SriLankan Airlines named ‘Airline of the Year’

SriLankan Airlines received the highest number of awards of any single company at the Second Annual Presidential Awards for Travel & Tourism, winning three of the major categories that were presented.
Sri Lanka’s National Carrier won the categories of ‘Airline of the Year’, ‘Outbound Tour Operator’, and ‘Tourism Education & Training Effort’.

The Presidential Awards for Travel & Tourism are the country’s highest annual accolades to organisations and individuals who have excelled in the development of tourism in Sri Lanka, and whose outstanding contributions play a significant role in the success of the tourism industry. It is conducted by the Ministry of Tourism and Sri Lanka Tourism.

Acting Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, Nishanta Wickremasinghe said: “SriLankan Airlines has traditionally been a pioneer in many aspects of the country’s tourism industry, and we are delighted to win these accolades for our efforts. The National Carrier has always been a pillar of strength which the entire country relies upon, and this is especially so of the tourism industry.”

SriLankan was chosen as Airline of the Year for its overall contribution to the country’s tourism industry. Its leisure arm SriLankan Holidays won the category of Outbound Tour Operator for its work in making overseas travel affordable and convenient to Sri Lankan travellers. The International Aviation Academy, the airline’s training wing, took honours for its work in providing comprehensive training in various aspects of civil aviation and tourism.

Manoj Gunawardena, CEO of SriLankan, said: ‘The awards showcase the strength and the diversity of SriLankan Airlines. SriLankan is not just an airline, but has diverse businesses in inbound and outbound travel, airline training, and many more areas.’ Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, was the Chief Guest at the gala event at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo on January 26, 2009. The audience included Minister of Tourism, Milinda Moragoda, Deputy Minister of Tourism Faizer Mustapha, former Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arjuna Ranatunga, and members of the country’s tourism industry.

Nishanta Wickremasinghe, Acting Chairman, SriLankan Airlines, received the awards on behalf of the National Carrier.
Sri Lanka’s award-winning carrier brings the largest number of tourists into Sri Lanka from around the world. It now flies to 41 destinations in 25 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Subcontinent, and the Far East.

SriLankan Holidays promises travellers a ‘World of Memories’ with all-inclusive package tours in more than 30 cities in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Far East, Middle East, and Europe. It has evolved in recent years to become one of the country’s largest players in both the inbound and outbound tourism industries.

The International Aviation Academy serves the manpower requirements of not just SriLankan but airlines, airports, travel agents, and other aviation industry organizations throughout Asia, with comprehensive programmes in both technical and soft skills.


Airlines face hard landing in slump: IATA

Airlines are on course for one of their toughest ever years, top industry association IATA warned on Thursday as the global slump pushes air cargo into free fall and slashes passenger growth.
“2009 is shaping up to be one of the toughest ever years for international aviation,” International Air Transport Association Director General Giovanni Bisignani said.

“The 22.6 percent drop in international cargo traffic in December puts us in uncharted territory and the bottom is nowhere in sight. Keep your seatbelts fastened and prepare for a bumpy ride and a hard landing,” he said.
Figures for 2008 released by IATA showed a 1.6 percent increase in passenger traffic, “dramatically down” from 7.4 percent growth the previous year.

In December alone, international air travel dropped 4.6 percent over the same month in 2007, propped up only by advance bookings for the holiday season, IATA said in a statement.
But air freight tumbled by an unprecedented 22.6 percent, as the overall decline that set in during the final months of last year accelerated.

Over the full year, international cargo traffic fell 4.0 percent, reversing previous growth, setting the stage for a further slide in air travel and freight.
IATA forecast a 3.0 percent decline in passenger volumes for 2009 and a further drop in cargo traffic of 5.0 percent.
The sharpest tumble last month was experienced in the airline industry’s booming market in recent years, the Asia-Pacific region.
International passenger travel there slumped by 9.7 percent and Asian air cargo -- nearly half of the global total -- plunged 26 percent.

North American airlines experienced a 4.3 percent drop in demand for international flights in December, while European carriers experienced a slower decline of 2.7 percent.
Only the Middle East managed to cling on to slower growth.

