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Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 17 : 12 PM [IST]

‘There is an opportunity to market Sri Lanka as a twin destination between our properties in Colombo & Hambantota’

With the opening of Shangri- La hotel Colombo, Sri Lanka now boasts two properties of the group in the island nation, with different offerings. The opportunity lies in promoting both establishments as twin destinations for guests, believes Timothy Wright, Vice President & General Manager, Shangri-La hotel Colombo in a one-on-one interaction with Disha Shah Ghosh
QWhat kind of message does the presence of high-profile delegates like President and Prime Minster of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of Shangri-La hotel Colombo send out?
It indicates the fact that we are the largest foreign investor into Sri Lanka so far. Both Prime Minister and the President and a number of other delegates sent out a message to encourage other foreign investors to come into Sri Lanka. We are happy with their cooperation and support which made it relatively easy to invest and build this establishment. They took the opportunity of the highly-anticipated hospitality opening in 30 years. As far as the hospitality and tourism industries are concerned, it is a big step and they recognise that.

Q What kind of vacuum will Shangri-La hotel Colombo fill in the hospitality landscape of Sri Lanka?
Our intent is that we have the biggest opportunity in the MICE segment. We are a larger hotel than most properties in Colombo and have larger MICE facilities and event spaces that is a forte that Shangri-la is renowned for. There is an opportunity to market Sri Lanka as a twin destination between our properties in Colombo and Hambantota. Some events can be held in Colombo and other side events can be organised in Hambantota, which is an opportunity for us to develop. We will work closely together. On the leisure side, guests stay in Colombo for a night or two, and we will work towards encouraging guests to stay in both properties.

Q What are your expectations in terms of room nights of MICE guests?
There has been positive interest and we have quite a number of inquiries and confirmed bookings from the Indian market. The challenge with MICE is the lead time is shortening, and as a business we have opportunities from other segments like weddings and social events, which are booked in advance. We are working on a strategy to manage this gap.

Q What kind of importance have you accorded to a market like India?
We have been to India four to five times this year through a number of roadshows. We also had some corporate guests visiting us as part of the pre-opening. There is a great deal of emphasis on India as big potential of source for business India is a huge market and we have to chalk out a definite strategy to reach out to various markets. We have a regional office in Mumbai that is liaisoning on behalf of all the Shangri-La properties and we have been working very closely with them in the past year.

Our focus markets in India are Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai due to proximity and air connectivity. With new flight connections from Coimbatore and Madurai we have been working closely with Sri-Lankan Airlines studying their numbers and load factors. Along with Sri Lanka, we will work with other carriers that connect the two nations.

Besides MICE, corporate travel and leisure will be our key focus areas. We offer services of an Indian chef and understand the language and cultural needs of Indians. The proximity, size, frequency and access are the prime factors that determine our focus on India.

Q How will the collaboration of Shngri-La and Taj loyalty programmes work out for your property which is situated in the same vicinity as Taj Samudra?
Colombo will be an interesting relationship for both companies. In Colombo, which is a slightly unusual situation, we have opportunities and I hope we can compete in a collaborative manner.

Q Any plans for investment in India?
We haven’t shied away from investing in India. If it doesn’t make business sense we are unlikely to develop a property. We are open to management agreements provided the deal is fruitful, and will certainly look at that opportunity when the time comes. We need to find the right partner and the right property. Our relationships with our owners in Delhi and Bengaluru have been positive with mutual understanding in terms of achievements. It is a very positive relationship.
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