Archive | November, 2009

Adaaran Prestige Resorts, Maldives, celebrate World Travel Awards

24 Nov

MALE – Adaaran Prestige Resorts celebrated winning the international travel industry’s Oscar as the “Indian Ocean’s Leading Water Villa Group” at a special ceremony held at the Adaaran Prestige Vadoo resort on 21 November 2009.

The event was attended by the Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad and by representatives of the Maldives tourist industry, as well as by local and international tour operators and travel agents.

CEO of Adaaran Resorts, Mr Chethiya Perera handing over the award for Indian Ocean’s Leading Water Villa Group to Chairman of Aitken Spence PLC Mr D H S Jayawardena.

The award was presented to Adaaran Prestige Resorts at the World Travel Awards ceremony held in London on 7 November, 2009 during the 2009 World Travel Market. As well as being acclaimed as “The Indian Ocean’s Leading Water Villa Group” the Adaaran Prestige Water Villas at Meedhupparu won an award (for the second consecutive year) as “The Maldives Leading Water Villas.” Congratulating Adaaran on winning the awards, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad commented on the benefits to the Maldives of the investment by Aitken Spence in tourism in the country. “The Maldivian brand is unique,” he said. “I extend my heartiest congratulations to Adaaran for helping to equip Maldivians with the skills to make it a world class product.”

The Chairman of Aitken Spence PLC, the Sri Lankan business group behind Adaaran Resorts, Mr. D H S Jayawardena, calling the occasion ‘a glorious event’ said: “Maldivians are very enthusiastic and proud and with hard work and discipline we can go from strength to strength to make Maldives among the best tourist destinations in the world.” Chethiya Perera, the CEO of Adaaran Resorts, stated that he believed the winning of the two awards was because of the encouragement given by the management of the company and the commitment and dedication of the staff.

“We at Adaaran are thankful to the Government of Maldives for its untiring efforts in marketing Maldives as a prime destination, and for the encouragement and support given to us by our partner tour operators and travel agents. We are proud of this regional accolade won by a Sri Lankan owned company with a Maldivian brand. Our new aim is to win an award in the global arena – as we now qualify to compete for it.”

Adaaran Resorts operates over 600 rooms in the Maldives in four islands including three properties with water villas: Adaaran Prestige Water Villas, Meedhupparu; Adaaran Prestige Ocean Villas, Hudhuranfushi; and Adaaran Prestige Vadoo. Other Adaaran properties are Adaaran Ayurveda Village; Adaaran Select Meedhupparu; Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi and Adaaran Club Rannalhi.

Media Release – 24 November 2009

Mark Mobius visits Heritance Ahungalla

23 Nov

Dr. Mobius (far right) poses for a photo as they enter Heritance Ahungalla

Investment Guru Mark Mobius Spends Weekend at Heritance Ahungalla

Dr. Mark Mobius, Managing Director and Mr. Dennis Lim, Senior Executive Vice President Templeton Asset Management Ltd. being welcomed at the Heritance Ahungalla.  The welcome dance “The Salu Paliya” belongs to the low country form of dance famous throughout the south coast of Sri Lanka. Widely regarded as one of the world’s leading fund managers, Dr. Mobius and his team from Templeton Investments spent last the last two days of their stay in Sri Lanka at Heritance Ahungalla.

Media Release – 23 November 2009

Wellness at Adaaran

16 Nov

The Adaaran theme of Luxury Boutique Wellness Resorts is epitomised by a pioneering concept in the Maldives, the Adaaran Ayurveda Village on Meedhupparu Island, the only resort in the northern Raa Atoll, 130km (40 minutes by seaplane) from Male’ International Airport.

Twenty-four cottages in a five-acre garden of tropical foliage by the beach and lagoon are dedicated to guests enjoying customised Ayurveda programmes during their holiday. The Ayurveda Village has become so popular in its five years of existence that it is frequently fully booked and many guests are repeaters, some visiting as much as twice a year. Its success has led to other resorts incorporating Ayurveda therapy for their guests but none can match the experience and dedication of the Adaaran Ayurveda Village.

The brochure for the Ayurveda Village that is sent to prospective guests describes Ayurveda as “a philosophy of the way to enjoy a healthy and long life.” The word Ayurveda is a combination of two Sanskrit words: Ayur meaning Life and Veda being Science. The brochure states reassuringly that: “Ayurveda gives more life to the years, and more years to the life.”

