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Thursday December 1st, 2022

Sabry Bahaudeen on the importance of revitalizing the outbound travel industry

Sabry Bahaudeen Director/General Manager, Classic Travel; President, Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka; and Board Member, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority

The SLTDA Board Member shares insights into attracting more international airlines to Sri Lanka and the need to develop the tourism industry over the next three years and beyond.

Sabry Bahaudeen, Director/ General Manager of Classic Travel and President of the Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka (TAASL), shares insights into the critical role of the outbound tourism industry in developing tourism in the country. As a Board Member of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), Bahaudeen charts the course for improving relationships with international airlines, investing in people and efforts to develop a roadmap for tourism over the next three years and beyond.

Can you give us an overview of the Outbound Travel industry and why it is an integral component of developing the tourism industry?

Outbound travel plays a crucial role in building enough capacity to entice airlines that can, in turn, feed the inbound tourism industry year-round. A strong outbound travel market ensures airlines increase and maintain frequent flights throughout the year because they can fill their capacity, and passengers may enjoy the benefits of healthy competition. So, in many ways, outbound travel agents drive growth for the inbound tourism industry.

Our industry plays a crucial role in connecting Sri Lankans with the rest of the world.

The outbound travel market comprises three segments: the corporate traveller, the leisure traveller, and people who go for education and employment or migrant workers. The corporate segment is particularly crucial because it represents people who travel to establish and maintain commercial relationships vital to opening new investment avenues and business opportunities for the country.

All three segments declined significantly after the Covid-19 outbreak. However, value-wise, except for leisure, the other segments have been picking up since June 2022 and nearing pre-Covid levels due to the rupee depreciation because people have resumed travelling overseas for business, education, and work.

How did Covid-19 impact the outbound travel industry?

Covid-19 was bad for tourism globally. The TAASL saw its active membership halve, but we are grateful for the various tax concessions and loan moratoriums that the government introduced to keep the industry afloat. The industry is experiencing a brain drain, and young people are reluctant to join the industry because of the volatility.

The TAASL is collaborating with the Sri Lanka Tourism Board, the Sri Lanka Hotel School and local universities on new programmes that will attract young people to the industry and make them employable.

As the President of TAASL, I will continue to focus our efforts on such collaborations to ensure the industry sails through the storm and builds the infrastructure to enable growth. One of our priorities is to deepen relationships with international airlines. Despite the many challenges, we are encouraged that most airlines remain bullish on Sri Lanka’s huge tourism potential. I am also always discussing with airlines and telling them to hold on for a little longer. Some airlines have deep relationships with the island, having started their carrier operations in Sri Lanka decades ago, so they have this emotional connection to the country and its future.

The pandemic was not all gloom for the travel agency industry. The pandemic allowed us to strengthen our business models and develop our people. At Classic Travel, for example, we invested in technology to automate our processes that doubled productivity. It was critical to keep investing in people, building capacity, and keeping them engaged and motivated throughout the stressful and testing pandemic. After all, the industry is all about people, and businesses get built on the bedrock of trusted relationships with customers, airlines, and other stakeholders.

As a member of the Board of Directors of the SLTDA, what changes will you like to influence the most?

I would like to see a three-year roadmap to develop tourism. That would be my priority. The three-year roadmap should have the buy-in and inputs from all stakeholders, from the outbound and inbound travel agencies to hotel operators, tour guides and chauffeur drivers. It must have clear objectives, timelines, and responsibilities with mechanisms to hold stakeholders responsible for deliverables.

I would also focus on building the infrastructure to attract more high-net-worth travellers who yearn to immerse themselves in unique cultures, enjoy impeccable services and experience sustainable tourism while preserving the environment and natural wonders in their pristine condition. I firmly believe we must do this because Sri Lanka needs to elevate the industry up the value chain to create better opportunities for the industry, our business partners, and our people.