There are numerous travel trade associations, many involved with a specific travel sector, and each offering different membership benefits. At Aito, our annual survey of members regularly tells us opportunities for networking, discussing mutual problems and helping each other are the top reasons for joining.
Recent events in Sri Lanka provided a perfect example of the benefits of self-help under Aito’s banner.
Following changes to the Foreign Office’s travel advice, which severely affected bookings to Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, several Aito operators asked the organisation to facilitate an event to promote Sri Lanka and to spread the word the travel advice had changed.
With traffic to the island having dropped 71% year-on-year in May, there was clearly a need for promotion to re-energise the UK travel trade. Impetus for the Sri Lanka Revival event came not from the Aito office, though, but solely from members.
They were passionate about working together to restore trade and consumer confidence in booking holidays to Sri Lanka. Aito’s office team was asked to help by booking the venue and the catering, but the logistics of the event would be handled by the members themselves, who set aside their rivalry and competitive instincts.
Several Aito members worked together to raise funds to cover the not-insignificant costs. They contacted hoteliers, DMCs and airlines, plus operators and travel agents, inviting them to the special evening to promote Sri Lanka.
Aito members Experience Travel Group and Travel Gallery, together with Sri Lankan boutique hotel group Resplendent Ceylon, drove the project and helped to plan – and participate in – presentations on the evening.
Speakers included the Sri Lanka high commissioner to the UK and the managing director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) in Colombo. One of the VIP guests, cricketer Mahela Jayawardene, delighted attendees with an amusing and irreverent speech in support of his country.
While the initial inspiration for the event came from a handful of Aito members, it became a perfect example of the public and private sectors teaming up. The Tourism Alliance, a private sector group of hoteliers and DMCs in Sri Lanka, worked alongside the public sector there.
The SLTPB became a major contributor to the evening, announcing plans for a well-funded online promotional campaign across key markets, with some funds allocated to joint marketing with UK tour operators.
The evening was extremely well attended, with more than 80 UK operators, both Aito and non-Aito. They met with hoteliers and DMCs who had flown in from Sri Lanka for the occasion, discussing new business ideas and incentives over drinks and a lengthy networking session.
The evening was successful from two perspectives. Firstly, it was made clear that Sri Lanka was back on the map and very much open for business.
Secondly, the event illustrated how Aito members can work together, with help from the office, putting aside any rivalry.