Travel News from Sri Lanka: A group of over 60 Australian travel agents arrived in Sri Lanka recently on a week-long tour, from 4th to 13th of October 2019, to explore the uniqueness of Sri Lanka and a large number of holiday opportunities to choose from. The group was under the guidance of Mr. Dennis Bunnik, Chairman of the Council of Australian Tour Operators, (CATO) who previously visited Sri Lanka and also met Hon. Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife & Christian Religious Affairs, John Amaratunga.
The travel agents represented all parts of Australia including Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane. They were much impressed with the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka and during their stay they visited locations such as the Dambulla Cave temple, Sigiriya, Temple of the Sacred tooth relic, Galle City tour, Turtle Hatchery Visit, and a Colombo City tour. During their final day in Colombo they were also given an exclusive farewell dinner to celebrate their successful tour in Sri Lanka amongst the distinguished guests and a large number of Australian travel agents.
The event started off with a glamorous welcome by a traditional dance troupe where the Australian guests were fascinated with the beautiful performance and the Sri Lankan culture. The guest invitees included Mr. Kishu Gomes , Chairman , Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau , Mr. Dennis Bunnik, Chairman , Council of Australian Tour Operators, (CATO), Ms. Anne Amaratunga, PR officer to the Hon. Minister, Mr. Felix Rodrigo ,Senior Advisor to the Hon. Minister, and Mr.Dushan Wickramasuriya, Director Marketing , SLTPB , the guests even had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Iconic Galle face hotel before the event ,and were fascinated with the cultural and historical background of the Hotel which had an exquisite view overlooking the Indian ocean. Mr. Kishu Gomes, Chairman SLTPB during his welcome address mentioned that the highest population of Sri Lankan citizens who live overseas live in Australia
‘’Just over 5 months, we have been able to recover about 80%. In a few months from now we will fully recover. In our case, so I’m confident that we’ll be able to that within the next two or three months’ time. Australia is a very crucial market for us. Mr. Dennis Bunnik was the only official, travel agent who kept on talking about Sri Lanka being the best travel destination. He always talked about the positives that he knew about. So I’m sure all of you would have believed in the quality of the products we have, the value of the products we have, and everything put together, creates an unbeatable brand.
We have won several accolades for the past several months, such as Lonely Planet selecting Sri Lanka as the world’s best in travel in 2019, as well as being the ‘’Leading Adventure Tourism Destination of the Year’’ at the World Travel Awards 2018. This goes on. And I’m sure you would have experienced the warmth of Sri Lankans, ‘’So Sri Lankans’ and I would like to thank all Australians who made this happen’ ’he said.
During the event, both local and Australian travel agents were able to share their thoughts on how to take develop business partnerships between the two countries. The event was made more glamorous by traditional dance performances where it created more splendor.
Frank Bunnik, CEO of Bunnik tours expressed on what he found out Sri Lanka to be. ‘’ I have been here for over 25 times. So far, during last week, everybody has been blown away and very impressed with what they experienced in Sri Lanka. All the people here were very helpful and it was absolutely fantastic’ ’he said. I have not heard one negative comment from the three groups who visited here. He said. ’There’s enormous potential of Sri Lanka being an exclusive tourism destination. I love being here and it’s like my second home. Every time I come here, there’s so much development going on, and it’s fantastic. You have got a beautiful country’’ He further added.
Dennis Bunnik, Chairman of CATO also had extremely positive feedback to give regarding his stay in Sri Lanka. ‘’I come here often because we have an office here in Sri Lanka. But this is the first time I got to travel around with a group. So I have seen new places, and it has been fantastic ‘’ he went on to say that the Australian travel agents were highly impressed with their tour in Sri Lanka.
‘’Everybody has fallen in love with Sri Lanka. It’s been such a surprise for the group. Maybe they didn’t know much about Sri Lanka beforehand, but the variety, the diversity, the people, everybody commented on how wonderful the people were, and how beautiful the country is. Of all the destinations which I visited Sigiriya, and the beauty of the rock was fascinating, and watching the sunrise over Sigiriya from the Pidurangala rock was also a wonderful experience.’’
On developing tourism in Sri Lanka, he expressed, ‘’Keep being Sri Lanka. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. Stay true the Sri Lanka spirit and stay true to this country. We need to keep a unique Sri Lankan flavor, because that’s what people come to see. Not manufactured experiences, but genuine experiences, interact with the local people etc.
Tourism can be really beneficial for a country because tourism helps every level of society. So it’s really important that you keep doing that because it’s such an economic driver, provides a lot of opportunities for people, because important that everybody benefits. ‘’ He commented.
Samantha Lang, who participated from Canberra, Australia was also happy to share her views on the uniqueness of the tour. ‘’When I came here, it really blew my mind away. I’m so excited at going back to Australia and talking about Sri Lanka, and what my favorite locations were. We visited Sigiriya and Pidurangala. Both places were amazing. I had a lot of wonderful experiences here. I bought a sari, where it was a great experience. But I was really fascinated with everything, including culture, history natural scenic wonders, and the lakes.
The Sri Lankan people were wonderful; they were so lovely and humble. I have done three familiarization tours, this being my favorite for so far, for sure. When I go back to Australia the message I’m going to give my colleagues is, ‘’Go to Sri Lanka. Go see the sites, go explore, go eat different food, go see the beautiful people, do whatever you need to do, but go to Sri Lanka’’ that would be my message for sure’’. She added.