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India Outbound interviews BMICH CEO



As outbound travel from India revives after a pandemic-enforced closure, most market experts are pointing towards Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Expositions (MICE) and weddings as being the drivers of growth in the immediate future. And in this segment, Sri Lanka is pitching itself as the first and the best choice for a variety of reasons. Proximity, low cost and a cultural connection are only a few of its advantages. 

Adding to these, the BMICH in Colombo combines its mammoth size and immense flexibility to make it the venue of preference for MICE or wedding groups of sizes varying from a few dozens to a few thousands. In an interview with India Outbound magazine Sunil Dissanayake, CEO of BMICH outlines the importance of India as a market and the key USPs of Sri Lanka and the convention centre that would attract Indian customers.

What are the key facilities that BMICH offers for MICE and Weddings?

We are a sophisticated world class venue with 22 indoor and 10 outdoor venues. We do everything that a hotel does. From a dinner for two to a banquet for 2,000. We cater to all types of events and we are very specialized in what we do. We have facilities for simultaneous translations to seven languages and all our other audio visual and technological systems are very up to date which cater to global events.

Who are you competing with and what are your competitive advantages?

We compete with the rest of the region as a MICE destination. All the South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh & Maldives and the other SAARC countries. Also the far eastern countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. We are a purpose built facility with spacious landscaped gardens, with close proximity to India.

We sit on 38 acres of landscaped gardens and we call ourselves an urban forest with our tree laden gardens. In terms of the competitive advantage we are very cost effective, with our pricing, when compared with similar facilities elsewhere in the region. Especially for India, it’s more cost effective, because we are a lot cheaper and you get more for your foreign exchange of Indian currency. We pay about LKR.3 for an INR.1 That is also an advantage for our Indian clients.  It’s my personal view that it is cost effective to the Indian clients to come over to Sri Lanka and hold your conferences, weddings and events here rather than travelling from Delhi to Chennai or to other parts of India, which may be more expensive than coming to Colombo.

Just before the pandemic we hosted the Suzuki Maruti All India Conference and the Award Ceremony here at BMICH Expo Centre which had 1000 participants joining the event.  Afterwards, they indulged in tourism aspects of visiting different parts of the country.

Which are your biggest markets? How important is India for you?

India is our market leader for conventions, expositions, weddings and conferences, and then comes China. Those are the two major providers from abroad. We have a lot of customers and business opportunities from within Sri Lanka too and a few from Europe.

Which parts of India are key source markets?

Bombay, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, it’s mostly South India. Primarily the Southern part and some from the Northern part as well. With our excellent airline connectivity to Indian cities with Sri Lankan Airlines which connects about 100 flights per week to different cities in India, it’s better and easier to travel to Sri Lanka than travelling within India itself. The connectivity is excellent.

How important is the Indian Wedding Market for you?

We are looking at the wedding market. We have quite a few weddings, especially the outdoor weddings with great outdoors. That’s another aspect that we are marketing. We are taking part in trade shows in India. BLTM and various other trade shows, and we also invite Indian MICE agents on familiarization tours. We had one tour in early 2020 prior to the pandemic. It’s a great opportunity for Indian weddings to be hosted at the BMICH as we are in close proximity to all the city hotels in Colombo. It is a matter of staying in a Colombo hotel and using our facilities to host the wedding.

USPs and novelties in Sri Lanka for post-event leisure?

There are many aspects an individual can indulge in post and pre-event leisure activities. The participants can extend their stay in Sri Lanka after the event or arrive earlier and bring their families too. The families could shop around in shopping malls in Colombo City where most of the global brands at a competitive price than in India are available. From Colombo it is a “hop step and a jump” to the beaches and one can select any type of environment of choice.  For example the hill country with the mountains are just three hours away and then we have the wildlife which is also about 3 hours away. The Archaeological sites too could be reached within 3.5 to 4 hours. Of course, then we have the water sports on the southern coast and the eastern coast with surfing & water skiing in Arugam Bay in the east coast. Everything is within easy reach if you wish to enjoy in pre or post MICE event leisure activities in Sri Lanka.

