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Trailblazing Eco Team Marks 11th year of adventure tourism in Sri Lanka

Aug 25, 2011 3:03:55 PM - www.ft.lk

With the tourism boom now experienced in Sri Lanka and projections to attract 2.5 million tourists per annum by the year 2016 seemingly going well according to plan, the country is currently positioning itself on the global tourism map as a star product.

“But in order to do this, we need a long term marketing plan for the Alternate Tourism Sector too.  We are doing everything we can to place Sri Lanka on the World Adventure Tourism map, but as a country we need to do a lot more to be able to get there.  A national strategy coupled with a bottoms up approach would help,” says Chairman of Eco Team, Anuruddha Bandara, TOYP Environmental Leadership award winner and the recipient of the single Presidential Award under the Exceptional Individual category in Travel & Tourism. Eco Team, a trailblazer on different segments of eco/adventure tourism was established 11 years ago and has had a good run in this niche area despite being in operation for the most part during the country’s war years, which Anurudda says was not a deterrent to his company’s growth much.  
With an impressive portfolio of land and water based activities Eco Team services clients from Europe, North America, Canada and also India from whence demand has been increasing in recent times. Nature and adventure trekking, caving, mountain biking & cycling, hot air ballooning, camping, rock climbing, rain forest exploring, wildlife safaris, cultural festivals, kayaking/canoeing, snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing, turtle watching, water skiing, white water rafting, windsurfing, inland and deep sea fishing tours are all part of eco team’s activity spectrum.
EcoTeam’s accommodation portfolio now extends to 24 different locations across Sri Lanka.  Although they see many more opportunities opening up, and a lot of outside interest has been expressed in this dynamic company, in terms of partnerships and investment, Eco Team’s Chairman says the company’s 11th year plan is to consolidate their strengths.
‘With all this potential available to Sri Lanka, we definitely need to think about a long term plan if we are to have such high targets and this comes from looking at the here and now situations we are facing,” he says.
“We need to look at all market segments and alternate tourism could be one of the key contributors in achieving our national targets.  For example, although there are specific niche products like Eco, Adventure and Argo tourism, we as a country is not yet mature enough to cater to these very niche segments. We are not yet attracting such specific holiday makers.  However, Sri Lanka can and is attracting holiday goers looking for “active”/“alternate” solutions away from the mass tourism products. These vacationers like to mix and match what they want. For instance, they would stay in an eco lodge in Belihuloya and do some canoeing and the next day they would be in a Kandy city hotel doing a biking trip. It’s complex; they are not entirely Eco Tourists nor are they Adventure Tourists.  But these tourists fall into the high net worth category and this is a market segment we cannot discount!”  
This veteran tour operator& tourism service provider  who broke new ground in the development of specialty tour solutions in Sri Lanka to blend with holiday programmes of the larger tour operators, has created a whole new segment in the tourism sector which would otherwise have slipped through the cracks.“We have enabled dozens of Sri Lankan tour operators to expand their scope in the international markets. We get them to focus on what they are good at, mostly marketing, and we provide all logistical support for the activities they can’t handle. When it comes to guides and hotels usually it’s their responsibility and we come in only for specialty lodging such as Tented Safari Camps or Tree Houses & full range of activities. This marriage of talents has worked beautifully and it has been a win-win situation all round.”
The eco team concept itself is very sustainable and supports the socio economic formula at the bottom of the pyramid. “Our employment plan for our packages which are mainly off track and very much embedded in the country’s rural sector, takes into consideration the local population surrounding the site.  We have trained and empowered these people to support our Eco, Adventure and Agro Tourism activities and to deliver a service that is on par with any international standard. However, after we train them, we don’t hold them to give us exclusive service — they are free to run their own business and extend their services to other competitors”
Eco team believes that more and more people need to be trained and their skills honed in this particular type of tourism as Sri Lanka has a wealth of locations, which can be marketed very successfully on an international level.
Setting industry standards, is another of EcoTeam’s maxims, says the Eco Team Chairman, “We have contributed immensely in formulating the national guidelines for alternate tourism activities in Sri Lanka. This is nothing new for us as we are already following guidelines that are on par with international norms. However, I am a little disappointed that we have still not been able to make these guidelines a law. Because operators who play below acceptable standards can jeopardise all the good work we are doing to get Sri Lanka on placed on the international map.  Having quality standards to alternative tourism, is the only way to assure its sustainability.”
Eco team is the only Sri Lankan company registered with the international Adventure Travel Trade Association and represented the country at their annual convention in Scotland last year.  The company is also a member of the prestigious TIES (The international Eco Tourism Society) and the only corporate entity who has represented Sri Lanka at their conventions.
Eco Team is in the process of looking at various holistic programmes which will take into consideration the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for all stake holders from government to village level so that this industry which involves Eco, Adventure, Nature & Agro tourism sectors could be taken to the next level.