The Chinese have an old saying, ”Just as the caterpillar thought it was the end of the world, it turned into a butterfly”. This very aptly describes the state of Sri Lanka’s meetings industry.
With the ending of the 30-year-old civil conflict in the middle of last year, this exotic destination, which through its Persian name Serendip gave the word serendipity its meaning, is now ready to go beyond catering to the traditional pleasure and leisure visitor.
Hotels and convention centres in the capital city Colombo and resort areas of Mount Lavinia, Negombo, Bentota, Galle and Dambulla provide a range of facilities that serve all areas of the travel and tourism industry, including business travel and business events.
With the reopening of the island’s northern and eastern parts for tourism, a whole new vista is also opening up for travellers and investors.
Located at the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent, on the ancient Silk Route, Sri Lanka was famously described by early explorer Marco Polo as “the finest island of its size in the world”.
Today, it is infused with fresh enthusiasm to embrace this era of peace and rebuild its credibility as a sought-after destination. Strong commitment to retaining her natural assets makes Sri Lanka, already a “green lung”, a destination travellers can visit guilt free. The combination of traditional Ayurvedic practice with meditation creates a wellness option for both mind and body, and makes the offer even more compelling.
With the Colombo Stock Exchange performing strongly during the past six months and investor interest growing, Sri Lanka’s economy is heading for more prosperous times.
January and February registered high tourism growth, aided by the severe winter experienced in Europe.
Sri Lanka is well connected to Europe and the rest of Asia by national carrier SriLankan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, THAI Airways, Emirates and other Middle Eastern airlines all enabling easy access.
Two major events made their mark and left a lasting impression. The first was the Galle Literary Festival, a gathering of literary personalities from across the globe and described by many as “the best event of its kind in Asia”.
In its fourth year, the festival recorded the best attendance ever and drew internationally renowned authors such as Claire Tomalin, Gillian Slovo and Diran Abebayo.
The other was the annual general meeting of the Commonwealth Association of Architects held in Colombo in mid-February. In effect, this was a tribute to the rich and innovative styles of Sri Lankan architectural design, brought to the world by the likes of the late Geoffrey Bawa and a band of his youthful followers.
The newly refurbished Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) is located in central Colombo.
It is the largest purpose-built convention centre in the country with a seating capacity of 1,500 theatre-style. It has several committee and breakout rooms and a movie hall. Two purpose-built exhibition halls are located adjacent to the convention centre, providing all-in-one facilities for conference-cum-exhibition events.
A new 1,500-seater convention facility is being developed in the deep south of Sri Lanka at Hambantota, where a brand new international shipping port and an airport are being developed, creating a new commercial centre.
Within Colombo most major hotels offer quality meeting and banquet facilities. Colombo Hilton, Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside, Taj Hotel, Colombo and Ceylon Continental are all equipped to host meetings of varied sizes.
The 146-year-old Galle Face Hotel offers meeting facilities for smaller events, also serving as an idyllic place for hosting outdoor evening functions as well as banquets in its ballrooms of colonial grandeur.
The other colonial-style vintage hotel located in the suburbs of the city, The Mount Lavinia Hotel, and the recently built The Waters Edge, are also irresistible venues for meeting planners.
Each of these hotels can host between 200 and 800 conference participants and offer breakout rooms and banquet facilities in impressive settings.
Meeting facilities are also available in the historic hill capital of Kandy at The Citadel and The Mahaweli Reach hotels. Along the coast you will find The Lighthouse in Galle, Taj Exotica in Bentota, Heritance Hotel, Ahungalla in the South and Amaya Lake in Dambulla, close to the ancient heritage sites. These also make great, out-of-city, smaller meeting and incentive venues.
Vipula Wanigasekera, the general manager of the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, says: “The BMICH and the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre (SLECC) can each host up to 1,000 guests.
“We are supported by several fully qualified and dedicated MICE companies, capable of handling events of any size. Now we are moving on to providing meetings facilities away from the city, closer to nature, culture and adventure.”
