Philips India Incentive Travel Event 2015

A gutsy DMC organises an event with a large group size it never handled before and achieves success from sound planning and issue management skills. By Feizal Samath

When Colombo-based Walkers Tours received the call to handle a group of 1,600 visitors from India for a three-day event, the DMC did not hesitate to accept the task although at that point the largest event it had ever organised was for an 800-pax group.

“We were confident of handling a larger group,” recalled Vasantha Leelananda, the DMC’s managing director and parent company John Keells Holdings’ (JKH) executive vice president.

And so the group of Phillips India employees became the largest-ever group travel to Sri Lanka, with Walkers Tours pulling out all the stops on its resources.

The event was to comprise meetings and an awards ceremony. Phillips was looking at a location within a few hours’ flying time in or around India, so it sent Indian event planner Enthuse Answers to Colombo for a recce. The latter was impressed by the facilities and confidence Walkers Tours, with its years of experience, exhibited for handling the logistics. It was then decided that the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre would be the event venue.

As a local planner, Walkers Tours provided an experienced events team, dozens of luxury transport buses and two of the biggest hotels in the capital owned by JKH, which also runs the country’s largest hotel chain.

The DMC gathered about 35 staff members, divided them into four teams to take care of visa applications, flights, airport transfers, accommodation, arrangements with the convention centre, and other logistics. More than 800 rooms were booked at the Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside (both owned by JKH), Hotel Galadari, Hilton Colombo and The Kingsbury for three nights.

Charters by SriLankan Airlines were arranged with some flights upgraded to wide-bodied aircraft. The flights ranged from one (Chennai to Colombo) to three hours (New Delhi to Colombo). About 45 buses were deployed to ferry the visitors from the airport and back and for travel within the city.
The main events were held at the convention centre, where a temporary kitchen was set up by Cinnamon Lakeside in addition to the hotel’s main kitchen, which supplied the bulk of the hot meals less than 250m away. All five hotels were all fewer than 10 minutes away.

Asked if the organising team encountered problems, Leelananda said: “One of the key challenges was bringing in all the guests within 24 hours and flying them out within 24 hours.”

Another challenge presented itself later when assembling the group in the hotel lobby at the same time for room allotment, made complicated by last-minute name changes in the original room-sharing list. For example, there were several cases of a participant inviting a friend to share his room, thus leaving the other guest pre-assigned to share the same room with no room to check into. Walkers Tours had to sort out the issue sensitively and re-assigned rooms to affected guests.

“This exercise also demonstrated the need for each of the participating hotels to provide a dedicated inhouse team.

“Phillips’ management was extremely impressed by the organisation of the event as well as Colombo’s beauty, cleanliness and infrastructure. The event was in fact a good boost to MICE tourism in Sri Lanka,” Leelananda added.

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