa Air; Rajeev Bhatia, Chief Commercial Officer, Amadeus India; Vinay Malhotra, Head of Global Sales, Indigo; Richard Nuttall, CEO, Sri Lankan Airlines; Kapil Kaul, CEO and Director, CAPA India; Ajeet Bajaj, Dev Karvat, Founder and CEO, Asego Insurance; G.B. Srithar, Regional Director, India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board; Commander Nevil Malao, Senior Vice President, JM Baxi & Co.; Noel Swain, COO - Passport, eVisa, Identity & Citizen Services, VFS Global; Sandeep Dwivedi, CEO - InterGlobe Technology Quotient, and many more.
Jay Bhatia, Vice President of TAAI, emphasized the significance of the Convention in fostering stronger bilateral relationships between India and Sri Lanka. With the participation of approximately 200 Sri Lankan tourism stakeholders in the B2B sessions, the event serves as an ideal platform for networking and establishing fruitful business relations. These interactions promote inbound and outbound travel between India and Sri Lanka, encouraging tourists to explore new and exciting destinations.
Jyoti Mayal, President of TAAI, highlighted the immense potential of the Indian market to become one of the most sought-after destinations globally for outbound travel. The TAAI Convention in Colombo presents an opportunity to explore emerging trends, share insights, and collaborate to shape a future where travel transcends borders and truly transforms lives, she said. As delegates gather in Colombo, let us seize this occasion to embrace these trends and work together toward a more interconnected and transformative travel industry, Mayal added.
The main theme of the TAAI 2023 conference is to strengthen the regional tourism industry, aligning with Sri Lankan Airlines' regional strategy. Sri Lanka's strategic location in the Indian Ocean makes it an ideal hub for connecting countries to the north, east, and west of India. Sri Lanka has become a popular stopover destination for Indian tourists travelling to Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Maldives. Sri Lankan Airlines currently operates 85 weekly flights between various Indian cities and Sri Lanka.
Dimuthu Thennakone, Head of International Sales and Distribution at Sri Lankan Airlines, expressed the airline's goal to strengthen relations with India, particularly focusing on leisure and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) tourists. Sri Lankan Airlines aims to expand its flight operations to several other cities in India in the future and is pleased to collaborate with the TAAI Association to further develop tourism activities between the two countries, he stressed.