Wanigasekera says: “Apart from the convention centre at Hambantota, further facilities are to be built in the coastal tourist town of Negombo and another up North in Jaffna. A facility in the historic city of Kandy is also under consideration.”
ITINERARY – 4 DAYS in SRI LANKA
After breakfast, leave the conference hotel by chauffeur-driven cars. Proceed to Sigiriya and, en route, visit Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.
Visit Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. Around 55 miles from Colombo, off the Colombo-Kandy road is Pinnawela, where an orphanage was started in 1975 to house abandoned and injured elephants. The number of elephants has reached more than 40, including baby elephants brought from various parts of the country, as well as babies born in a captive-breeding programme. The best time to visit is either feeding time from 9.30am-10am and 1.30pm-2pm, or bathing time from 10am-10.30am and 2pm-2.30pm, when all the elephants are taken to the river close by.
Climb the Sigiriya rock fortress. Sigiriya is home to the fifth-century “Fortress in the Sky”, which is perhaps the most fantastic single wonder of the island. It is also known as Lion Rock because of the huge lion that used to stand at the entrance to the fortress. On its 150m summit are the foundations of what was once a great and sumptuous palace and gardens complete with swimming pool. The only known surviving ancient work of Sinhala secular painting, frescoes of life-sized women, are on one of the stairways. The paintings retain all the freshness and delicacy of their original colour.
Dinner and overnight stay at Jetwing Vil Uayana, Sigiriya
After breakfast at the hotel leave for Polonnaruwa for sightseeing.
Polonnaruwa, the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th century to the 13th century, contains some spectacular statues. The shrines of Lankatileke, Tivanka and Thuparama contain the most beautiful and largest ruins in the country. Tivanka has the best examples of Polonnaruwa-period frescoes. Other important sites are Rankot Vihara and Kiriwehera, which are well preserved large stupas; Gal Vihare, a rock shrine, with four Buddha statues; and, the Vatadage, a unique Sri Lankan relic.
In the afternoon, leave for Minneriya National Park for a Jeep Safari. Minneriya National Park is famous for its large population of elephants, which roam the jungle and the catchment area of the lake in herds of 100 to 150.
Return to Vil Uayana, Sigiriya and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Dinner and overnight stay at hotel.
After breakfast leave for Kandy, en route, visit the rock temple at Dambulla.
Dambulla is a vast isolated rock mass, 150m high and 1.5km around the base. Its famous rock temple dates back to the 1st century BC. The caves of Dambulla sheltered the King Walagamba during his 14 years of exile from Anuradhapura. When he regained the throne, he built the most magnificent rock temples to be found on the island. In the first cave there is a 15m-long recumbent image of the Buddha cut out of the rock.
There are images associated with Buddhism all around. The frescoes on the ceiling date back to between the 15th and 18th centuries. In the second cave, the finest and the largest of all, there are 150 life-sized statues of Buddhist religious figures, along with numerous images of the Buddha himself. The ceiling is also covered with frescoes that depict great events in the life of the Buddha and landmarks in Sinhala history.
On the Colombo-Kandy road, around Matale and Mawanella, you will see many spice gardens growing cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and other kinds of spice on trees, plants and creepers. Spice products are also on sale there. You can get a guided tour at any spice garden, where they will take you around and explain what each tree or plant is and how to use the spices in food preparation. A light lunch will be arranged.
Enjoy a city tour of Kandy, including Upper Lake Drive, Market Square and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Kandy is the venue of the annual Buddhist festival Perahera. The last stronghold of the Sinhala Kings was finally ceded here to the British in 1815. Kandy is an example of Buddhist influence
in Sri Lanka today. The temples’ shrines and monasteries keep Buddhist tradition alive everywhere.
There will be a special visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Ever since the 4th century AD, when the Buddha’s tooth was brought to Sri Lanka in an Orissan princess’ hair, the relic has grown in repute and holiness in Sri Lanka and throughout the Buddhist world. It is considered Sri Lanka’s most prized possession.
View a cultural show featuring the various dance styles of Sri Lanka
Farewell dinner and overnight stay at Hunnas Falls, Kandy .
