I didn’t know much about Sri Lanka before my visit. Most of what I knew was picked up via the news and a few blog posts written by friends. Sri Lanka was a blank slate I was eager to fill in.

I found Sri Lanka to be a nation of luscious jungles, epic waterfalls, stunning hikes, Tomb Raider-esque archeological ruins, unattractive cities, and delicious food.

But the one thing that really stood out was the people.

I know, I know. What a cliché, right?!

It’s the most generic thing to say in travel. “The people in this destination were lovely and totally made the place.”

Everyone always says that.

Sure, you’ll find that some cultures really are more outgoing and friendlier to strangers than others.

But Sri Lankans stood out in a way I’ve never experienced before.

They are the first, second, third, and fourth things that come to mind when I remember my time in their country. I was amazed at how friendly, curious, and hospitable people were.

As a traveler, although you want to be open to experiences with everyone, you also have to keep a wary eye out in order to make sure you aren’t getting scammed or put in a dangerous situation. There’s a lot of “gut-checking” on the road.

Take, for example, tuk-tuk drivers. Having spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, I’m used to dealing with tuk-tuk drivers who badger you for a ride and constantly try to rip you off or take you to shops where they receive kickbacks if you make a purchase.

In contrast, throughout Sri Lanka, I found tuk-tuk driver after tuk-tuk driver would slow down, ask if I wanted a ride, and then, when I said no, wish me a good day and drive off. No badgering! (OK, a tiny bit in Colombo, but that was mild when compared to other countries.)

Moreover, I found the tuk-tuk drivers to be honest brokers, giving me rates close to what guesthouse owners said they should be. (I never thought I would use the term “honest” and “tuk-tuk drivers” in the same sentence.)

Then there were the locals who would approach me near a tourist site or on the street. After years of travel, my initial thought when this happens is usually: “Here is yet someone else trying to sell me something.”

As they started asking me about where I was from and how I liked their country, I was expecting them to get into “the sell,” but instead was shocked that they would then just wish me well and walk away.

Is this a trick? I thought.

Nope, they were simply interested in my experience of their country. It caught me off guard the first couple of times but, after a while, I relished each opportunity to meet someone new. Each day there would be countless interactions with people just happy to engage with a traveler.

Sri Lanka EDB, Foreign Ministry accelerate efforts to boost exports

The Export Development Board (EDB) and the Foreign Ministry are working closely together to increase the country’s export revenue and mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the export industry.

In a joint statement, they said Sri Lanka’s export income which stood at US$ 277 Mn in April 2020 has increased to US$ 1,090 Mn in July 2020 and is projected to grow in the coming months. There are several joint initiatives taken by the EDB and the Foreign Ministry to enhance exports.

This includes identifying new market opportunities, creating awareness by disseminating market alerts, addressing supply chain issues, enhancing capacity building through webinars, and creating business linkages to support existing exporters to sustain their exports.

During the COVID-19 lockdown which began in late March, Sri Lanka’s Missions and Posts overseas continued to share updates and developments relevant to the markets they covered. These updates included available market opportunities as well as changes to trade and policy regulations during the pandemic which enabled Sri Lanka’s exporters to adapt accordingly.

The functioning of this mechanism also enabled Sri Lanka’s exporters to share their supply capability information with buyers swiftly, via the Foreign Ministry and its network of overseas Missions. The export opportunities that were identified and made use of in this manner related in particular to face masks, protective gowns, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), rubber gloves, hand sanitizers, tea and food products. EDB being the facilitator for Sri Lankan exporters made efficient arrangements to circulate market updates rapidly among exporters via email and its website, and made use of IT based solutions to connect exporters and importers by organizing a series of webinars in collaboration with foreign trade chambers with the assistance of Sri Lanka’s Missions overseas.

Although lockdowns are easing in several countries including Sri Lanka, the EDB and the Foreign Ministry continue to collaborate with the assistance and support of the network of Sri Lanka Missions overseas to connect buyers and sellers virtually, assessing and responding to market trends. Virtual trade fairs and displays in year-long virtual shopping malls are being considered as alternative ways to physical trade fairs to link exporters with potential overseas buyers.

Webinars were organized so far for the Electrical & Electronics, ICT/BPM, Printing, Boat & Ship Building, Coconut, Ceramic and Porcelain, Logistics and Supply Chain, Marine and Offshore Engineering and Ayurveda and Herbal products sectors which will eventually resulted in virtual Business to Business (B2B) meetings.

With the objective of assisting SMEs in Sri Lanka under the concept of “One Village One Product” (OVOP), EDB and the Foreign Ministry are coordinating with Sri Lanka Missions overseas on attracting investments from migrated Sri Lankans living abroad.

