Despite the boom in tourism arrivals post war, Sri Lanka’s domestic air travel sector is yet to reach potential with industry experts calling stakeholders to promote the sector as a product.
Sri Lanka currently has seven domestic airlines services, Cinnamon Air, Daya Aviation, Fits Aviation, Millenium Airlines, Cosmos Aviation, Senok Aviation and IWS Aviation, registered with the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka out of which Fits Aviation had halted operations since April 2014.
However, Cinnamon Air is the only institution which provides scheduled air travel services, and is especially designed for foreign tourists in the country.
President, Transportation Sector of John Keells Holdings PLC, Romesh David speaking to The Nation Gain stated that even though the service had seen an improvement over the years in terms of turnover, the airlines were still flying at a mere 35% load factor.
“The Government has to facilitate in terms of promoting this as a product. However, at the moment it is difficult since this is an expensive venture. The government could also give a push facilitating with infrastructure facilities,” he said.
The official pointed out that the domestic air travel would play a crucial role in the development of the tourism sector when the country tries to expand the industry to other parts of the country, namely the Eastern Province.
Accordingly, Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province is expected to attract huge investments in terms of tourism due to its new found popularity and potential.
“We have to play with the time factor. What we find now is that for a tourist to stay in Trincomalee or Arugambay, he or she has to spend seven hours on the road. Therefore, we need to look at air travel as a viable option in future. It has potential for more players in the event it is expanded,” David added.
Currently, the air travel option is taken by less than 1% of the tourists of approximately 1.5 million tourists who arrive in the country annually.
Commenting on the issue, a senior official attached to the Sri Lanka Tourism and Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) said that while the institution was willing to facilitate the emerging sector, the operators needed to take the initiative to get the venture on track.
However, the official admitted that the bureau did not have a strategy in place to develop domestic air travel as a separate product.
The official, however, pointed out that the fact that there is only one major player involved in the air travel segment also proved to be a hurdle to give the much needed push. “The officials cannot promote a brand at this moment,” the official added.