Nov 07, Colombo: A delegation from the Association of Belgian Travel Organizers (ABTO) arrived in Sri Lanka recently, following the invitation of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga, in support of Sri Lanka Tourism recovery efforts.
Upon their arrival they were given a warm welcome amidst a distinguished gathering and also had the opportunity of witnessing a cultural performance.
The delegation consisted of six members headed by ABTO Board President Luc Coussement (TUI), ABTO Secretary General Ilse Meyers, ABTO Vice President Jean - Luc Hans (BT Tours), ABTO member Dirk Rykaseys of Imagine Travel and Senior Journalist Yves Edgard Slabbinck of 'The Travel Magazine'.
As the tourism committee members of the association, they were also able to take part on a familiarization tour organized by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), covering areas such as Sigiriya, Kandy and Galle to get a better understanding of the destination and the natural and cultural resources it has to offer.
A press conference was also held in this regard, under the patronage of Minister Amaratunga, with the participation of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi, Coussement, Hans, SLTPB Chairman Kishu Gomes and SLTPB Managing Director Charmarie Maelge.
The visitors were highly impressed with the strategies Sri Lanka has taken to revive its tourism sector. Important initiatives such as capitalizing on new opportunities for Sri Lanka Tourism in Belgium and of campaigns to be rolled out next year to encourage more Belgian tourists were discussed during the press briefing.
Speaking at the occasion, Minister Amaratunga mentioned that Belgium was one of the first European countries, which relaxed the travel advisory after the East Sunday attacks, also mentioning that the visa fee exemption to nationals of 50 countries, including Belgium, is an encouragement to visit Sri Lanka.
Gomes in his speech mentioned, "Though Belgium is currently generating only 14,000 tourists to Sri Lanka, there is a huge potential in this market with 11 million visits taken annually by Belgium nationals."
Adding further, he said, "So far the recovery of tourism has been at a satisfactory level and hopefully we could target more than 2.5 million tourists for 2020, with the implementation of aggressive marketing campaigns."
Coussement, who was very much pleased with the warm hospitality extended to him and the delegation by Sri Lanka Tourism expressed, "We came on a mission to discover how Sri Lanka has evolved after the tragic tragedy of April - a mission to learn about how the country is bouncing up again. How safe, how ready and how authentic the destination is. The country, the cultural aspects, the authenticity, safety, everything is there. And most importantly, to the travelers themselves, our customers, the message that we are taking back, is positive."
He added that generally, 78% of Belgian travelers are valuing the leisure aspect, the beach, the relaxing aspects, and 89% of those travelers come for culture, and to experience the country. "And all customer research shows that customer behavior has changed, people are looking for personalized experiences, and Sri Lanka has all of that to offer."
Though the visit was short the delegation was able to gain an exclusive experience visiting Sri Lanka's most highlighted tourist attractions during their stay.