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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2491

Golden Jubilee Of Sri Lanka Tourism

By Lakshman Ratnapala - Emeritus President & CEO Of PATA

Sri Lanka tourism celebrates the Golden Jubilee of the founding of the (then) Ceylon Tourist Board in 1966, with a commemorative event at the BMICH on Friday, May 27 and will issue a celebratory volume and a special stamp to mark the event. It has every reason for joyous celebration, for in these fifty years the national travel and tourism industry has made giant strides from being a small industry with hope, to become today the country's fourth biggest industry in terms of earnings for the national exchequer and will soon become the third biggest, with the prospect of becoming the biggest, sooner than many expect.

Even as we celebrate, it behooves us to reflect upon what our beginnings were and, indeed, our genesis. On this happy occasion let us look back on who our friends were and who helped us to get this far to where we are.

The relationship between Sri Lanka tourism and PATA – the Pacific Asia Travel Association – goes back a long way, before the founding of the Ceylon Tourist Board in 1966. It is a fascinating story. Sri Lanka’s participation in PATA activities must be seen in this historical context.

The World War which ended in 1945, had ravaged the economies of the nations of the Pacific and Asia. In south Asia, Sri Lanka had slaughter tapped its rubber plantations in support of the British war effort. Given this scenario, Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur, the Allied Commander overseeing post-war revival of the decimated economies, was suggested the idea of tourism as an engine of national prosperity. Visionary leaders in Hawaii quickly forged the Pacific Interim Association in 1951, renamed the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) in 1952 with the objective of promoting travel to the area. This was a time when leisure travel was the prerogative of a few privileged cruise passengers. It was before the advent of jumbo jets which popularized mass tourism for the middle classes.

PATA led the way for others to emulate. It took 24 years for the World Tourism Organization (WTO) organized for exclusively government membership, to follow in 1975. Meanwhile, PATA opened its doors to all stakeholders in the industry -- Governments, airlines, hotels, travel agents, media, and educational institutes alike – treating all as equal partners.

Thus, it was that PATA launched the concept of networking among all industry players for the common good and the enhancement of business of all. But PATA stayed out of actually doing the business for its members, only providing members a common platform where they could network, exchange ideas and conduct business as equal partners. In other words, PATA levelled the playing fields for all, big and small, a concept exemplified by the unique PATA Travel Marts.

PATA had to put the money where its mouth was. It had to walk the talk. It commissioned a study on the state of Pacific tourism which eventually reported, among other things, that the region’s tourism development needed direction and recommended the setting up of National Tourist Offices. That was the Checchi Report in 1962 which became the blueprint for the creation of modern NTOs including the Ceylon Tourist Board in 1966. Thus, linking to my opening statement of this presentation, the origins of the Ceylon Tourist Board can be traced to PATA, which in fact, may be called the “guiding light of the CTB”

The earliest Ceylonese PATA member was the late Jim Wanigatunga, President of Ceylon Express, now run out of Los Angeles, California, by his daughter Varini de Silva, who was Orange County PATA Chapter Chairman, sometime ago. Jim was present at the early PATA Conferences and was awarded the “Pioneer of the Pacific” Award at PATA’s silver jubilee celebrations in 1976 in Hawaii. Earlier, in 1966, Jim had then PATA Chief Executive, Marvin Plake visit Colombo to open the offices of Ceylon Express in the Fort. Other PATA pioneers in Sri Lanka that come to mind are P.A. Ediriweera of Ceylon Tours, Cyril Gardiner of the Galle Face Hotel, Cynthia De Mel of Quickshaws and Cyril Lawrence of American Express.

