Ajith Dias, Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, talks to Sydney PauldenIf you specifically wanted to design a senior executive for a top job in the hospitality industry that person would look very much like Ajith Dias. He became Chairman of SriLankan Airlines eight months ago and also chairs SriLankan Catering Services.
Previously he headed the company that owned the Colombo Hilton and he had already established the global coffee-house franchise, Barista, in Sri Lanka.
He has, therefore, experience in accommodation, food, drink and transportation – all that the hospitality industry stands for.
Ajith is now calling on all this expertise to lead his airline into a bright new age. Its fleet of 21 aircraft is rapidly being modernised. Next month, December, seven more new Airbus A330s are being delivered, replacing seven of the 15-year-old A340s, so that even more passengers will be able to fly non-stop to Colombo, the Sri Lanka capital, in greater comfort.
The new aircraft offers two classes, Business and Economy. ‘I am looking forward’, says Ajith, ‘to the 28 Business seats being occupied more and more by high-end members of corporate groups travelling to Sri Lanka for unrivalled experiences at conferences and on incentives. ‘
The A330-300 aircraft have Wi-Fi and Mobile (GSM) connectivity, so that business tourists can be in touch with the outside world during the whole flight.
The Chairman points out that Sri Lanka is very well situated as a location for international events and they are similarly well served by his airline’s network. ‘We connect with 94 destinations in 44 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Far East, North America, Australia and Africa. We have our own SriLankan Holidays as a Division of the airline and we work closely with the national tourism authority. Organisers who have to gather delegates and guests from all parts of the world get complete co-operation to assist in arranging airfares and bringing people in at the most suitable times for their events.’
SriLankan is a key carrier into The Maldives and so a double-header incentive taking in two highly desirable but contrasting destinations can be very convenient.
Sri Lanka itself, of course, merits a longer stay for visitors or delegates with an interest in fauna, flora, beautiful landscape and historic culture. ‘Some of the great attractions of the island are illustrated as part of the design of the new aircraft’, Ajith points out. They include the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there is mood lighting in the cabins that adds to the relaxation of mealtimes and can also feature tropical sunsets and starry skies.
Ajith emphasises that although regarded as a comparatively small island, Sri Lanka offers a wide range of choice in venues and activities. ‘We have beach and city locations’, he goes on, ‘and they can all be comfortably integrated into a convenient programme. And big numbers do not frighten us.’ He quotes the instance of the PATA Conference that is to be held in Sri Lanka in 2017, in Negombo, which as many as 3,000 delegates are expected to attend.
Negombo, the country’s fifth largest city, is just 45 minutes from Colombo but is famous for its fishing and its sandy beaches. Also - a major reason for being chosen by PATA - it has a large number of hotels in every category.
Many of the world’s biggest hotel chains are opening new properties in the capital, Colombo, and other areas of Sri Lanka. ‘And’, Ajith points out, ‘there has been massive investment in very recent years on the country’s internal infrastructure, especially the road system.’
It is not a problem, now, for delegates to an event in Colombo to drive north to the ancient capital Kandy and then enjoy a remarkable round of golf midst the majestic scenery of a mountain course.