0316 GMT November 29, 2021
Sri Lanka’s government attaches great importance to the tourism sector and expanding people-to-people contact.
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Iran His Excellency G.M. Vipulatheja Wishwanath Aponsu made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily.
What comes below is excerpt from the one-on-one talks with the envoy:
To what extent people-to-people contact including tourism could help the two countries and their peoples?
Sri Lanka-Iran ties are not something new due to their common history and relations. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1962 and Sri Lanka established its mission in Tehran in 1990 at ambassadorial level. As Iran is an important partner for Sri Lanka, people-to-people contact is the base for our close and friendly relations.
Even though, we have cordial bilateral relations with Iran, I cannot say we recently did well in promoting our tourism sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic and less attention to tourism-related diplomacy. Hence, I expect to explore in depth the rich culture and heritage of Iran, while focusing on advancing people-to-people contacts to build enduring bridges of friendship.
Sri Lanka is well known as a top tourism destination in the world where many historical places have been registered by UNESCO. Historically, Sri Lanka is an island famous for its great sense of hospitality, culture and variety of its superb local products.
Iran is also a world-famous tourism destination among travelers in terms of history, civilization and nature. The country is home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 34,000 nationally-registered heritage sites and 600 museums that could attract international tourists.
In addition, astonishing mountains, breathtaking glaciers, beautiful volcanos, pristine forests, green foothills, delightful lakes, springs and waterfalls, picturesque beaches and wonderful islands, historical sites and distinct architecture, globally-registered cities and villages, diverse and colorful handicrafts, delicious traditional cuisine are among the must-see attractions.
Both countries have potentials to integrate and work together in tourism sector. I strongly believe that tourism is an ideal platform to strengthen “people-to-people contact” of both nations and expand other sectors’ cooperation and amicable ties.
Does the embassy’s tourism promotion plan encourage Iranians to visit Sri Lanka? Are Sri Lankan tourists willing to travel to Iran?
There is no doubt that Sri Lanka is the number one tourism destination in the world for the discerning Iranian tourists because of its stunning landscape, incredible wildlife, colourful festivals, ayurvedic traditions, diverse cultural heritage, friendly people, and foods. Sri Lanka also keeps open the door for business and particularly for business tourism.
However, I observed that at present, there is not much of a tourist flow between Sri Lanka and Iran. We do not see many Sri Lankan tourists visiting Iran and recently Sri Lanka receives less number of Iranian tourists per year. For such trend, there are two main reasons, simply there is no correct information about Sri Lanka “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” among Iranian travelers and Sri Lankan travelers have no clear picture of Iran.
At the moment, our embassy is doing its best by introducing Sri Lanka tourist sites to tour operators, media, airlines, businessmen and other related officials so that they can visit tourist places and see what opportunities are available there. The very presence of our embassy successfully concluded a tourism promotional awareness program “Destination Sri Lanka” for tour operators, media staff and airline representatives.
Increasing two-way tourism flows should be promoted by both sides. In fact, the 21st century is often called the Asian century. So, we should consider more facilities such as direct air links, tourism packages, charter flights’ operations, proper stakeholders’ facilitations and tourists’ friendly visa, health and other protocols. In addition, I believe that in tourism sector, both countries may share their experiences and best practices, lessons learned in the field of tourism.
How could you promote bilateral ties in all sectors?
Since my arrival in Iran, I have been engaging to find possible opportunities for Sri Lanka in Iran especially in humanitarian trade, tourism, education, health, energy, culture, arts, film industry, youth and sports. Amidst the pandemic situation, we find and create new and emerging opportunities to strengthen bilateral relations.
As my government attaches high importance to the tourism sector and people-to-people contact, I have prioritized bilateral cooperation to this end. Based on enhancing the tourism relations, I have confident that all other areas will be expanded for the mutual benefit of the two countries. In future, both sides may consider direct air link, image building, traveler packages and legal channels to promote tourism.
Would you elaborate on your future plans for enhancing two-way tourist flows?
Our embassy is in initial stage of promoting tourism between the two countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sri Lanka has already kept the country open for tourists and facilitated visas through Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system with COVID-19 safety protocols. We also expect to facilitate the issuance of visa for Iranians.
We look forward to collaborating closely with tour operators, prominent travel agents, Iran Tourism Ministry, media, airlines and other stakeholders to initiate on integrated tourism promotion approach by combining marketing, advertising and journalism.
The embassy continues to conduct webinars for tour operators and travel agents regarding our developments and health protocols. We also plan to undertake overall image building of our two countries and people and other aspects through public diplomacy programs. Exchange of study tours between the two countries is another future plan.
Finally, the embassy expects to arrange high-level visits by ministers in the field of tourism of both countries. We strongly believe that outcome of such future visits will result in more comprehensive tourism cooperation between Sri Lanka and Iran.