While these measures are being pursued to overcome the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sri Lanka’s economy, and achieve the revised export target of US$ 10.75 Bn in 2020, further steps will be taken to work closely with other relevant local partners as well as partner nations and organizations to explore new opportunities and utilization of technology to achieve the Government’s economic objectives.

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Brief Halt in Flights from Abroad

Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL), Upul Dharmadasa told Ceylon Today that the repatriation of Sri Lankans from overseas was temporarily suspended from yesterday (25), due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases that have arrived in the island on earlier flights.

He referred to the number of COVID-19 cases who had returned to the country from Kuwait “due to the increased number of such cases (56 new tests confirmed cases from Kuwait returnees as of 24 May and more tests are to be carried out today (26). The scheduled flight from Doha/ Qatar will not be worked out until further notice as Qatar is also considered a high- risk area,” he said.

However, he noted that there are two scheduled flights that will arrive in the course of this week. He said they include a charter flight flying students from Belarus on 28 May and a flight carrying passengers of all categories from Melbourne, Australia on 30 May. He stressed that a flight from the United States of America was also scheduled but was pending confirmation.

Repatriation flights from other destinations will be re-evaluated until all polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are completed on all returnees and there is space available for them at quarantine centres. The fresh schedule will be indicated in due course, he added.

On the opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport, he added that the Ministry of Health should introduce a proposal on how to operate it and that they can then follow their instructions.

On the opening of the Mattala Airport on 22 May, he said it is only for charter flights, refuelling, emergency landing and ship crew transfers. A charter flight leaving Yangon, Myanmar will arrive bringing 160 Sri Lankans working in South Korea. On 28 May, foreign ship crew members will fly to Brussels , from Mattala he added.

Ceylon Today

Launch of Ode To Paradise for Sri Lankan Airlines

Photo: Rimzan Shabdeen, Entrepreneur Ashok Pathirage, Chairman of Sri Lanka Airlines and Upul Dharmadasda, Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka at the launch of Ode Paradise premier One Galleface, Sri Lanka.

SriLankan Airlines’, the National Carrier of Sri Lanka and a member of the prestigious oneworld alliance, revolutionizing its brand building endeavors launched its latest brand video ‘Ode to Paradise’ at PVR Cinemas, One Galle Face recently.

The production titled ‘Ode to Paradise’ revisits the fond memories of ‘Blue Waters’ melody through a modern take, featuring a lineup of Sri Lanka’s well-loved icons such as Jacqueline Fernandez, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, Peter Kuruvita and Bathiya&Santhush, through whose eyes, the multifaceted beauty of the island is unveiled- all this in the vibrant backdrop of SriLankan Airlines as the messenger that takes the story of Sri Lanka to the world.

SriLankan Airlines’ Chairman Mr. Ashok Pathirage said, “As we strive to lead the National Carrier to finer climates, looking after this well-loved brand will be a priority. Therefore, this brand video will be the beginning of many more of such initiatives by the National Carrier, which will lay a strong foundation to help achieve the commercial and national objectives in the long run. Specially at a time that we explore the possibilities of flying into some of the most lucrative markets in Australia, Asia and Europe, endeavors to establish the SriLankan Airlines brand typically translate to establishing Sri Lanka, the destination.”

‘Ode to Paradise’ captures the mesmerizing beauty of Sri Lanka’s unique and picturesque landscapes, the inherent warmth and caring ways of its people and the beats and rhythms of the cultural vibrancy that has held the world in awe.

Some of the featured celebrities who were present on the occasion, sharing their sentiments on the National Carrier and their experience of working on the production said,

Cricketing legend Mr. Kumar Sangakkara, “As a Sri Lankan, it was an absolute privilege to be part of this amazing production of the National Carrier. Every time we fly to and from Sri Lanka, our first choice has always been the National Carrier, simply for the feeling of home, the warmth and the care that we receive. I cannot forget how SriLankan Airlines brought us home following the unfortunate terror attack in Lohore in 2009, the attention, care and the empathy of the crew were simply overwhelming.”

Mr. Bathiya Jayakodi of BNS, “When SriLankan Airlines invited us to recreate this masterpiece, I was reluctant at first, because growing up, this was a ‘larger than life’ piece of music that I cherished. This was a masterpiece that the greats I admired should have sung. I am extremely honored to be part of its recreation and I wish SriLankan Airlines all the strength to undertake such endeavors to take the destination to the world.”

Mr. Santhush Weeraman of BNS “One cannot imagine Sri Lanka trying to reach out to the world without the existence of SriLankan Airlines. Such is the confidence that the National Carrier has given the Nation. It has given hope for future generations to look beyond horizons. Our association with SriLankan Airlines goes as far back as 20 years, to the inception of our musical careers and we will continue to believe in the ethos of SriLankan Airlines as it has done a tremendous service to the Sri Lankans and Sri Lanka over the years.”