But in all instances the dropping demand outstripped attempts by carriers to cut routes and schedules.
“Airlines are struggling to match capacity with fast falling demand,” Bisignani cautioned.
“Until this comes into balance, even the sharp fall in fuel prices cannot save the industry from drowning in red ink.”
After registering a collective loss of about five billion dollars in 2008, airlines are set to lose another 2.5 billion dollars in 2009, assuming oil prices average about 60 dollars a barrel, according to the association.

Analysts at Irish stockbrokers Davy Research said low cost carriers would continue to gain market share in Europe in the current situation. “Premium volume is likely to remain under pressure,” they said in a market note.
IATA predicted that the economic crisis will cut 35 billion dollars from airline revenues this year, leaving them at a total of 501 billion dollars.

That prompted Bisignani to renew a call for governments to allow more cross border or global airline mergers: “We don’t want bail-outs, but we need to change the ownership rules.”
The slump in international air freight last month again exceeded the 13.9 percent monthly drop recorded after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

“The 22.6 percent free-fall in global cargo is unprecedented and shocking. There is no clearer description of the slowdown in world trade,” he added.

About 35 percent of the trade in international goods trade is by air, according to IATA.
The association groups 230 carriers covering more than 90 percent of scheduled international air traffic, with the exception of exclusively low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet.


Aitken Spence Travels wins top travel awards

Aitken Spence Travels and its fully-owned subsidiary Ace Travels & Conventions won the awards for the ‘Best Destination Management Company’ and the ‘Best Professional Conference Organisation’ for the second consecutive year at the Presidential Awards for Travel and Tourism held on Monday at the BMICH under the patronage of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ratnasiri Wickramanayake.

The inauguration of the industry’s most prestigious and sort after awards was held in January 2009.
Apart from walking away with the 2 main awards, Aitken Spence Travels founder late R. Sivaratnam was recognised with a Tourism Legend award for his tremendous contribution for the development of tourism in Sri Lanka.

Gehan M. Perera, Managing Director of Aitken Spence Travels & Ace Travels & Conventions attributed this achievement to the incredible team at Aitken Spence. He noted that the last few years have been very challenging for tourism in Sri Lanka with tourist arrivals dropping significantly. However, he asserted that the team at Aitken Spence Travels & Ace Travels & Conventions had risen to the occasion by opening up new markets and showing remarkable growth, despite the difficult environment.

“Innovative thinking, dedication, hard work and the relentless pursuit of excellence have contributed to the success of Aitken Spence,” he said.

“The management team is thankful to their worldwide tour operator network which they have built up over the years and the suppliers in Sri Lanka for the support extended in keeping Sri Lanka’s tourism flag flying”, he added.
The industry veteran indicated that the best support they could give the partners in times such as this, is excellent service to the principals and more business to the hotel partners and suppliers. “This will be achieved through a process of careful planning, being alert to the markets and having the right resources”, he added.

“The most important factor for the success of Aitken Spence is the very strong and experienced management team which undoubtedly is the best in the industry in Sri Lanka” he asserted.

Perera paid a glowing tribute to his professional team for their dedication and their commitment to constantly nurture young talent and empower them. “The management team has led from the front, and has been a great inspiration not only to our team but also to tour guides, chauffeur guides and support staff who deliver the high service standards set by the company”, he stated.
Perera reiterated Aitken Spence‘s commitment to Sri Lanka Tourism and the readiness of his team to face the challenges ahead to provide even better service to customers and stronger support to partners and suppliers.


SriLankan launches Colombo - Karachi direct flights

SriLankan Airlines is enhancing its service to travellers between Pakistan and Sri Lanka by launching direct flights between Colombo and Karachi.
The twice-weekly service on Wednesdays and Sundays is intended for the convenience of business and trade travellers between the two South Asian countries. Nearly 20,000 people travel between Sri Lanka and Pakistan each year.

