SriLankan Airlines eyes Indian visitors

Richard Nuttall, CEO, SriLankan Airlines, says Sri Lanka is a safe place to visit, and India being a major source market for the country, the airline plans to serve more secondary cities in India and connect with greater frequency.

Janice Alyosius

India and Sri Lanka share a bond that dates back to more than 2500 years, built upon a legacy of intellectual, cultural and historic connections, immortalized by the epics such as ‘Ramayana’. Travellers from India hold a special place in the hearts of Sri Lankans for their unquenchable hunger for discovery, which has made India, Sri Lanka’s topmost tourism source market.

Stressing on India-Sri Lanka relations, Richard Nuttall, CEO, SriLankan Airlines, said, “SriLankan Airlines is almost like another Indian carrier, even though we are not in India. If we look through the years, India has usually been the number one tourism provider. The country is big, and we are right next door. So, if we look at the Indian diaspora, particularly based in the South, we look at the ability for us to connect people, particularly going East in the future and the opportunity to sell Sri Lanka to a huge population next door. India is directly sort of linked with the future of the airline.”

The pandemic has had a significant impact not only on the tourism and hospitality sectors, but also on the aviation sector. This resulted in significant reductions in passenger numbers and flight cancellations or planes flying empty between airports.

Speaking of the flight frequency, Nuttall said, “We used to fly 120 flights per week to up to 14 cities in India, but at the moment we fly a little less. This is due to two factors. The first is that, like many other airlines, we are still working to get our fleet back in the air. And second, after the pandemic, everyone was grounded and trying to get back at the same time, so supply chains, engine overhaul, and facilities couldn’t keep up with everyone trying to do everything at once.”

Speaking over the rising airfares, he said, “I believe that air travel costs will remain high for the next 12 to 18 months. It’s driven by two factors. The first is that fuel costs are extremely high, more than double what they were a year ago, and the second is that, like many other carriers, we do not have our entire fleet in the air. Reason been the supply chains, engines and things like that have suffered due to

COVID, and a lot of the raw materials that come from countries that have not been truly open.”

He added, “After the problems that we had in the country last year, Indians have yet to return to Sri Lanka. I believe the media exaggerated the issues in Sri Lanka. It’s still a fantastic place to visit, and probably now is a better time than ever. With the currency devaluation, everything remains the same; it just happens to be a little cheaper, which is why we are here trying to promote it. But in the long run, I believe, the airline should have twice as many aircraft as it does now, allowing us to feed into more secondary cities in India and connect with greater frequency, particularly going east. When you look at India, there are many carriers that can connect you going west, but not so many going east, and we are just off the bottom on the right. So, we are perfectly placed to do so.”

Nuttall emphasised that Sri Lanka is a safe place to visit, and India being a major source market for the country, they hope to attract more Indian visitors. “The top tourism arrivals in January were actually Russians, which may be due to the fact that, for obvious reasons, they have limited places to visit at the moment. India was ranked second, and India was ranked first overall in 2022. I believe there has been a lot of negative perception in India about the situation in Sri Lanka, but the reality is exactly the opposite. So, now is the time for everyone to return, and we need to give Indians a reason to visit and actually experience Sri Lanka. And the more people come, the more they will send the message out that Sri Lanka is safe, and our hospitality is great value for money. I can tell you, everything is perfectly okay, but you need to go and experience it.”


Check Also

Experience luxury on wheels

The Buddhist Circuit Tourist Train, Golden Chariot, and Maharajas’ Express, operated by the Indian Railway …