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Private Tutoring Amidst Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis: Issues Faced by Students



By Usha Perera

Sri Lanka’s education sector, still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now faces acute challenges due to the current political and economic crises. The sudden imposition of curfews and the lack of transportation have resulted in school closures and students being deprived of structured and systematic in-school education. In Sri Lanka, closing schools for just one day causes a loss of 25 million learning hours and 1.4 million teaching hours. Alongside this, private tutoring has gained greater importance. This blog discusses the issues faced mainly by Ordinary Level (O/L) and Advanced Level (A/L) students in attending tuition classes based on an IPS study. The study findings are derived from a sample of about 340 students, and 16 teachers and tutors across Sri Lanka.

Affordability of Private Tuition Classes

The surge in the cost of living with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and loss of income generation channels have been unbearable for parents of school-going children. The IPS study found that students who belonged to family income levels below LKR 30,000 spend approximately LKR 3,000-Rs. 7,000 per month while students whose family income was above LKR 200,000 spend approximately LKR 18,000- LKR 20,000 per month on private tuition depending on the grade of the student. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 1.

Further, most O/L and A/L level students spend more than LKR 2,000 per month on data packages for both school and tuition online classes, while most students who spend more than LKR 2,000 per month are concentrated among the higher family income categories. If LKR 2,000 is spent on monthly data packages, it would approximately account for 1% of whose family income is above LKR 200,000, and more than 7% of whose family income is below LKR 30,000. All this highlights the perceived importance of private education, especially among O/L and A/L grades, and the financial burden it imposes on a family’s household income.

These affordability concerns were partly offset by the introduction of free online classes during the pandemic, which has provided considerable relief for financially vulnerable students according to students interviewed for the IPS study. Affordability concerns were further allayed by reduced class fees by some tutors. The fees reductions were made accounting for the structural changes of administrative and operating costs of an online setting applicable based on the scale and intensity of operations of tutors. Financial issues faced by the families experiencing household income losses during the pandemic were also considered in fees reduction.

Accessibility to Online Classes

Online platforms were the sole medium for conducting classes during the pandemic while it becomes an option in the current context considering the social unrest, curfews and travel constraints due to fuel shortages. However, many students faced accessibility issues in joining online classes. The issues faced were poor signal coverage, high data costs, lack of necessary devices, and affordability concerns in the context of lost household income during the pandemic. Most of the students who belonged to a family income level above LKR 200,000 used a laptop/tablet while most of the students who belonged to a family income level of below LKR 30,000 relied on a smartphone. Smartphones were found to be less user friendly for academic use. In addition to the above issues, the ongoing power outages also present impediments to online education.The accessibility issues are mainly experienced by students from families with comparatively lower income levels, and those who had to rely on a smartphone for academic purposes. This implies a close positive relationship between household income and the quality of the education received; financial strength being the primary determinant of accessibility.

Figure 1: Monthly Tuition Expenditure by Monthly Household Income
Source: Institute of PolicyStudies of Sri Lanka, 2021.

However, these accessibility issues were partly offset by the divergent opportunities experienced by students, especially in the context of online platforms. These prospects included the ability to join online classes conducted in distant locations that would otherwise have been restricted due to travel constraints and increased time available due to school closures. As a result, they increased the duration of tuition classes using the saved travel time.

Way Forward

While private tutoring became a way of bridging the gaps in the education system during the crisis, learning losses for the most vulnerable groups have further widened with accessibility and affordability issues. Since these issues were mainly observed among O/L and A/L student groups, there is a higher risk that vulnerable student groups would be highly challenged during their most decisive years leading to higher education and career development. Thus, it is necessary to address the affordability issues, focusing more on the vulnerable student groups. Financial assistance could be provided in terms of a certain number of free hours of teaching for selected financially vulnerable students and allocating a selected proportion of students to be taught at a concessionary rate.

To address the accessibility issues, recording the lessons and distributing the notes on different platforms will help to a certain extent. Providing digital equipment and networks for selected tuition centres and schools could also be considered since the lack of facilities and resources was identified as major accessibility issue for distance education. These would require collaborative efforts among the government, tutors, parents, non-government organisations and any other well-wishers.

