Doha is a prominent route in SriLankan’s Middle Eastern operations, airline chairman Ashok Pathirage said and noted Qatar generated the second highest station revenue in the Middle East region for the 2019/20 financial year.

Doha station contributed to more than 15% of SriLankan’s Point of Sale revenue of the Middle Eastern region in the 2019/20 FY, he said.

In an interview with Gulf Times, Pathirage said during the 2019/20 financial year more than 235,000 passengers were carried in SriLankan Airlines (UL) flights to and from Doha.

Out of the total passengers carried by Sri Lanka’s national carrier, more than 35% were transit passengers, he said.

On the level of connectivity Srilankan provides to its transit passengers, particularly to India, its key market, Pathirage said, “India accounts for almost 100% of the transit traffic from and to Doha.

The main points of origin are Kochi, Chennai, Trichy (Tiruchirappalli) Thiruvananthapuram and Hyderabad.

“However, in the current financial year (from April 2020) the passenger number has been less than 1000 and majority of this number being repatriation of Sri Lankan citizens,” Pathirage noted.

In SriLankan’s current schedule, which is “significantly limited” due to ongoing travel restrictions, the airline has two frequencies a week.

“We operate the wide body Airbus A330-300 aircraft. The saleable seat capacity is reduced to 28 business class and 259 economy class as we are required to comply with local civil aviation regulation by blocking some seats in each flight for quarantine purposes. During pre-Covid times, we operated some 11 flights a week to Doha,” Pathirage said.

Once Sri Lanka reopens its borders for travellers, tourism is expected to be one of the primary economic drivers and its national carrier will play a pivotal role in the island nation’s economic recovery.

Pathirage said the airlines’ tour and destination management arm- SriLankan Holidays, offers a wide array of holidays packages covering main tourist attractions and excursions of the country ranging from best of the Island’s beaches, wildlife and nature , culture and heritage.

“Our packages include globally recognised boutique and resort properties in most sought after locations throughout the country. While we offer exotic colonial and beach bungalows for heritage lovers, we also have luxury camping and glamping accommodation for adventure lovers. Our excursions cover wildlife tours in leopard and elephant rich parks in Sri Lanka, whale and dolphin watching, cultural and heritage tours of a more than two thousand year history and local culinary experiences.

“We also offer a range of sporting tours including golf, water sports, adventure sports etc. Customised transport including helicopter tours, special photography tours, indigenous medical packages and accommodation can be arranged.

“While offering a seamless experience to the tourist, our packages offer best overall value to the visitor by including best business and economy class airfare, accommodation and excursions into one bundle. In addition SriLankan Holidays handles MICE tour packages covering an array of events ranging from destination weddings to corporate events and exhibitions throughout Sri Lanka.”

On the airline’s expansion plans including adding more destinations and new aircraft, Pathirage said, “Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, SriLankan had formulated a comprehensive business plan for the next four years. However, the uncertainties on post-Covid recovery of demand compels us to re-strategise on our way forward. There is still no clear indication on demand recovery as the borders are closed for regular traffic and pandemic conditions are still very much prevalent in our key markets. We hope to carefully monitor the network wide recovery patterns and rethink our strategies on growth and expansion.

“As per IATA, it will take about three years for demand to recover to 2019 levels. Our business plan did include selective growth in the lucrative markets such as Europe, the sub- continent and Australia, with expansion of fleet accordingly.”

Despite the challenges, Pathirage emphasised that SriLankan Airlines has not lost sight of its expansion goals for 2020, with plans to add destinations such as Sydney, Incheon and Chengdu to its network in the coming months.

However, he noted the airline’s “primary focus will be reconnecting with and consolidating its position in” key markets such as India, China, the United Kingdom and other major destinations.

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