A delegation from the Association of Belgian Travel Organizers (ABTO) arrived in Sri Lanka on October 27 following the invitation of John Amaratunga, Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife & Christian Religious Affairs, in support of Sri Lanka Tourism recovery efforts.
Upon their arrival they were given a warm welcome amidst a distinguished gathering, and also had the opportunity of witnessing a cultural performance.
The delegation consisted of six members headed by the President of the Board of ABTO – Luc Coussement (TUI), Ms. Ilse Meyers; ABTO Secretary General, Jean – Luc Hans (BT Tours); Vice President of ABTO, Dirk Rykaseys (Imagine Travel), ABTO member; and Yves Edgard Slabbinck – Senior Journalist from ‘The Travel Magazine’.
As the tourism committee members of the Association, they were also able to take part on a familiarization tour organized by the SLTPB, covering areas such as Sigiriya, Kandy and Galle to get a better understanding of the destination and the natural and cultural resources it has to offer.
A press conference was also held on October 31 in this regard, under the patronage of Minister John Amaratunga, with the participation of S. Hettiarachchi – Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism Development, Wildlife & Christian Religious Affairs; Luc Coussement, President of the Board of ABTO; Jean –Luc Hans, Vice President of ABTO; Kishu Gomes, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, (SLTPB); and Ms. Charmarie Maelge, Managing Director SLTPB.
The visitors were highly impressed with the strategies which Sri Lanka has taken to revive its tourism sector. Important initiatives such as capitalizing on new opportunities for Sri Lanka Tourism in Belgium, and of campaigns to be rolled out next year to encourage more Belgian tourists were discussed during the press briefing.
Speaking at the occasion, Minister of Tourism Development mentioned that Belgium was one of the first European countries which relaxed the travel advisory after the East Sunday attacks. He also mentioning that the visa fee exemption to nationals of 50 countries including Belgium, is an encouragement to visit Sri Lanka.
Kishu Gomes, Chairman, SLTPB in his speech mentioned, “Though Belgium is currently generating only 14,000 tourists to Sri Lanka. There is a huge potential in this market with 11 million visits taken annually by Belgium nationals. So far the recovery of tourism has been at a satisfactory level and hopefully we could target more than 2.5 million tourists for 2020, with the implementation of aggressive marketing campaigns”.
The ABTO chief, Luke Coussement, who was very much pleased with the warm hospitality extended to him and the delegation by Sri Lanka Tourism said, “We came on a mission to discover how Sri Lanka has evolved after the tragic tragedy of April. It’s a mission to learn about how the country is bouncing up again. How safe, how ready and how authentic the destination is. The country, the cultural aspects, the authenticity, safety, everything is there. And most importantly, to the travelers themselves, our customers, the message that we are taking back, is positive”.
He also said, “Generally, 78% of Belgian travelers are valuing the leisure aspect, the beach, the relaxing aspects, and 89% of those travelers come for culture, and to experience the country. And all customer research shows that customer behavior has changed, people are looking for personalized experiences, and Sri Lanka has all of that to offer”.
Though the visit was short they were able to gain an exclusive experience visiting Sri Lanka’s most highlighted tourist attractions during their stay.
Ms. Charmarie Maelge, Managing Director, SLTPB expressed her appreciation on behalf of SLTPB for the delegation for their visit and requested their support in jointly promoting Sri Lanka as an ideal destination for the Belgian tourists.
The Association of Belgian Travel Organizers (ABTO) was established in 1973. Since its inception, the association has grown to become the leading professional association for tour operators in Belgium. Around 21 tour operators, and more than 45 brand names, are members of ABTO. They cater to more than 3.5 million customers annually, good for a turnover of more than 1.5 billion euros and 85% of the market share. This makes them one of the most prominent industry stakeholders in Belgium.
Up to the month of September last year, tourist arrivals from Belgium have been recorded as 13,939, while it has shown a change of 12.9 % compared with the same period this year.