The alluring south

For corporate incentives looking to make a quick acquaintance of Sri Lanka’s tourism gems, a trip down south may just be the best option.

The ancient walls of Galle Fort are now a landmark loved by visitors

Sri Lanka’s quiet southern coast appears to beckon corporate incentive planners looking for a novel destination with plentiful activities and memorable properties.

The ancient walls of Galle Fort are now a landmark loved by visitors

Ravinder Gairola, deputy general manager of Orange DMC, opined that destinations located along the southern and south-western coastline, are particularly attractive for corporate meetings and incentive groups new to Sri Lanka.

Orange DMC handles leisure and corporate groups to India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Explaining his observations, Ravinder said the southern and south-western regions make convenient bases from which groups can explore Sri Lanka’s main tourism gems – its safaris such as Yala National Park, beaches and pumping waves, and the historic fortified city of Galle.

Ziyan Ameen, destination manager for Sri Lanka and the Maldives with Pacific World, agrees that the Southern coast is a hit with corporate groups, largely due to easy access via the Southern Expressway – a 126km route that links Colombo with major cities Galle and Matara in the south. Destinations along the coast also throws up beach and culture activity options.

Ziyan shared that his team has brought corporate groups from Australia and Singapore to the southern coast, with itineraries featuring teambuilding activities in Galle and village tours with traditional games, farm house visits and lunch.

Ravinder pointed out that different destinations along the coastline cater to groups with varying budgets, with Hikkaduwa, Waskaduwa and Ahungalla areas along the south-western coast having more affordable resorts with events capabilities, while Tangalle and Kalutara being more suited for high-end corporate incentives.

Ravinder added: “Tangalle and Kalutara are known for their secluded beaches, and in recent times have welcomed some luxury hotels. Small-sized corporate incentive groups will appreciate these two destinations because there are properties that are not built for big MICE groups, and are pricier than those in other parts of the coastal region.”

Companies should expect to pay US$300 to US$400 per room night for a five-star hotel in Tangalle and Kalutara during the low to mid-season, and up to US$500 or US$600 for the high season, Ravinder advised.

So far, high-end incentive requests to Orange DMC for the southern coast are mostly from the UK. The rest of its corporate bookings are from other parts of the world, with India and China being its biggest source markets.

“We have an Orange specialist based in Taiwan. We have a good reach into the Chinese markets, and our efforts are supported by a Chinese staff sitting in our Sri Lanka office,” said Ravinder.

Giles Selves, area general manager for Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, Anantara Kalutara Resort and AVANI Kalutara Resort – all located at the bottom of the teardrop-shaped island – believes that “there is massive potential for growth” in Sri Lanka’s business events sector and his properties are “at the forefront of driving that”.

He explained: “There aren’t many hotels of our size here with an international brand. There are some local brands that have done an excellent job, but having an international brand puts a different slant on things. Our global sales network has a wider reach than the local chains, which allows us to get to key source markets and tell them about our product and the destination.

“As well, Anantara has a strong reputation in many markets. Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort, for instance, gets a lot of business events, while Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara does a lot of corporate incentives.”

Selves shared that his three properties have enjoyed “successful” business. AVANI Kalutara Resort has been in operations for five years while Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort and Anantara Kalutara Resort (see review next page) opened more recently in December 2015 and mid-2017 respectively.

Since its opening, Anantara Kalutara Resort has had buyouts in 2017, and 1Q2018 was reportedly a busy one, with “a very big incentive in April, taking a thousand room nights” as well as “over half a dozen resort buyouts”.

But for the southern region – and the whole of Sri Lanka – to do better in the business events space, Selves said a stronger destination brand was needed.

He said: “Now that there are more international hotels coming into Sri Lanka, there will be wider awareness of Sri Lanka as a destination. But to promote a destination, efforts must be government-led, because the economics of such work do not stack up for the private sector.”

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