After breakfast proceed to Negombo, a fishing village north of Colombo, with a Dutch-built canal. The canal itself is a hive of activity with fishermen travelling in their colourfully painted boats. On the shores, you will see many species of bird, including spectacular kingfishers. Catamaran trips on the sea and boat trips on the canal can be organised. Diving facilities are available in this quaint village. The streets are dotted with souvenir shops and restaurants.
After checking in at The Beach Hotel, you can freshen up, take lunch and spend the rest of the day at leisure. Leave for the airport, which is only 4km away, as per your scheduled flight time.
Programme courtesy of Jetwing Travels www.jetwingtravels.com
National carrier SriLankan Airlines flies to over 25 countries covering over 45 cities, using a modern Airbus fleet. Other airlines operating to Sri Lanka include Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Thai Airways, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, Austrian Air, Czech Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Indian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, LTU, Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific.
Generally tropical and humid, but moderate and cool in the hills.
Sinhala and Tamil. English is widely spoken and understood in cities and tourist areas.
Visitors are issued visas on arrival. Consult your local Sri Lankan embassy, consulate, or tourist office for further details.
Sri Lanka Convention Bureau
Event: International Conference for AIDS in the Asia Pacific (ICAAP)
Venue: Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH)
Organiser: Ace Travel and Conventions
Vibrant and enthusiastic, Dharni Soza, head of Ace Travel and Conventions, is proud of his company's achievements in hosting ICAAP, one of the high-profile health conferences held in Sri Lanka in recent years.
“The main conference hall at BMICH can only accommodate 1,500 delegates, but we handled the 8th International Conference for AIDS in the Asia Pacific (ICAAP) conference in 2007 successfully,” he says.
The conference brought in over 2,000 people to Sri Lanka. While he is elated that things are finally improving for the events industry here, when ICAAP was held in Sri Lanka in August 2007, things were different. The occasional terrorist attacks were on the mind of many delegates.
“Ace Travels and Conventions and Lanka Exhibitions and Conventions both worked with the organising committee in unison. It was the hard work by many Sri Lankans, both in the medical profession and in social work, that made it tick. The conference attracted 2,200 foreign delegates at a time when Sri Lanka’s tourism was at a low ebb. We had negative travel advisories from many countries. There was concern all around. We were always on edge,” says Soza.
“On the logistics side too, we had to be creative and innovative in the design of the conference to optimise the use of facilities. Garden events were the hallmark of evening functions, with only the very formal events held indoors. The breakouts were spread and we managed the logistics well. The weather was great and our team’s warmth radiated and touched the delegates. We showcased our culture at all times and exposed the delegates to much of what Sri Lanka had to offer. Everyone had a great time,” he says.
Soza’s assistant Nadeeka Leeniyagoda, says: “Today, we wouldn't have to deal with half the challenges we had then. Getting security clearances, moving delegates from the hotels to conference venues on time and making sure that they were absolutely safe from any terror threat were real issues then.”
Delegates to the conference came from all walks of life, ranging from very well-known figures in the medical profession to active grassroots social workers. They had a media centre and also conducted live clinics for people with AIDS.
“We had never before dealt with such a diverse delegate mix and that in itself was a big challenge, for their needs were very different. We had to hone our usual Sri Lankan hospitality skills and our caring ways to the fullest,” says Leeniyagoda.
The conference was opened with the President of Sri Lanka as guest of honour. Professor AH Sheriffdeen and Bradman Weerakoon, the co-chairmen of the conference, were extremely complimentary about the way the whole conference came together to be the success it was. “Ace Travels and Conventions assisted the local organising committee in liaising with all suppliers and making all other onsite arrangements. They provided an admirable service. The commitment and dedication of their staff was appreciated by all,” they say.
“When we handle similar events today, with peace back again, we can count on all the skills, experience and expertise we brought together to make the 8th ICAAP the resounding success it was,” Soza says.
Ace Travels and Conventions
John Keells Conventions
Lanka Exhibition & Conference Services