“I have spent a large part of my overseas professional career here in Kuwait; with three stints in the country, first as country manager from 2000 to 2003, then again in 2005 to 2008, and from 2011 until June 2012 as Regional Manager for Middle-East and Africa,” said Lal Perera, the new Head of Worldwide Sales for SriLankan Airlines, in a recent exclusive interview with The Times.
Based out of the airline’s head-office in Colombo, Mr. Perera, a veteran of the company for over 30 years, with extensive experience in Sri Lanka and abroad, will be responsible for the entire SriLankan sales network spread across 51 cities in 32 countries, including nine cities in the Middle East and seven in India.
“From four transit flights per week in 2000, to seven flights per week via Dubai in 2005, and to daily direct flights between Kuwait and Colombo in 2011, the huge leap in flights, passengers and revenue has been nothing short of phenomenal,” said Mr. Perera. He added, “While our traditional passenger traffic to Sri Lanka and South India continues unabated, increasingly we are seeing Kuwaitis and other travelers from the Middle-East flying our airline to either visit Sri Lanka, or using Colombo as a transit hub for their onward journeys to the Near and Far East. We have 21 direct flights per week between Colombo and Bangkok, as well as direct flights from Colombo to Beijing, Gaungzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo in the Far East. To the west we fly direct to London, Paris, Rome, Milan and Frankfurt and have code-share flights to other destinations in Europe and North America.”
Elaborating on the flights to India, Mr. Perera said, “Despite the convenience of direct flights and competition for traffic in the high-volume South Indian routes by national carriers and private airlines, it is quite gratifying to note that we continue to be the preferred airline for many passengers traveling from Kuwait to South Indian destinations. We take this honor bestowed upon us very seriously and have reworked our flights and flight timings to minimize transit time in Colombo. In addition to Delhi and Mumbai, for the convenience of our South Indian customers we now have double daily flights from Colombo to Madras, and daily immediate inward and outward connections from Colombo to Trichy, Bangalore, Kochi and Trivandrum in South India, with Madurai to be shortly added to this list. We have also added the option for passengers flying to South India to travel onward to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or the Far East, for a minimum additional charge.”
Pointing out that Kuwait is a very important market for Sri Lankan Airlines, Mr. Perera clarified that Kuwait-Colombo-Kuwait route provides the highest number of passengers and revenue among all their Middle-East destinations. In a reflection of the importance the airline placed on flights to Kuwait, Mr. Perera indicated, “With the aim of maintaining our traditional passenger base and increasing the lucrative, high-end passenger numbers from this region, we have introduced the latest wide-bodied aircraft and initiated some of the best on-board services on this route. With our promise of ‘changing the way we fly, and the way you experience travel,’ SriLankan Airlines provides a new Five-Star meal service, flat-bed seating and the latest Audio-Video-On-Demand (AVOD) entertainment systems on-board our flights to and from Kuwait.”
Emphasizing the importance of tourism to Sri Lanka and its national carrier, the Head of Worldwide Sales added, “Since 2009, when Sri Lanka emerged from decades of conflict, there has been a tremendous surge in tourists to the country, said. “This year, we plan on welcoming well over a million visitors to Sri Lanka. To cater to this increased number and support Sri Lanka’s expanding tourism industry, as well as to sustain its long-term growth, SriLankan Airlines has added several new aircraft to its fleet and upgraded its services and product offerings.”
Adding to the narrative, Samantha Nagahawatte, the new Regional Manager in Kuwait for the Middle-East, Africa and Russia, said, “We also help promote tourism through our tourism partner, SriLankan Holidays, who offer standard tour packages as well as tours tailored for groups. A very popular form of tourism that is gaining traction among visitors is our twin-otter Air-Taxi service that operates from the Dandugama water airdrome to locations across Sri Lanka. These air-taxis, which can also be chartered for private flights, provide a scenic bird-eye view of Sri Lanka from the air and allow tourists to touch down at waters close to some of the most picturesque locations on the island.”
Indicating that a significant number of passenger traffic was coming from the Middle-East, the new regional manager added, “It is not only individuals and families traveling on holidays, but also people traveling year-round for business who are adding to our passenger volume. In order to further encourage this trend we now offer two or three day stop-over in Sri Lanka for passengers using Colombo as a transit hub. We will also soon be inaugurating a third international airport in the country, at Habantota in the south.”
Having been with Sri Lankan airlines for the last 36 years in various capacities at different stations, most recently in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Nagahawatte looks forward to furthering the airline's growth in Kuwait and the region. “We believe that competition in the market, especially in a dynamic market like Kuwait, is good as it will constantly goad us to be more innovative and competitive in the services we offer and this in the end will be beneficial to our passengers.”