ADAARAN_Ayurveda_Village_MEEDHUPPARU_MAV-AyurvedThe chief Ayurveda consultant, who visits the village once a week from his practice in Sri Lanka, is Dr G A B Alwattegama. He is the seventh descendant of the prestigious Digampitiya generation of Ayurveda doctors. He makes a personal assessment and diagnosis of every participant in the Ayurveda programmes and recommends a holistic holiday regime especially designed for the individual. He is assisted by an experienced resident physician, Dr Samaratunga, a Sri Lankan who has previously practiced in Germany, and who supervises the treatments. Therapy sessions are conducted by trained and caring practitioners also from Sri Lanka.

Consultations take place in the tranquility of a pavilion where water tumbles down a faux rock wall, creating an ambiance ideal for blissful relaxation.

The first consultation results in a regime of diet and treatments being devised for the guest. The guest is advised what foods to eat in the dedicated Ayurveda restaurant and is guided to mix and match dishes from the daily buffets by a colour code according to their body type.

Traditional treatments of oil, steam and herbal baths and massages are carried out in the privacy of the main pavilion, where there are 10 therapy cabins, or in the treatment centre in the landscaped garden overlooking the white sand beach and the lagoon. There is also a yoga hut and places for meditation in the village complex. A butler is on hand to serve Ayurveda beverages and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. In addition the centre has therapists for Reflexology, Chinese treatments and Acupuncture, and there is a sauna, steam room and a gymnasium, as well as a hair and beauty salon, in the same complex.

ADAARAN_Ayurveda_Village_MEEDHUPPARU_MAV-ExterioThe doctors emphasise that the Ayurveda Village is a wellness resort for encouraging good heath. The main treatment regimes are Rupika for beauty and vitality; Shantha for sleep enhancement; Sahana for weight loss; Arogya for general wellness; Kanya for beauty and wellness; Rupasri for beauty; and Mahaguna 12 & 18-day intensive programmes.

Most of the guests are German speaking and 75 percent of them are women, many afflicted by stress-related symptoms. They value the ecologically-balanced location of the village which guarantees no disturbance since it is far from the holiday hubbub of the Adaaran Select resort, yet the accommodation shares the luxury of the Select Resort rooms with wooden floors and cane furniture, garden terrace deck and sumptuous bathroom. Guests like to keep to themselves in the lushness of the Village’s surroundings to meditate in total tranquility and to benefit from the pure Ayurveda dimension of their holiday.

While guests at the Ayurveda Village are not confined to one part of the natural parkland that is Meedhupparu Island and can visit the island’s restaurants and bars, only Ayurveda Village guests can dine in the Ayurveda restaurant. This is an open-sided, thatch-roofed pavilion where all meals are served as buffets prepared by chefs trained in the formalities of Ayurveda cuisine.

At least one guest has stayed 15 times in the Ayurveda Village and she prefers it to similar retreats in India and Sri Lanka because of its peaceful location on a faraway island in a lagoon in an unspoilt part of the Indian Ocean. Guests stay on pre-paid packages with treatment, soft drinks and Ayurveda meals included. Many leave with medicines especially prepared by the Village’s Ayurveda dispenser, giving them a souvenir of an Adaaran holiday that allows the wellness factor to continue long after they return home – until they find time to return.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

The Adaaran Story

16 Nov

The Adaaran Story - Securing a future through trainingSecuring a future through training

In May 2009, 40 young Maldivians sat down in a lecture hall on the island of Hudhuran Fushi to begin an 18-month course that will change their lives. They were selected from a hundred applicants for a coveted place at the Adaaran Centre for Hospitality Studies, affiliated to the Maldives College of Higher Education.

The Centre was started by Adaaran as part of the integral approach to resort management with a vision going beyond property infrastructure to include investment in human resources as well. While many resort developers concentrate on producing better accommodation to attract guests and then hire qualified staff from other resorts, Adaaran has developed a comprehensive training programme for beginners.

This is in keeping with the policy of the Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture of the Maldives, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad. In an interview he stated: “While we have invested a lot of effort and money in the development of high-end premium resort products, we have not given adequate attention into training and developing personnel (particularly local Maldivian personnel) who will man these resort facilities.”

He added, “As a facilitator and regulator, the Government is acutely aware of this shortfall and we are gearing our policies in developing world class hospitality and staff facilities in the country…through the development of exclusive resort staff training resorts…we are keenly pursuing this development in order to ensure that the training resorts provide the high quality service that the Maldivian resorts are known to provide to tourists.”

10 Training in fire fighting at Adaaran Training Centre. Photo by Mohamed AsimThe Principal of the Adaaran Centre for Hospitality Studies built at the Adaaran Select Hudhuran Fushi resort is Mohamed Asim, an experienced Maldivian hospitality lecturer and former chef. He speaks with passion and enthusiasm about what the Centre does and is dedicated to inspiring both experienced resort staff and beginners. The 18-month course now underway is the successor to two earlier, shorter courses that resulted in the graduates all finding jobs in the hospitality industry.

