The Island nation of Sri Lanka is suddenly becoming a hot favourite with the Indian tourists. Last year it recorded one of the highest tourist arrivals from India. Mixing tourism with cricket has been a regular past practice. But now the Island nation is bullish about India and to cater to the growing wave of tourism into Sri Lanka and connecting these tourists with other destinations around the world especially South East Asia and China, the Srilankan Airlines, an alliance partner of OneWorld, has drawn up very ambitious plans.
As the number of tourist arrivals from India including the pilgrim tourists to the Buddhist circuits showing an upward trend, the Srilankan Airlines has already drawn up big expansion plans to tap the growing potential of the Indian market especially North India.
Stating that India would be the focus for the Srilankan Airlines, its North India region Manager, Chinthaka Weerasinghe, who is leading the charge for its focus on Maldives, is upbeat about charting a new course with the Indian customer. Currently operating from 14 destinations in India with 125 flights per week, the airline is not resting on its laurels and has lined up much more offers to connect Indians to destinations like Male and Gan Island in Maldives, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, Bangkok, Bali, Jakarta, Cambodia and destinations in China.
And leading the charge from this month-end will be the all new New Delhi-Melbourne flight which is already drawing lot of attention in shape of bookings. As Sri Lanka has one of the highest expatriate community living in Australian cities of Mebourne and Sydney, it is seeking to provide seamless connectivity now to Indians also traveling to Australia and New Zealand. In order to sustain the feasibility of these routes, the New Delhi-Melbourne flight is being started and is already open for bookings.
The Srilankan Airlines is seeking to tap the key markets of Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat and Punjab for the New Delhi-Australian circuit. `We have come up with a schedule of double daily flights from Colombo with transit time of less than one and half hours. The total flight time from Delhi to Melbourne would be around 15 hours which is unique. Similarly, connectivity would also be provided on the same basis from New Delhi to Sydney,’’ Mr. Weerasinghe said.
In order to tap the huge potential of rich markets in Punjab and Gujrat, Srilankan Airlines has tied up with Vistara and some other local carriers to give special fares so that it could be coupled with Delhi Melbourne flight. And the response has been overwhelming. Aalready the Deli-Melbourne flight has seen 1200 bookings till now. The airline has also tied up with OneWorld alliance partners to give auto price rates through Sydney and other domestic points in Australia and New Zealand to make the route lucrative for passengers.
Hold one,, the bonanza does not end with a very well managed flight schedule, the pricing is also very competitive as the New Delhi-Melbourne route price is coming to an attractive Rs. 43,000 all inclusive. The price for the Delhi-Sydney flight is also the same. The response has been amazing as this route is selling like hot cake in the North India market. The price for Business Class on this route would be around Rs. 95000.
Offering a whole compact package for the passengers, there is the attractive baggage policy with the economy class being allowed 30 Kg, Business Class 40 Kgs and 50 Kgs allowance for the students.
Mr. Weerasinghe said in addition to this, the focus would also be on regional routes at Asia and South Asia. China is a big market for us and Srilankan Airlines has good connections to Bangkok, Indonesia.“We are looking at consolidation in India with a larger focus to get Indian tourists on our national airlines. Tourism has been a big attraction with a double digit growth along with wedding, leisure and MICE.
Mr. Weerasinghe said Srilankan Airlines has been operating for the longest time in India since 1979 from Bombay and Madras at that time. It commenced its Delhi operations from 1993 and now presently are in 14 destinations in India. “We are celebrating 25 years of operations from Delhi next year which speaks volumes about our services and commitment to the Indian market. We have 125 flights per week from India which we plan to increase to 134 flights in the coming months,’ he added.
Srilankan Airlines has over 28 frequencies given in the bilateral agreements and we are one of those airlines which has utilized these most making us the number one career in terms of points of operations. In terms of frequencies, we stand around third. On the cards is a double daily flight to Mumbai. The Sri Lankan airlines gives a lot of importance to the Indian market which is indicated in the number of tourist arrivals from India into Sri Lanka. Last year nearly 3.75 lakh Indian tourists visited Sri Lanka making it the number of inbound tourist country. This year it is expected that this number will cross the 400,000 market. Over the years, the airline has mainly focused on the South Indian market but now has turned its focus on the Northern region sensing its huge potential. Plans are already afoot to open three new stations in India – Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam and Coimbatore. DOubel daily flights from Delhi and Mumbai are now operated. The airlines has three flights from Kolkata which will soon be increased to four.
In addition to this, there is the chartered flights traffic to to Bodh gaya and Varanasi to cater to pilgrim traffic. After US, United Kingdom and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka ranks fourth in terms of tourist arrivals into India. The focus in the North Indian market is on leisure traffic and MICE. “We are seeking to build relationships with stakeholders and tour operators.
Speaking about the Maldives market, where Srilankan Airlines has a strong presence, Mr. Weerasinghe said the airline is quite established for the Maldives market in South India and Mumbai. In Delhi, there were initial hiccups due to single flight but now that has changed and we have a second flight operating from Delhi giving more choice and convenience to the tourists. Now Delhi is properly connected with Male and tourists can now reach their destinations in Maldives by evening instead of spending one night in Male. This brings down the tour expenses and also gives convenience to the tourist to plan their trip.
Srilankan Airlines is sure that the double daily flight from Delhi will give them more numbers for the Maldives market. The connectivity from the airline hub of Colombo is seamless as now five flights operate to Male. “We are also looking at guest houses and hotels to increase our volumes. Also last year, we were first operator to operate to Gan Island in Maldives. We have four flights a week, and we hope to increase it further. We need to give more options of connectivity to tourists going to Gan island to various resorts of Island destinations from there. We need to work with the industry, government and the resorts in Gan Island to increase the frequency of fights.
Similarly, with Colombo emerging as a major hub, Srilankan has been able to provide options to the Indian travelers. Now Indian tourist to go to Seychelles seamlessly and the pricing is also very competitive. The Seychelles route is doing fairly well in terms of traffic from India.