The Ministry of Tourism Development conducted an aggressive promotional campaign in the Russian capital Moscow last week. The campaign was spearheaded by Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga.
The three day campaign was packed with back to back meetings with Russian tourism agency officials, tour operators and industry officials. The campaign culminated with Sri Lanka Night 2016 on 19 February at the Ritz Carlton Hotel where the distinguished invitees were treated to an evening of rich Sri Lankan entertainment that included performances by various cultural troupes.
“The vacation destinations of the Russian tourists have traditionally been either Egypt in the Middle East or Turkey. Currently both these countries are in turmoil and we seized this opportunity to showcase Sri Lanka as an alternative destination to the Russian market,” said Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga.
Minister of Tourism Development John Amaratunga addressing the large gathering at the Sri Lanka Night 2016 in Moscow last week
During a discussion with the Deputy Head of the Federal Agency for Tourism (ROSTURIZM) in charge of International Cooperation, Sergey Evgenievich Korneev and Executive Vice-President, Russian Union of Tour Industry (UTI) and Chair, Committee for Entrepreneurship in the sphere of Tourism, Resorts, Recreation and Hotel Business, Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Yury Alexandrovich Barzykin, Minister Amaratunga gave an assurance that Sri Lanka was a safe haven for Russian tourists. He also took the opportunity to describe Sri Lanka’s diverse attractions, especially the beautiful beaches, wild life, bird watching, whale and dolphin watching, tea industry, heritage and friendly hospitality.
He requested the support of ROSTURIZM and UTI in promoting Sri Lanka as a destination for Russian tourists. “One of the issues that kept cropping up during many of the discussions was the lack of direct flights between Colombo and Moscow. We requested the Russian officials to explore the feasibility of introducing either charter flights or direct flights,” the Minister said.
At a subsequent meeting, Amaratunga broached the subject with Sales Manager for Air Arabia in Moscow, Ildar Abubekirov. It transpired during the meeting that Air Arabia had carried 15,000 passengers to Sri Lanka in 2015 and that this year the airline expects a significant increase in the number of passengers.
Minister of Tourism Development John Amaratunga speaking at the Roundtable of the Moscow Regional Duma
Executive Vice-President, Russian Union of Tour Industry said that Sri Lanka’s participation in leading trade fairs in Russia such as MITT and INTOURMARKET is one of the key factors in securing Russian tourists to Sri Lanka. He also suggested participating in regional fairs such as trade fairs in the Urals (Ekaterinburg) and Siberia (Novosibirsk) which are closer to Sri Lanka than Moscow. He noted that according to research 70% of Russian tourists prefer beaches, 20% culture and the rest on excursions combined with shopping, etc. He requested Sri Lanka to customise tour packages based on these requirements.
Quinta Tour Director General Irina Serganova had started promoting Sri Lanka as a vacation destination five years ago. She explained that Sri Lanka is now becoming a popular destination among Russian tourists who “admire the beaches, blue sky, landscape and the historical part of the country”.
Like many of the other Russian travel agencies, Quinta Tour promotes Sri Lanka as a luxury destination. According to her the absence of direct flights is a major issue and in the event direct flights are resumed, there would be a substantial increase in the number of tourists especially during the winter period.
“I was pleased to note that Sri Lanka is now being promoted as an upmarket luxury destination in Russia. This is how we want Sri Lanka to be positioned. The Russians themselves have realized the true potential,” noted Amaratunga.
Minister Amaratunga and delegation attended a Round Table on the theme “Tourism in Moscow Region” at the Moscow Regional Duma (Parliament of the Moscow Region) on the 18th of February 2016. While the Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Regional Duma Valery Kulikov chaired the Round Table, several members of the Regional Duma and about 35 major tour operators in the Moscow Region participated at the discussion.
The highlight was a 15 minute presentation themed ‘Sri Lanka – One Island, Thousand Treasures’ by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. Kulikov said that the Duma had organised such a Round Table for the first time at the request of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka, Dr. Saman Weerasinghe.
Speaking at the Roundtable Minister Amaratunga explained that Sri Lanka now has a people’s government which has strengthened democracy, human rights and good governance in the country.
Cultural performance at Sri Lanka Night 2016
“Due to the policies adopted by the new Government there is tremendous goodwill towards Sri Lanka by the international community. Sri Lanka is being rediscovered as a paradise by the West and is receiving a large number of tourists from countries such as the UK, Germany and France in Europe and Asian nations such as India and China. The objective of this visit is to seek ways to reinvigorate the Russian tourist market,” said Amaratunga.
During the three-day visit the Minister also met the Executive Director, Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), Maya Lomidze, Product Director (South-East Asia & Indian Ocean) of Natalie Tours, Veronica Grigorieva and Product Manager (Sri Lanka), Natali Tours, Arina Alexeeva. Natalie Tours is one of Russia’s major tour operators and has been operating to Sri Lanka for some time.
With a view to highlighting Sri Lanka on Russian television the Minister also held a meeting with Director of the Programme “Neputeviye Zametki,” Natalia Kuznetsova and Producer, First Channel of the National Television of Russian Federation, Oleg Demidov. It was proposed to produce a joint promotional TV documentary promoting both Ceylon Tea and Sri Lanka Tourism.
The Minister also met Director General, TEZ-TOUR, Vladimir Vadimovich Kaganer and Deputy Director General (Marketing and Sales), Coral Travel, Selçuk Bugay. Director General Kaganer noted that Sri Lanka is a well-known destination for Russian tourists but used mostly in the winter season. He said TEZ-TOUR which is the oldest/largest tour operator in Russia and one of the first to have started mass tourism to Sri Lanka from Russia will focus on promoting tourism during the other seasons as well.