“We don’t insist the students work at an Adaaran resort when they graduate from the course,” says Asim surprisingly. “They are not bonded and we expect some of them will move on to other resorts. We are doing this for the industry.”

He could also add that he is doing it for the Maldives too, since all those who have taken courses at the Centre have changed because of their studies. “At first,” says Asim, “mothers were reluctant to send children, especially their daughters, to the Centre. Yet when the students go on leave, the parents see how they have changed for the better. That’s because the students learn about dressing well, accepting job discipline and routine, and are advised on personal hygiene, nutrition and health, not just career studies.”

To recruit students for the current course, Asim visited many islands in the north and south of the archipelago. “I took graduates from previous courses with me and they told the parents, and their children, about the course and the living conditions at Hudhuran Fushi. Their success on previous courses helped reassure the parents and convinced them of its value.”

The courses are held in the purpose-built Centre in the staff village of the Hudhuran Fushi resort. There are four lecture rooms, a library, a theatre, computer facilities and a recreation area. Students stay in modern accommodation, with separate quarters for females under the care of a matron. They have two days off a week and can visit Male’ occasionally if their parents agree. “We take very good care of them,” says Asim, “and parents know they are safe here.”

The course – which is free – covers food & beverage, front office, housekeeping and cooking, as well as associated subjects such as foreign languages and even fire-fighting. Students also learn communication skills, customer care principles and how to be flexible while being a loyal and pro-active team member. Industry professionals and other experts visit to give lectures while Asim himself conducts the cookery classes.

“This is the only campus with commercial cookery programmes,” says Asim who is delighted that more Maldivian girls are taking up cooking, with 12 females graduating from the previous course. With only four percent of the Maldivian workforce at Adaaran resorts being female, Asim is keen to see more girls taking up careers in the industry.

Fire fighting taining at Adaaran Training Centre. Photo by Mohamed AsimHe is assisted by Susantha Bandara who joined the Centre as Assistant Manager, Training & Development, after two years at Adaaran and a career in Food & Beverage at leading hotels in Colombo including Cinnamon Grand and Taj Samudra. Bandara explained that each student selected for the course is given a contract letter and a basic salary while studying. Bandara supervises on-the-job training so each student gets practical experience as well as theory. The Centre also conducts special courses for staff and management and runs the only butler training programme in the Maldives to a syllabus drawn up by the International Institute of Modern Butlers.

As well as being the Centre’s principal, Mohamed Asim has a dual role as General Manager of Human Resources for Adaaran, which gives him a valuable insight into staff problems. He believes in meeting and talking with all the staff, numbering some 1,200 in the seven Adaaran resorts, and visits every resort once a week. He listens to anyone who wants to talk so he can understand their problems and offer support and solutions. The most common issue, he says, is homesickness, as many staff are working far from their families.

Asim encourages staff not just to work as a team but to bond together as team members so that they can look upon their colleagues at Adaaran as their adopted family.  The management philosophy is that, even if graduates leave Adaaran, wherever they work they will carry the knowledge, values and standards learned at the Adaaran Centre for Hospitality Studies with them throughout their careers, their future secured through their Adaaran training.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

The Adaaran Story

16 Nov

Aitken Spence in Maldives

The Adaaran Story reached its climax on 28 March 2009 with the grand opening of Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, Maldives. Present for the occasion were the Chairman of Aitken Spence, Mr D H S Jayawardena and his wife, and Board Directors, Mr J M S Brito and his wife, Dr R M Fernando, Mr G C Wickremasinghe and Mr Gehan Perera. The Government of the Maldives was represented by the Special Envoy of the President, H.E. Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, and by the Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad. As well as invited guests from Japan, England, China, Belgium, Korea, Turkey and Sri Lanka, over 150 Maldivians connected with the hospitality industry were also present.

The day marked not only the opening of the newest resort in the Maldives but was also the highlight and culmination of 17 years of pro-active involvement by Aitken Spence Hotels in the Maldives.

Although he usually spends his time on-site directing operations, working behind the scenes with his team, or engaged in energetic marketing worldwide of Aitken Spence resorts in the Maldives, the CEO and Managing Director of Adaaran, Chethiya Perera, sat at his desk in his seventh floor office in Male’ overlooking the Indian Ocean, to outline the Adaaran story for ACE.

The Adaaran Story

It began in 1992 when he was asked to investigate the possibilities for investment by Aitken Spence Hotels in the Maldives. Tourism had begun 20 years before with ad hoc development of uninhabited islands leased by the government to Maldivians and financed by foreign investors and holiday companies like Club Med. Aitken Spence Hotels, then managing nine properties in Sri Lanka, was among the first foreign hotel companies – and the first from Sri Lanka – to take an interest in the Maldives.

