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‘Hello Again’ virtual tourism awareness session held

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Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the US Ravinatha Aryasinha has observed that the credibility Sri Lanka Tourism earned in caring for the tourists who made lengthy extensions of their stay in the country at the time COVID broke out, and Sri Lankan Airlines being one of the few carriers that continued to fly when most commercial airline fleets were grounded, should give confidence to international travelers to visit the island once again, now that travel for tourists has resumed.

Ambassador Aryasinha noted that prior to COVID curtailed global travel, tourist arrivals from the US had grown by 260% from 2010 to 2019, an annual average growth well over 20%, making the US one of the fastest-growing tourist arrival countries, which mainly drew niche tourists visiting and also staying longer.

The ambassador made these comments on January 27, when he hosted a virtual ‘Hello Again ; Sri Lanka tourism awareness session’ to announce the re-opening of Sri Lanka for international tourists from the January 21, and share details of the strategy adopted to ensures tourists enjoyed their stay, while being protected from COVID. The event was organized by the Sri Lanka embassy in Washington D.C., with assistance from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Sri Lankan Airlines GSA office in the U.S., and attracted more than 60 tour & travel partners and media personal, including Expedia and Priceline.  

Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism Kimarli Fernando said, Sri Lanka is “safe and exciting even during the pandemic”. She noted that “Sri Lanka does not require a minimum number of days to stay in Sri Lanka within the ‘Bio Bubbles’ introduced by the SLTPB. While staying in a secure level 1 hotel recognized by Sri Lanka Tourism, or multiple hotels if needed within the ‘Bio Bubble’, they could use all the facilities of the hotels including SPA, the pool and the restaurants and visit tourist sites within the bubble. These level 1 hotels which have been certified by KPMG, as well as Ernst & Young, provide accommodation exclusively for international tourists. After an initial 14 days of the stay within the ‘Bio Bubble’, travelers will be able to exit from it at any time subject to having a negative PCR test, and be able to interact with the local community. The tourists are required to undergo several PCR tests during their stay, and medical insurance with a premium of 12 dollars covered all the expenses related to transportation and ICU facility in the event of any difficulty.”

Joining the discussion, Chairman, Airport, and Aviation Major General (Rtd) G.A Chandrasiri welcomed passengers to the two Sri Lankan airports – Colombo and Mattala, and emphasized that maximum precautionary measures have been taken to ensure protection of the passengers’ safety.

CEO of the Sri Lankan Airlines Vipula Gunatileka said, although Sri Lankan does not fly to North America, through its strong partnership with ‘One World’, they have solid relationships with British Airways from Toronto, as well as with Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines, whereby Sri Lankan Airlines is able to help tourists from different gateways it has connections with.

Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority Upul Dharmadasa said, the Civil Aviation Authority is working closely with the airlines around the world to facilitate the travel of tourists to Sri Lanka, and reviewing processes constantly to stay abreast of the latest health guidelines.

Sri Lankan Airlines GSA for US, Canada and the Caribbean Dilan Ariyawansa, elaborated on the connections from the various North American cities to Sri Lanka, and the prospects seen of increasing US travelers to Sri Lanka through the pandemic period and beyond.

Director Marketing of Sri Lanka Tourism, Dushan Wickramasuriya, highlighted the potential of the U.S market to attract tourists to different sectors in Sri Lanka – soft adventure, cruise travel, wellness tourism, wildlife, and to promote luxury villas. He said travel partners can also sell tailor-made itineraries encouraging tourists to travel to Sri Lanka to spend few days, when planning to visit countries like Thailand, Maldives, India and others in East Asia and South Asia.  

The event coordinated by Second Secretary Niranga Palipana, concluded with an interactive session, where US travel partners sought clarifications and made suggestions on expanding the programme.



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Top agents from Kuwait visit Sri Lanka on familiarization tour

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Eleven of Kuwait’s top tour operators and travel agents arrived in Sri Lanka this week on Jazeera Airways on a familiarization tour. Jazeera Airways currently operates three flights weekly to Sri Lanka connecting the leisure and labour markets. The familiarization tour was organized and sponsored by Jazeera’s General Sales Agent in Sri Lanka, Aitken Spence PLC.

The familiarization group travelled and enjoyed the highlights of Sri Lanka during their stay in Sri Lanka. Commenting on the tour, Travel agent P Mayur stated “We love the Sri Lankan people’s smile, hospitality and their humbleness” We heard lots of negative news prior to our arrival, and were wondering if we were making the right decision. However, when we came into the country, our experiences were nothing negative”. I am definitely coming back to this beautiful country to enjoy the beaches with my family and it won’t be too long” Another member of the group Sami Malik stated that “it’s amazing to see how Sri Lankan’s love and preserve their cultural values of the country. The rich history and heritage are something our clients would love to discover in Sri Lanka”

The Jazeera airlines familiarization tour concluded with an awards ceremony recognizing the airlines top agents. The event was graced by the Minister of Tourism and Land Harin Fernando and State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya.

Jazeera airlines has good connections in the Middle East region and can contribute to the revival of tourism in Sri Lanka by connecting the middle east travellers to the country. The agent familiarization tour is expected to contribute towards promoting destination Sri Lanka. Jazeera now operates three flights per week from Kuwait to Colombo; however, the airline expects to raise its frequency of flights per week by early 2023. Jazeera Airways operates its best-in-class Airbus 320 Neo aircraft to Colombo, connecting more than 50 destinations across the continents.