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Allianz Divitharana: A new take on Life and Health Insurance



The world’s number one insurance brand Allianz has announced the launch of its new Divitharana Insurance product, which provides comprehensive life and health insurance for policyholders and their loved ones, at an easily accessible and affordable price. The product, which has been designed for the mass market, a segment that is highly price sensitive, comes with a host of benefits and features, making it a truly comprehensive insurance product, that covers all of life’s important bases, protecting life’s most precious things.Tailored for the mass market, which includes farmers, fisherfolk, technicians, teachers, executives and other members of the general public, Divitharana Insurance provides life insurance at a flexible and economic price point, with the option for policyholders to settle the premium in monthly, quarterly, biannual or annual instalments, while also providing the convenience of increasing the cover provided during the policy period, without having to go for a new policy. These are particularly important features amidst the present economic challenges the nation is facing, as it allows everyone to have access to good and reliable insurance, regardless of their income level and style.

A key differentiator of Divitharana insurance is that each policyholder will be entitled to an individual investment account, on which an annual dividend will be declared and the proceeds credited to the policyholder’s account. On top of this, policyholders will also be entitled to an additional loyalty bonus of 20%, which will be added to the maturity value for continued on-time premium settlements. other than the life cover provided by Divitharana, policyholders can also opt to include additional covers such as Disability Benefit, Critical Illness and Hospitalisation cover, while also enjoying the flexibility of extending the insurance cover to include their spouse & children.

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SLT-MOBITEL doubling the cloud with country’s first-ever VMware Cloud Foundation deployment



Understanding the importance of breaking new ground to reap the benefits of Enterprise premium cloud services, SLT-MOBITEL, the National ICT Solutions Provider, has become the country’s first-ever service provider to enable VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) deployment in the island and importantly the first telco provider to have two clouds. Amidst the changing dynamics, the deployment milestones are supporting SLT-MOBITEL’s Cloud programme in accelerating digital transformation.SLT-MOBITEL Enterprise premium cloud was launched in 2018. Having a successful journey for over three years, the new mobilization now elevates and transforms the premium cloud through VMWare Cloud Foundation. Importantly, SLT-MOBITEL is the first local organisation to partner VMWare as a Business Continuity Certified Planner (BCCP) and initiate VMWare Cloud Foundation in Sri Lanka.

VMware Cloud Foundation is a suite of VMware products that provide building blocks necessary to implement an integrated software-defined data center platform. Its components combine to automate deployment and lifecycle management, helping to simplify IT operations and reduce administrative overheads for enterprises.With its Cloud Verified Status and as a VCF Enabled Partner, SLT-MOBITEL is now in the forefront as the only service provider in the country offering a range of new differentiated services such as automate infrastructure and application delivery with self service capabilities to help organizations plan, manage and scale their data center operations especially dramatically reduce provisioning times and cut operational costs.

The SLT-MOBITEL VMware VCF deployment ensures customers transition to the industry’s most advanced cloud platform with a complete set of software-defined services for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management to run enterprise apps in private or public environments.By doubling the cloud SLT-MOBITEL establishes customers have both production and disaster recovery sites with different scales, located at two different Data centres with required ROP and RTO. The Disaster recovery site can be deployed at any scale with respect to production sites according to the enterprise customer’s requirement. SLT-MOBITEL also provides migration as a service with the features from NSX –T.

Through VCF, SLT-MOBITEL is offering customers the benefit of real disaster recovering services, a Software-defined Data Center (SDDC) and monitoring services, latest networking enablers with NSX – T up-to-date versions of VMware software vSphere, vSAN and intelligent, advanced VMware capabilities including ESXI and VSAN and efficient and effective migration services. SLT-MOBITEL also provides IaaS services, Virtual Machines, and Virtual Data Centers along with a range of other support facilities such as Disaster avoidance with Stretch Cluster (RPO 5 minutes), Disaster Recovery as a Service, and Backup as a service.Above VCF deployment is directly done by Vmware Professional Service team to ensure the highest quality deployment .

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