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 the 19th of February 2016 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.
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) & 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, Minister 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.
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 customize tour packages based on these requirements. Director General, Quinta Tour, 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 Minister 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 organized such a Round Table for the first time at the request of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka.