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IIFA opened our eyes on seven fronts!

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IIFA opened our eyes on seven fronts!
Urgent Issues
Private function
Cancer of Terrorism
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  • Psychological barrier on travelling to SL broken
  • SL makes statement to 650 million global viewers that it is open for business.
  • Investing on brand building must be done when the awareness is high
  • 1st mega post war event must be fol lowed up by private sector initiatives

Working against all odds

I yet remember in the height of the ground operation against the LTTE in 2008, the government decided to stage the first Industrial Exhibition in Jaffna so that the south will begin to engage the North and there by avoid the LTTE instigating the people of Jaffna. There were three of us appointed to champion this project. It was a challenging task given that all logistics had to be done by sea or air because the A9 was not accessible at that time due to heavy fighting. The event attracted 304,000 people from the Jaffna peninsular and 168 companies from Colombo.

A Mobitel official was told that a mobile phone at Rs.5000/- was not the need for the youth of Jaffna but a 45,000/- one. The Private sector realized the potential that Jaffna peninsular had to offer. The event resulted in many company’s setting up business and today, they are reaping the benefits by the first mover advantage. The event broke the fear psychosis that the LTTE had very cleverly orchestrated for years and to my mind IIFA did the same for Sri Lanka. We made a statement to the world that Sri Lanka is open for business. If not, it was only rhetoric from our side that things were normal but from an outsiders point of view it needed justification. This is what IFFA did. 450 media personnel were there. BBC covered some components live. Aljazeera had eight segments dedicated to the event while CNN also telecasted same which gives us an indication of the exposure that Sri Lanka received.

Let me share one more key event that happened during the height of the war. It was in 2008 when a core team of us under the leadership of the Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau championed the first ever Hikkaduwa Beach Fest. There was many who bickered but the event attracted 17,000 revelers into the beautiful beach stretch of Nari Gama where all hotel rooms were booked in the vicinity during the five day event. The economy was injected with over 120 million rupees and the team delivered a positive cash flow from the event. Today, this event has carved out a niche in South Asia as the ‘Party Beach’ for a youngster which is now on the Global tourism calendar for youth. Today, ‘Hikka Beach Fest’ is not only a strong brand in Sri Lanka but also in South Asia. Similarly IIFA in my judgement is only the beginning for more iconic events to be staged in Sri Lanka. What is required now is to pick up the learning’s from the healthy debate that we see in the media and not get demotivated with adverse publicity.


Coming from a multinational brand marketing background, when I saw the media outburst during the weekend on why Sri Lanka spent 850 million rupees in staging ‘IIFA’ I felt it is my duty give definition in to this event so that Sri Lanka will appreciate how such events fit into the template of ‘Reviving Brand Sri Lanka’. If I may take a parallel is the launch of Etisalat which bombarded the media in the early part of the year which sure beat the IIFA press. But, that’s what it takes to make a brand in todayworld. Some can always argue that Etisalat should never have indulged in such extravaganze but that it what takes to make a statement to a focused market.

The people who champion such events must know that certain sections of the general public appreciate the work that is been done. Post this event we must now capture the learning’s and reach higher ground. I will not be surprised if Sri Lanka one day host events in the stature of ‘Miss Universe’ or key business events like the ‘World Economic Summit’ given that we have the experience of staging a event such as IIFA. To be honest Sri Lanka has placed it self well and is strongly poised to bid for bigger events in the future.


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