SriLankan Airlines was aptly assisted by its two creative agencies Leo Burnett who undertook procedural clearance and Wunderman Thompson Sri Lanka together with Working Ants Productions executed the creative concepts.

The buildup video, ‘Serendipity Right Next Door’ that was released last week appealing to the Indian audience unveils the timeless beauty of Sri Lanka through the narrations of two of the most beloved Sri Lankan celebrities, Jacqueline Fernandez of Bollywood fame and the cricketing legend Kumar Sangakkara. Whilst Ms. Fernandez reveals to the audience the island delights one by one, Mr. Sangakkara takes the viewer through the onboard experience of the National Carrier which symbolizes all of Sri Lanka’s beauty, culture, flavors and spirit.

The video created ripples across social media as the first Sri Lankan brand to cross one million views within 11 hours and the first to reach five million mark in two days. Currently, the video has recovered over 20 million views.

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Sri Lanka to issue visa on arrival for free for some countries

Sri Lanka’s Tourism Ministry said that preparations are underway to issue visa on arrival free of charge for tourists from multiple countries from May 1, to boost arrivals during lean months. Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga told local media that the countries which will be granted this facility are Thailand, Britain, Australia, South Korea, Canada, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and countries of the European Union.

He said following its successful implementation, the facility would be extended to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries and China, which was one of the leading markets for Sri Lanka Tourism.

The SAARC countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The minister said the facility would initially be implemented for a trial period of six months and depending on the success rate, it would be further extended with more features to make Sri Lanka an attractive destination for tourists.

Sri Lanka is aiming to attract at least 3 million tourists and earn a revenue of 5 billion US dollars this year.

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Sri Lanka entices travellers with nature film

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) has teamed up with wildlife producer Nicola Brown to create a nature documentary enticing travellers to visit the island.

Nicola’s filming and production team has extensive experience working with the BBC’s Natural History Unit, collectively responsible for series including Blue Planet II, Africa, Human Planet and Our Blue Planet, the digital campaign around Blue Planet II. The film evokes the destination’s new branding, So Sri Lanka, which aims to entice experience-seeking travellers to visit Sri Lanka. The three-minute film captures the island from the viewpoint of its wildlife with up close and personal footage of elephants, turtles, leopards, blue whales and fishing cats.

SLTPB chairman Kishu Gomes, said: “Sri Lanka is like nowhere else in the world. We wanted to visualise what travellers can do, see and feel when they visit in a way that is as unique as our country, which is why we wanted to tell our story from the viewpoint of our amazing wildlife. “Sri Lanka is one of the best safari destinations outside of Africa, and we also have many other pleasures for visitors to discover.”

The film premiered at ITB Berlin.

Taming the sputtering tuk tuk

For Sasiranga De Silva, the battle to save the planet must begin at home. Dismayed by traffic pollution in his native city of Colombo in Sri Lanka, the 33-year-old engineer and electric-vehicle fanatic set about finding the most effective way of tackling the harmful gases and noise that make life a misery for commuters.

He decided to focus on tuk tuks: the three-wheel auto rickshaws used by millions of people across the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. There are around one million tuk tuks in Sri Lanka, providing essential, affordable transport for many of the country’s 21 million people.

De Silva, who is lecturer at the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Moratuwa, developed an affordable conversion kit to allow tuk tuks to run on electric power. His innovation recently won a US$20,000 grant from UN Environment as part of the Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, which supports young people who come up with cutting-edge ideas to foster energy-efficient, low-waste and low-carbon lifestyles.

De Silva, who will also receive business and marketing training as part of his prize, says his conversion kit, based around a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, will save tuk tuk drivers money over time, and reduce noxious emissions. His invention is the culmination of a lifelong passion for sustainability.

“Since my university days, I’ve taken an interest in sustainable energy systems, so I studied solar and wind power but then I narrowed my scope to electric vehicles. I wanted to relate electric vehicles to sustainability,” he said.

Dechen Tsering, UN Environment’s director for the Asia-Pacific region, hailed De Silva’s project, noting that the transport sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. “Electrifying our transport options is the kind of solution that will make an enormous impact on air quality in Sri Lanka and other countries across the region,” he said.

In 2008, the Sri Lankan government banned the import of polluting two-stroke tuk tuks because of their low efficiency and high greenhouse gas emissions. But around 300,000 remain on the roads. The government is also now offering low-interest loans to stimulate conversions to electric tuk tuks. A UN report last year found that millions of lives could be saved and one billion people living in Asia could be breathing clean air by 2030 if 25 simple and cost-effective measures were implemented, including a shift to electric vehicles and better emissions standards and controls.