- Industry professionals discuss challenges and solutions
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Events, from exhibitions and workshops to concerts and fashion shows, have been rather scarce during the past few years, as the Easter Attacks brought up security concerns, the Covid-19 pandemic limited travel, and the current economic crisis has made outings a luxury few can afford. However, events are vital to our social lives, which in turn contribute to our mental health and wellbeing.
On the other hand, events are a source of revenue for many, from planners and organisers to entertainers, caterers, and florists. Putting a stop to events will have a ripple effect, impacting several other sectors, which is why it is important to look at innovative ways to keep the industry afloat.
Last week, students following the Bachelor’s Degree in Event Management at the Management and Science Institute (MSI) of the Management and Science University (MSU) organised a webinar to explore innovative event management and a way forward. According to MSI, the webinar aimed at creating a brainstorming platform to generate ideas from industry panellists and enable students to gain an idea about the challenges faced by the industry.
Giving an introduction to event management, MSI Director D.S. Peiris said it involves planning, organising, and executing live events, which could include brand and product launches, exhibitions, concerts, and conferences.
“With the present economic and social issues and crises in the world, and especially in Sri Lanka, many industries such as leisure and pleasure industries like travel, tourism, hospitality, and events, could be one of the best solutions for us to overcome this situation quickly,” he said.
Peiris added that Sri Lanka’s existing resources, culture, heritage, flora and fauna, and social and religious events can be utilised to attract more tourists to the country in order to generate foreign exchange, and also increase the standard of living in the country in the process.
Need for policy
Going into detail about foreign exchange generation was Bank of Ceylon Senior Manager and Head of Foreign Currency Department Metro Apeksha Jayaweera, who said the international event management industry is a vital source of generating foreign exchange or foreign currency inflows to Sri Lanka.
“I heard that the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) tourism market is expected to reach $ 285 million by 2025, so inevitably, it’s a lucrative part of the tourism industry, and the tourism industry is one of the major sources of foreign exchange generation for Sri Lanka.”
She went on to say that we unfortunately do not put much effort into developing or revamping the tourism industry, since as a country, we are more focused on worker remittances, and that too, mainly from the Middle East.
There is thus a need for a national policy on tourism, detailing our agenda for MICE tourism, which should look at new business models, hybrid events, and new technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), she noted.
Leadership training and motivational specialist Suranga Tennekoon also highlighted the need for proper policy and strategies, especially in digital marketing, which is an area that is seeing improvement in Sri Lanka.
During the discussion, Lakshan Dayasiri spoke about the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre, the technology installed in it, and the opportunities it gives event planners in Sri Lanka.
Linked to the event planning industry is the aviation industry, Airport and Aviation Services Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications Dr. Sumith De Silva spoke about how the Covid-19 pandemic affected the industry globally. He explained that in 2020, there was a 1 billion (64%) passenger drop compared to projected forecasts globally.
“In 2019, we were able to handle around 9.9 million passengers in our airports, according to the traffic we had at that time. That means we had around 28,000 passengers coming to our airports per day. The total came down to 2.3 million in 2020.”
The economic crisis and resulting fuel crisis, exchange rate volatility and increase in prices, made the situation worse, with other issues like the Ukraine-Russia War contributing as well.
“If you look at regional airport development and countries like the Maldives, as well as South India and East Asia, they are developing very fast. That is posing a huge challenge to the industry,” he said.
However, steps are being taken to overcome these challenges, he added. For example, an innovative product has been introduced by the Bandaranaike International Airport to target high-end travellers looking for premium, exclusive services. With the Gold Route package, travellers are given a premium airport experience. According to Dr. De Silva, this product was developed as a way to increase the airport’s non-aero revenue, as 500-600 corporate jets travel to Sri Lanka every year.
Focusing on the event management sector was Event Producer Tharaka Gurukanda, who shared valuable lessons he has learned during his 10-year career. Gurukanda explained that there has been a shift from traditional events, especially with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as people were forced to look at events from an innovative and sustainable perspective and move to virtual events.
“When it comes to young people getting involved in the event industry, one of the most important things that I would like to highlight is the challenges they have to overcome,” he said, listing challenges like entering the industry, coping with schedules, putting to practice theoretical knowledge, and working in a dynamic environment.
At present, there are other challenges like budgeting given inflation in the country, fuel shortages and resulting transport issues, working with different people who have different perspectives and agendas, as well as preparing for the unavailability of various team members as a result of transport issues.
However, he also looked at the positives, emphasising the importance of building relationships and networks within the industry, saying: “I’ve been in the industry for ten years, and believe it or not, the connections that I made in the year 2012 have still been helping me throughout these ten years to create events that are of a massive scale.”