It is also well to recall that then CTB Chairman, Mr. H.P. Siriwardhana was the first Sri Lankan to have been awarded PATA’S highest honor, the Life Membership, in recognition of his leadership in hosting the PATA Annual Conference in Sri Lanka in 1984. This writer was the second Sri Lankan to have been so honored in 1997 upon his retirement from the position of PATA President & CEO, the only Sri Lankan, indeed the only Asian, to hold that prestigious PATA leadership rank in the 65-year history of the organization. Other Sri Lankans to be honored by PATA are Clement Ranasinghe, a multi term Chairman of the Sri Lanka PATA Chapter and MYM Thahir, long term Director General of the CTB, both of whom received Awards of Excellence. In 2000 Hiran Cooray of Jetwing Hotels became the first Sri Lankan to be elected Chairman, having earlier held the position of Secretary Treasurer.

As mentioned earlier, PATA was not merely a pioneer, it was a visionary, led by visionaries such as Ken Chamberlain in the fields of quality product development and by Gerald E. Picolla in innovative marketing. It was PATA that introduced concepts such as sustainable development and cultural and environmental conservation to the travel industry vocabulary, way back in the 1970s before they became popular fads among yuppies later on.

The many Task Forces of experts fielded by PATA to guide member States, including Sri Lanka, bear testimony to PATA’s leadership and its concern for the proper management of tourism resources. This writer had the pleasure of leading a Public Relations Task Force of experts to guide the CTB to counter frequent adverse publicity in the media, arising from Tamil Tiger terrorist activity, in the mid-1980s.

PATA, conscious of the need to market members’ products, developed a global network of Chapters, in the 1960s the greatest travel sales force ever assembled in history, reaching out to consumers in the four corners of the world. This writer was Sri Lanka Tourist Board Director in New York in mid-1970s, operating on a small budget and used the PATA Chapters extensively to promote Sri Lanka at great economy, because the Chapters would provide not only the audiences but also the meeting rooms and the refreshments too at their own expense – an invaluable asset to small NTOs with minimal promotional budgets. The PATA Sri Lanka Chapter was the first to be established in south Asia and only the second in all Asia after Hong Kong.

It was to PATA that Ceylon turned for guidance in the development of her first resort at Bentota. Here, PATA experts conducted environmental and social impact studies at no charge and the architectural plans were drawn by PATA stalwart Pete Wimberley. It was in Bentota that the first
international Board meeting to be held in Sri Lanka was convened by PATA, with unfortunately disastrous consequences as a meal of string hopper pilawoos served to Board members was found to be contaminated, resulting in the Board meeting being terminated early, because many attendees were spending more time in the toilets than at the meeting. Needless to say, PATA delayed for another time, the issuance of the hoped for certificate of authentication to the new Resort.

Human resources development, at the higher echelons of management, being recognized as a critical need at the time, PATA set up the School of Travel Industry Management in the University of Hawaii, in 1966, leading to the inauguration of the Executive Development Institute for Tourism. Many of the young executives in tourism in Asia were trained there. Many in the CTB and the private sector were offered PATA scholarships to the EDIT program.

In 1991, PATA launched the travel industry’s first Code for Environmentally Responsible Tourism which has become the template for copycat programs by others.

As we celebrate the golden jubilee of Ceylon Tourist Board let us salute our relationship with PATA which has been one of affection in guiding us through the formative years to maturity. It is one for the story books, of international goodwill and cooperation. May it prosper for mutual prosperity.

- Asian Tribune –

	Sri Lanka- PATA Tourism Stalwarts -  The late Dharmasiri Senanayake, then Minister of Tourism and a former Chairman of the Ceylon Tourist Board in conversation with then President & CEO of PATA, Lakshman. Ratnapala, himself an alumnus of the CTB, At left is George Ondaatjie, a former Chairman of the Sri Lanka PATA Chapter and at right is the late Clement Ranasooriya, a multi-term Chairman of the PATA Chapter and winner of the PATA Award of Excellence.
Picture shows, Jayantha Panabokke a recent Chairman of the Sri Lanka PATA Chapter and owner of Mahaweli Reach Hotel Kandy with Mrs. Kamalika Panabokke at the launch of the book, <i>Flickering Fortunes, </i> authored by this wrriter, at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo
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