Passenger traffic from the Middle East to Sri Lanka has been on the rise and overall traffic from the Middle East has contributed the second highest revenue to SriLankan Airline’s network, next to the Far East, according to Kapila Chandrasena, CEO of SriLankan Airlines.
The national carrier of Sri Lanka, records a 26 percent increase in the number of passengers from the Middle East this year compared to 2011-2012, he told Arab News in an interview.
According to Chandrasena, the airline carried 463,999 passengers from nine destinations in the Middle East during 2012-2013, compared to 342,290 passengers during 2011-2012.
“We recognize the Middle East as one of the fastest growing markets,” Chandrasena added.
The recent increase in traffic can be attributed to both the domestic and leisure segments, he said.
Chandrasena said: “The Middle East is home to thousands of Sri Lankans who are working across the region and with flying time at only over four hours from any major city in the GCC, Sri Lanka is an ideal short haul destination for all types of travelers from the region seeking long weekend rejuvenation, gourmet, cultural and outdoor luxury experiences.”
He said: “We have long-term ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. We have been operating to the Kingdom for a long time and our network covering Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam is solid.”
SriLankan Airlines flies to 64-destinations across 34 countries. Within the Middle East, the airline operates 48 flights a week into five GCC countries across eight destinations, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Doha and Muscat, aside from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
“Since a number of best airlines originate from the Gulf region, the competition is high. However, we are stable on our existing network as we maintain top quality,” he said.
He said the number of tourists and travelers to Sri Lanka have been on the rise as it is a best place to visit at affordable cost.
“Moreover, one can easily get a visa to Sri Lanka through online at a nominal fee,” Chandrasena said.
With tourism traffic to Sri Lanka rapidly increasing, the country’s government has placed tourism and infrastructure development as top priorities, aiming for 2.5 million tourists and for the current number of hotel rooms to triple by 2016, with revenues from tourism to reach $ 2.5 billion.
“If you go to Colombo these days, just check the hotels and resorts, you will see a number of Arab visitors there. Most of them are from the UAE and Kuwait. However, many travelers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are expatriates,” he said and wanted Saudi tourist numbers to increase.
Chandrasena said Sri Lankan Tourism Board was very keen to attract more visitors and had been pursuing plans for further improving tourism facilities suiting visitors from different cultural backgrounds.
“Things are going to become brighter. By next year, we will be joining in ‘oneworld,’ a major airline alliance. Then SriLankan will be flying alongside some of the biggest and premier brands in the airline business — airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Royal Jordanian and S7 airlines,” Chandresena added.
“This move will enable us to offer our customers more services and benefits such as a wider route network and opportunities to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles on any one of the oneworld carriers,” he said.
SriLankan Airlines currently operates a fleet of 21 aircraft, including wide-bodied A340 and A330 aircraft as well as mid-range A320s.
Recently, new A320-200s and A330-200s have been added to the fleet, replacing existing aircraft with fuel-efficient, modern aircraft.
“We operate to 64 destinations, including code-share connections in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Far East, North America, Australia and Africa,” Chandrasena added.