The convenient 3 hours 30 minute flights, which commenced on 18th January, have replaced the existing service which flies via Mumbai. Flights on both days depart Colombo at 2:30 p.m. and arrive in Karachi at 5:50 p.m. The return flights depart Karachi at 6:50 p.m. and arrive in Colombo at 10:50 p.m( all local times.)

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city. Being a port city, it is filled with commercial activity, and is also Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan metropolis. It is a classic mix of the old and the new, and has a number of high-end hotels, restaurants offering exotic food and bustling markets to keep tourists busy. It is a 2-hour flight from Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.

Sri Lanka’s award-winning National Carrier currently has a network of 41 destinations in 25 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Subcontinent, and the Far East. It offers rapid and convenient connections to East and West through its hub in Colombo.

During their time in Colombo, travellers get to enjoy the excellent facilities at Bandaranaike International Airport, which has earned a reputation as the finest airport in South Asia, with its plush new terminal with aerobridges, comfortable lounges, and of course a well-stocked duty free shopping complex that is second to none in the region.


New Chairman appointed for Tourism Steering Committee

Rajan Asirwatham has been appointed by Milinda Moragoda, Minister of Tourism as the new Chairman of the Steering Committee that has been setup to monitor and spearhead the World Bank assisted Tourism Sector Development & Community Empowerment Project with effect from January 2009. Asirwatham replaces Renton de Alwis who was the first Chairman appointed for the committee who stepped down for personal reasons. Asirwatham had been the Chairman, Institute of Taxation; Chairman, Finance Services Stability Committee – Central Bank of Sri Lanka; Member, University of Colombo Council; Director, Ceylon Tea Services Ltd.; Director, Lanka Orix Finance Co. Ltd; Member, Advisory Council – Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Chairman, Bank of Ceylon & PERC previously. He will be assisted by a team of key officials of the Ministry, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and the private sector representatives from large, medium and small sectors who are members of the committee appointed by the Minister at the beginning.

The Minister of Tourism after setting up of the new institutional infrastructure required by the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005, has observed that there is an urgent need for capacity building of the job holders not only engaged in the four institutions coming under the Ministry but also in the private sector, specially in the SME’s of tourism. This, he believed to be a timely need of the industry comprising both the public and the private sectors to confidently face the new challenges of the 21st century which we have already begun to witness. Being the first step of this process the Ministry has secured World Bank financial assistance for a project on ‘institutional capacity building’ where the fact finding mission has already completed their preliminary phase of work.


JKH’s Leisure Group wins six Presidential Awards

The Leisure Group of John Keells Group walked away with an impressive haul of 6 Presidential Awards for Travel and Tourism at the annual Presidential Awards ceremony held on Monday, January 26, 2009 at BMICH under the patronage of Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake

The Cinnamon Grand Colombo was adjudged the Best Five Star City Hotel at this year’s Presidential Awards for Travel and Tourism. General Manager Rohan Karr accepted this award which was presented in recognition of the hotel’s continued influence in the hospitality sector. A recognised market leader, Cinnamon Grand continues to emphasise its image as the ultimate destination for discerning travellers seeking the pleasures of affordable indulgences.

“As a three year old brand conceptualised in Sri Lanka, we feel great pride in receiving this award for the second consecutive year, in lieu of our indigenous origins, “ said Karr. “Cinnamon Grand is the first property of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, the hospitality brand of the John Keells Group which was launched on November 14, 2005. In the span of three years, the brand has undergone significant growth and has become a premier venue in Colombo for business travellers, vacationers and diners alike.”

The conglomerate’s Destination Management Companies, Walkers Tours and Whittalls Travels, won 5 awards of the 6 categories applied for. Nature Odyssey, the adventure and nature brand of Walkers Tours, won the Presidential Award for the Best Adventure Tourism Operator. Nature Odyssey has been instrumental in initiating innovative packages and experiences for both foreign and local tourists. Their expertise is focussed on adventure and nature tourism, allowing the world to experience Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity. They pioneered Whale Watching in Sri Lanka and are currently carrying out a very successful programme with the Ceylon Fishery Harbours Corporation.