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Sysco LABS’ Managing Director, Shanil Fernando Emphasizes HR’s Role in Retaining Local Talent

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Shanil Fernando, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sysco LABS Sri Lanka, recently spoke at the ‘Employing Tomorrow’s HR Today: The CEO’s Perspective’ panel discussion organized by the Association of HR Professionals Sri Lanka (AHRP).Representing the ICT industry, Shanil shared his insights on retaining and developing talent, unique people initiatives at Sysco LABS, and how emerging technologies like AI are transforming HR processes.

An industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience in technology and innovation, Shanil highlighted the importance of HR’s role in transforming the workplace into a sanctuary that gives employees peace of mind to do their best work. Speaking about people challenges, he focused on the local tech industry’s current issue of attrition and emphasized the necessity for crafting a sound employee engagement and retention strategy that addresses both financial and mental well-being.

Alluding to the present economic crisis, he said: “The country’s key industries, including technology, are experiencing significant attrition at the moment. Collectively, retaining talent has become a major challenge. The primary reason for this migration is the socioeconomic impact of the current economic crisis. In order to mitigate this, the economic situation must be addressed urgently. High public taxes will also compound the problem. The government must take the necessary steps to reduce the burden put on the private sector by introducing significant reforms to non–performing State-Owned Enterprises, avoiding public funds being used to keep loss-making SOEs afloat. Privatization or listing such enterprises on the stock exchange will allow them to be scrutinized in the same manner as a well-run private company, ensuring true transparency and accountability. As organizations, what we can do is build mechanisms that insulate employees, as much as possible, from the impact of the current economic crisis. For example, if the company is at an advantage as a FOREX generator, they can share this advantage equitably with their employees.”

Shanil emphasized the importance of transforming modern-day HR professionals into strategic business partners who are creative, innovative and able to proactively deliver solutions. Elaborating on vital steps taken at Sysco LABS, to transform its people operations to be more strategic in identifying talent needs, he said: “We are a strong, culture-oriented company. The pandemic dampened our culture efforts in the last 2 years, but we’re now focused on rejuvenating this culture and HR must be a flexible change agent that works together with other business functions to enhance the workplace experience for everyone. At Sysco LABS, every associate is allocated an HR Business Partner who will support them throughout their entire journey at the company and ensure all their needs are met. This enables us to deliver a more wholesome work experience to our associates.”

Shanil also spoke about how emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) can transform the HR function, noting that AI creates opportunities for greater efficiency and more intelligent decision-making. He suggested that HR leaders must adopt AI as it gives businesses a critical edge when gauging future talent needs and understanding how to better create a compelling people experience.

Summing up the impact of initiatives implemented at Sysco LABS, Shanil said, “Sysco LABS is impacting a Fortune 100 company and a trillion-dollar, global industry from here in Sri Lanka. Our people are our most precious resource, and we strive to make the workplace a sanctuary for all of them. We want our associates to feel supported and cared for, with our initiatives driving engagement and camaraderie reflecting that. It’s these initiatives that have enabled us to maintain a purpose-driven, world-class workspace exposing our associates to global experiences and opportunities.”

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CICT pledges US$ 25,000 for sight-saving surgeries in Sri Lanka

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Another group of Sri Lankans with correctable eye diseases and disorders will soon begin surgery to restore clearer vision, thanks to the latest phase of a community initiative of Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) in partnership with the Nawaloka Hospital.CICT recently donated US$ 25,000 (Rs 9.25 million at current exchange rates) it has pledged for the project. The donation is part of CICT’s ‘C-Blue Restore Sight Project’ that the Company launched in 2015.

Nawaloka Hospital will procure, supply and utilise all the resources needed to implement the project, including providing professional medical staff, lenses, accessories, and other equipment to perform surgeries, under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the two organisations. The patients for these free surgeries will be selected from the waiting lists of several government hospitals in Sri Lanka, on the recommendations of the signatory organisations.

Commenting on CICT’s continuing support to this eye care programme, the Company’s General Manager – Administration and Corporate Social Responsibility Mr Grant Yang said: “The C-Blue Restore Sight Project was launched to enable access to eye care, especially for those living in impoverished conditions. The recent economic crisis in Sri Lanka has pushed many more beyond the poverty line, and often, non-emergency healthcare is one of the casualties on the list of priorities. With this latest phase of the project, CICT is reaffirming its commitment to the continuity of this initiative, despite the challenges faced by the business.”

Cataract surgeries, refractive surgeries that reshape the cornea (LASIK surgery), and Corneal Collagen Crosslinking (CXL) including squint correction and keratoplasty will be performed under this phase of the CICT ‘C-Blue Restore Sight Project.’ Additionally, selected patients requiring the Avastin injection for visual defects too will be accommodated. Plans to conduct eye camps in certain needy areas identified by CICT are also in the pipeline.

At a ceremony held recently at the Hospital, Mr Grant Yang presented a symbolic cheque to the Chairman and CEO of Nawaloka Hospitals Dr Jayantha Dharmadasa and the Hospital’s Director/General Manager Vidya Jyothi Emeritus Professor Lal G. Chandrasena. Thereafter, the CICT team visited some of the patients scheduled for surgeries. Since the launch of the ‘C-Blue Restore Sight Project’ in 2015, CICT has funded more than 450 cataract surgeries to restore sight, in collaboration with the National Eye Hospital.

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