Major conference skips Colombo for Geneva

Leopard in the wild on the island of Sri Lanka

Organisers of the 71st meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora Standing Committee have decided to shift the conference to Geneva, Switzerland, in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings.

Originally planned for May 23 to June 3, CITES was postponed to September. But in a June 12 statement, CITES’ secretary-general Ivonne Higuero announced the decision to shift the conference to Geneva, and it will now run from August 16 to 28.

The UN wildlife conference is now headed for Geneva; leopard in the wild on the island of Sri Lanka

“This conclusion was reached after a consultation process with the CITES Standing Committee where they expressed security concerns; after careful consideration of the report of the mission of the United Nations Department of Safety and Security to Sri Lanka to assess the security situation on the ground; and after discussions with the Sri Lankan Government,” Higuero explained.

Sunil Dissanayake, director and CEO of Bandaranaike National Memorial Foundation – Sri Lanka’s biggest convention centre where the conference was to take place – confirmed the conference’s move to Geneva.

Dissanayake added that two weeks ago the UN Security Auditor was in Colombo on an inspection tour, visiting the venue as well as hotels, and said he was going to recommend that the summit could still take place in Sri Lanka.

“We offered new dates in September and the entire venue was booked for the event. But the UN committee has decided to shift the venue,” he said.

The wildlife conference was supposed to bring in 2,000 participants, and was viewed by stakeholders as a huge boost to its business events sector until the April 21 bombing shattered hopes.

Officials at Sri Lanka’s state-run Convention Bureau further shared there has been a pickup of 20-30 per cent occupancy in Colombo hotels this week which, when compared to almost zero occupancy in the days and weeks after the blast, was progress.

Shiromal Cooray, chairperson of Jetwing Hotels, said the cancellation of CITES was a blow to the industry just as travel advisories were being relaxed. Australia, India, China, the UK and Germany are among countries that have relaxed travel advisories.

Cooray said arrivals to the country are improving and that bookings, though slow, are trickling in for July and beyond. She believes the situation will further improve from December, but has braced herself for a 20 per cent dip in business compared to the same time last year.

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