The Best Charter Airline of the Year was awarded to Condor Airlines, who collaborate with their local ground handling partner, Walkers Tours, in promoting Sri Lanka through extensive campaigns. The German airline owned by Thomas Cook has been operating in Sri Lanka for over 40 years, in spite of turbulent times, clearly signifying its commitment to Sri Lankan tourism.

Meanwhile, the coveted award for the Best Chauffeur Guide was bestowed on Ananda Yatawara of Walkers Tours. Mr. Yatawara has over 33 years of experience in tourism and has been exclusively with Walkers Tours since 1975 and is definitely an asset to the company and the tourism industry.

Kuoni Travel was the proud winner for the second successive year of the Presidential Award for the Destination Loyal Partner – Foreign Tour Operator Category. The award was received by Whittalls Travels, the Destination Management Company of the John Keells Group who has represented Kuoni since 1993 in Sri Lanka. Kuoni has been operating to Sri Lanka since 1967 and is the largest Long Haul Tour Operator featuring the destination continuously for over 40 years. Kuoni has made significant contribution to the community by supporting and funding several CSR projects.

Whittalls Travels recently were runners up in the Kuoni UK 2008 Agent of the year Award amongst over 50 Destination Management Companies Worldwide.

Adding another feather to their cap, Theekshana Wijesinghe of Whittalls Travels and Walkers Tours was adjudged Best National Guide Lecturer. Wijesinghe started his career in tour guiding in 1978 and has over 30 years experience both locally and internationally, working for Whittal Travels and Walkers Tours. In addition to his sharing his extensive knowledge on Sri Lanka he has also contributed in exploring new programmes and innovative excursions.

Head of Leisure Inbound Sector, Vasantha Leelananda commented “We are pleased with our achievements and this is a clear endorsement of our excellence in innovating new products and services. As a wholly Sri Lankan entity, we are fiercely proud of our country, our product and all our stake holders – employees, suppliers and partners. Our boldness to venture overseas has also resulted in us pioneering our own travel operations in India and the Maldives.”

Commenting on the awards, Deputy Chairman John Keells Holdings and President of the Leisure Group, Ajith Gunewardene said, “We are delighted with the 6 Presidential Awards we have received. Cinnamon Grand has once again endorsed its position as the Best Five Star City Hotel and the Destination Management Companies, Walkers Tours and Whittalls Travels have won a total of 5 awards”.


Emirates announces A380 services to South Korea

Emirates Airline has announced that it would begin operating its ultra-modern and environmentally-friendly A380 aircraft to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport in November 2009.
The new service is perfectly timed to coincide with ‘Visit Korea Year in 2010’, where the national government and the city of Seoul are joining forces with the private sector to promote South Korea as a destination for international tourism.

The new service represents the aviation world’s first A380 operation to Seoul, as well as Emirates’ first A380 service to North East Asia. It follows the successful deployment of Emirates’ A380s to New York and London, and soon-to-be-launched Sydney and Auckland.

Trade between South Korea and the UAE has grown by more than 150% over the past five years, and is now worth over USD16 billion dollars a year. Growing economic relations is the result of a series of joint initiatives including the visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to South Korea, and subsequent visits by the Korean Chamber of Commerce & Industry to the UAE.

The Samsung Corporation is currently completing construction of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which will open later this year. South Korean exports to the UAE grew by over 50% in the first half of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. Emirates leading export goods from South Korea in 2008 were mobile phones headed for Dubai and the Middle East.
Emirates’ A380 service will also support the South Korean government’s drive to make Incheon International Airport a major Asian hub.

“Seoul has been an extremely successful market for Emirates since we introduced services in 2005. In 2004 just 37,000* passengers a year travelled between Dubai and Seoul where as today it is over 260,000*. This new aircraft will allow us to further develop this market as well as encourage more tourism and trade to South Korea,” the Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, H.H Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum said.

“Incheon International Airport has invested significantly to prepare its infrastructure for A380 operations and we thank them and our ground handlers, Swissport, for their hard work to ensure the airport is so well equipped for our A380,” Sheikh Ahmed added.