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Breaking Travel News interview: Vasantha Leelananda, Walkers Tours

Breaking Travel News interview: Vasantha Leelananda, Walkers Tours

Walkers Tours has been a leader in the Sri Lanka tourism industry for over 45 years, organising trips for couples on honeymoon, individual adventurers and nature lovers, for special interests, inventive holiday groups and convention delegates.

Their guides and chauffeurs are experienced not only in their knowledge of Sri Lanka’s unique attractions but also in understanding the needs of visitors.

Here Breaking Travel News chats to Vasantha Leelananda, executive vice president of Walkers’ owner John Keells Holdings, as we find out more.

Breaking Travel News: Could we begin with an overview of Walkers Tours. What is it you can offer in Sri Lankan hospitality that no other brand can?

Vasantha Leelananda: Walkers Tours is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest destination management companies and over the years we have established ourselves as the leader in the local hospitality and tourism industry.

We have taken necessary steps to not only perfect our core business - which is inbound travel to Sri Lanka - but have also been a driving force in developing tourism in the country.

We have taken on various initiatives that gained us recognition both locally and internationally.

Walkers Tours is ISO 9001 and 14000 certified and is the only company in Asia to operate a completely carbon neutral fleet of vehicles.

We are also the only DMC to have a dedicated disaster recovery site in case of any unforeseen crises.

All of our clients are covered under a comprehensive global tour operator liability insurance policy that covers up to US$1 million and we are also a part of Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerate, John Keells Holdings.

This gives us unmatched access to the Cinnamon Group of hotels which operates hotels and resorts across Sri Lanka and the Maldives and also Cinnamon Air, a leading domestic airline both of which come under the John Keells umbrella.

The many awards we have won over the years - including winning Sri Lanka’s Leading Destination Management Company at the 2016 World Travel Awards – illustrates that we are the preferred choice among travellers the world over.

BTN: How would you describe the inbound tourism market in Sri Lanka at the present time? Are you still witnessing a ‘peace dividend’ following the recent political developments in the country?

VL: During the last seven years the country has developed at an exponential rate with many infrastructure development projects being competed and currently taking place.

The road network in the country is improving with the introduction of highways, making travelling across the country more comfortable and efficient.

Sri Lanka being a diverse tourism destination offers everything from untouched beaches, exotic wildlife experiences, sites of historic and cultural significance and much more which are just hours apart and are accessible by vehicle.

Together with the developments taking place this has made Sri Lanka a more attractive holiday destination with arrival figures increasing annually.

Peace and stability in the destination contributed immensely to this. 

BTN: What else could the government do to support the hospitality sector in Sri Lanka?

VL: The tourism industry has been one of the main focus areas of the Sri Lankan government in the recent past with the state making significant investments to grow its foreign direct investments and to attract more tourists into the country.

This has led to many hotels coming up in Sri Lanka, including some of the world’s well known brands such as Shangri La hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Mövenpick Hotels and many others.

The tourism stakeholders have regular dialogue with the authorities and are working closely to resolve any issues.

There is a need to be more aggressive in business promotions and marketing activities which are currently being formulated.

BTN: What are the key source markets for Walkers Tours? Are British guests a key part of your operating model? Which other destinations are you keen to attract more guests from?

VL: Walkers Tours has a strong presence across the globe.

We see many clients from various continents wishing to travel to Sri Lanka and experience the best of the country through us.

Our European markets in particular are very strong accounting to a majority of our travellers, especially from the UK, while Asia is growing at a rapid rate with China taking the lead.

We are also the ground handling partners for some of the world’s biggest household travel names including Virigin Holidays, Thomas Cook, Trail Finders and Audley Travels who have been working with us for many years and have the utmost trust in our ability to provide quality tours and travel related services to their clientele.

Nevanka Fernando, senior executive, marketing and communications, Walkers Tours, celebrates at the World Travel Awards

BTN: Walkers Tours was recognised as Sri Lanka’s Leading Destination Management Company by the World Travel Awards earlier this year. How did it feel to win here? Do you feel it has benefitted the brand to take the title?

VL: This was our first recognition at the World Travel Awards and the title of Sri Lanka’s Leading Destination Management Company is one that gives us a great sense of pride.

We hope to leverage on the added value to our brand’s reputation and the international spotlight gained through this noteworthy feat.

All credit goes to our team at Walkers for making the organisation what it is today as they work tirelessly to ensure our clients enjoy a holiday to remember in Sri Lanka.