The push for more medical conferences in Sri Lanka

Tuesday, 9 April 2013 00:42 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Rashika Fazali

There is a vast need for hosting medical conferences in the country, especially with the growing numbers of world medical conferences which not only promote good health, but bring tourists to the country as well.

The Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB) along with the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) addressed this need to host more conferences in the country, an area which reportedly has a lot of potential for growth.

SLMA President B.J.C. Perera speaking to the Daily FT pointed out two reasons: “We are not exploiting the factors and the resources we have in this country and a lot of people think it’s a daunting prospect and a difficult thing to do. We also have bigger problems, such as the shortage of good venues in the country. I think this is now slowly being addressed.” He explained that this is not only about hosting events, but also about bidding for international events.

SLCB General Manager Vipula Wanigasekara explained the reason behind the Government’s promoting of Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism, stating that high-spenders brought down through MICE tourism spend about three to four times more than an average holiday maker. It was noted that in Singapore, MICE tourism contributes to 40% of the country’s tourism.

He asserted that by hosting international conferences in the country, delegates are given the opportunity to see what little they can see of the Sri Lankan culture during their stay of three to four days. This can result in those delegates coming back to the country with their family and friends for sightseeing which further enhances tourism prospects.

In addition, these international conferences could lead to investors and foreign delegates looking at the country’s potential, stated Wanigasekara. In 2012, Sri Lanka had around 120,000 MICE arrivals and hopes to attract another 10,000 this year. On that note, he spoke of the need for hosting medical conferences in Sri Lanka, stating: “Medical conferences are the leaders in the MICE sector and will lead in the future.”

In 2011, over 2,100 medical conferences were hosted around the world, placing medical conferences at the forefront of conferences. Sri Lanka hosted four medical conferences last year and so far has secured three for this year.  Overall, last year, Sri Lanka hosted 28 international conferences and this year, 32 conferences have been agreed upon so far. However, this has resulted in issues with availability of space as every venue has been booked. He stated that the time has come to think of building bigger conference halls that can accommodate more than 5,000 people.

Currently, Sri Lanka only has the capacity to handle crowds below 1,500. This needs to improve in time for the 2017 Asian Youth Games which will be hosted in Hambantota, with approximately 5,000 athletes from 45 nations expected to participate in the games. Wanigasekara stated that this will be a massive US $1 billion project.

With the help of the SLCB, conference organisations can get assistance in making bids for internationals conferences free of charge. The SLCB will help research business development, facilitate site inspections, obtain Government clearances and give promotional support to increase participation, amongst other services. Wanigasekara added: “We have to show that Sri Lanka is capable of hosting conferences and that we have the technology to do so. Generally, to pitch Sri Lanka for conferences, it is necessary to have the infrastructure, conference facilities, venues etc.”

He added that although Sri Lanka has a large number of tourist attractions, the country lacks good marketing.

“The Maldives advertises their beaches heavily,” said Wanigasekara, adding that we should do something along the same lines. Already, Sri Lanka is promoting eight different areas as tourism attractions and 65% of the hotels are located by the country’s beaches.

Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe