Sri Lanka Tourism and SriLankan Airlines cruise on Chinese tourist boom

Wednesday, 3 September 2014 00:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • China overtakes Germany to be 3rd biggest source market for tourists for Sri Lanka
  • First 7 months arrivals up 144% to 67,408; full-year figure likely to be over 100,000
  • Launch of direct flights to Shanghai and Beijing pays dividends as SriLankan Airlines enjoy near 100% cabin factor
  • 16 flights per week to be boosted with Kunming likely to be latest addition; China’s contribution to Asia Pacific region business of SriLankan grows to 40%
Post-war Sri Lanka and its national carrier are repeating the windfall of booming outbound travel by Chinese nationals as the Asian nation is fast-displacing traditional Western source markets, with analysts tipping it to be number one soon. Tourist arrivals from China have boomed by 144% to over 67,000 so far this year and in the process China has displaced Germany, to become the number three source market for Sri Lanka. SriLankan Airlines’ senior management is upbeat that Chinese tourists will top the 100,000 mark by end 2014 and higher growth would make it number two, displacing the UK. In the first seven months of 2014, arrivals from Germany up to July were 57,773, up by 21.5%. India remains the biggest market with 133,515 arrivals, up by 24.5% in the first seven months, followed by the UK, with 82,815 arrivals, up by 6.4%. Overall arrivals are up 24.7% to 861,324, whilst last Friday it was announced that Sri Lanka welcomed its one millionth tourist for 2014. If China arrivals average a monthly minimum of 10,000 for the rest of 2014, the full year haul will be around 120,000. SriLankan Airlines is confident the 2014 full year will be over 100,000. According to the national carrier’s Asia Pacific Regional Manager Dimuthu Tennakoon, effective promotion by Sri Lanka Tourism in partnership with Sri Lanka Embassy in Beijing and Consul General in Shanghai as well as by the airline apart from Sri Lanka’s travel trade have created tremendous demand in China. Launching direct flights to Colombo from Shanghai and Beijing as opposed to via Bangkok previously has paid rich dividends too, giving quicker connections to Chinese tourists. “Now we have a superior product and that has increased the attractiveness of a holiday in Sri Lanka for Chinese tourists,” Tennakoon said. Load factor in recent months following the direct connections prove the success so far. For example, the cabin factor in July in Beijing-Colombo flights was a record 97% whilst in the Shanghai-Colombo service it was 95%. In April the cabin factor in the respective services were 66% and 68%. In May it was 67% and 75% whilst in June it rose to 73% and 84%. Overall, SriLankan Airlines operates 16 flights to China including Hong Kong. The offering comprises four weekly flights to Shanghai and Beijing (which are direct), four to Canton, three flights to Hong Kong, and once a week to Guangdong. The first service to China began way back in 2005 to Beijing and other destinations were added progressively. “Today China’s contribution to the Asia Pacific region business of SriLankan Airlines has grown to 40%,” said Regional Manager Tennakoon, who operates out of Beijing and oversees Shanghai operations handled by Area Manager Chammika Iddagodage. Last week SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe said the next destination in China would be Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, China, though the launch date hasn’t been announced as yet. Problems in Bangkok as well as difficult times for Malaysian Airlines too had pushed Chinese tourists to use SriLankan Airlines. The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau in partnership with Sri Lanka Embassy and SriLankan Airlines as well as the travel trade held consumer and trade promotions in Shanghai and Beijing this year. Tennakoon said extensive awareness at travel trade level has also helped. Today SriLankan fares are filed or made available in 15 secondary cities in China as well in partnership with domestic carriers. SriLankan sales and marketing now encompasses 10,000 IATA agents in China and the base of Frequent Individual Traveller (FIT) has grown to 40% from 10% previously. Improved service and connections by SriLankan Airlines have also brought additional outbound traffic, with Colombo as a hub for South Asians apart from good business coming due to the Maldives, which has been benefitting from a boom in Chinese tourists too.