In 1993 the company took over Bathala, a small resort of 38 beach cabanas popular with divers. This initial involvement was soon followed by other international companies, including Taj Hotels of India (on Embudhu Finolhu, now Taj Exotica Maldives), the Hilton (on Rangali Island and now known as Conrad Maldives), Six Senses (Soneva Fushi) and Banyan Tree (Vabbinfaru) among others.

Bathala was expanded by an addition of 12 rooms but it was in 1996 that Aitken Spence emphasised its presence in the islands by re-creating a 96-room resort on an island in South Male’ atoll and calling it Club Rannalhi. Consisting of rooms in newly built two-storey villas set around the island, the resort catered mostly for Italian guests. Two years later, following the trend started at Vadoo in the late 1980s with rooms built on stilts in a lagoon, the company added 16 water bungalows, reached by a jetty from the shore. A further 16 were added in 2008.

The success of Club Rannalhi in attracting holidaymakers inspired further investment and enabled the company in 2000 to lease an uninhabited island in the northern Raa atoll, called Meedhupparu. The 43-acre island was transformed into a resort of 215 beach rooms, 24 of which became the nucleus of its Ayurveda Village. In 2005, the company introduced a ‘resort within a resort’ concept when 20 luxury water villas were built off the island with dedicated restaurants, bars, reception, swimming pool and private beach. Thus the brand name Adaaran came into being, inspired by the company’s need to market products of different levels and different prices, on the same island.

“The name was suggested by Think Associates, a Maldivian public relations company,” said Chethiya Perera, “and derives from Dhivehi, the language of the Maldives, meaning ‘obligations fulfilled in gold’. As we were expanding, we wanted a brand name that conveys the flavour of the Maldives and which would identify us with our new slogan ‘Luxury boutique wellness resorts.’”

The formula being sought was a brand of resorts that offered affordable luxury for both mass, wellness and niche markets so guests of all budgets could be accommodated happily. To do this, Adaaran branded its resorts in three categories: ‘Club’ (Four Star plus), ‘Select’ (Five Star) and ‘Prestige’ (Five Star Boutique).

By taking over the lease of Lohifushi Island, a resort popular with surfers, in 2006 and performing the quickest, major rebuilding and refurbishing project ever seen in the Maldives, Adaaran Select Hudhuran Fushi was opened with 137 rooms. A year later the ‘resort within a resort’ concept was used once more when 37 prestige water bungalows with separate reception, restaurant and bar facilities, and two private islands with private beaches  were added. These were named Adaaran Prestige Ocean Villas, Hudhuran Fushi.

The next venture was the most ambitious. After taking over the three-acre island of Vadoo, only 15 minutes by speed boat from Male’ International Airport, in 2008, Adaaran rebuilt it as a unique, all-water villa resort in less than nine months. While Bathala has been sold, the total number of Adaaran beds on offer now is 1,178, making Adaaran the fourth largest hotel operator in the Maldives.

With Adaaran’s total investment in its seven resorts amounting to US$75 million, Chethiya Perera says the intention now is to focus on refining the Adaaran brand, to improve its standards, services and facilities and, most important, to expand its market share. A key element is concentration on developing human resources and training Maldivians through the Adaaran Centre for Hospitality Studies on Hudhuran Fushi, to fulfil its long term human resource requirements.

The Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture in the Maldives, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, who attended the opening of Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, was asked to comment on the involvement of international hotel chains, like Aitken Spence, in developing and managing resorts in the Maldives. He said candidly, “The entry of international hotel chains to our industry portrays the maturity and confidence they have in our industry. The demand from these chains is a statement for the position that the Maldives enjoys in international tourism.

“International chains open various new avenues for the Maldives. Most importantly inclusion of the Maldives in their mega databases allows millions of potential high-end visitors to visit the Maldives. The expertise, knowledge and professionalism in managing these chains provide opportunities to develop local expertise. So international chains assist in developing our tourist industry to be able to face stiff competition from our competitor destinations.”

Chethiya Perera agrees. “We are constantly evolving in partnership the Maldivian community,” he says. “We work as a team and enjoy a high level of support from the local community and the government. With our broad base of accommodation, and the marketing we do through offices in Japan, China, Russia and Europe, the Adaaran brand is becoming a household name known for reliability in offering a good, affordable holiday in the Maldives.”

AWARDS WON BY ADAARAN

ADAARAN Prestige Water Villas, Meedhupparu

Maldives Leading Water Villas – World Travel Awards 2008

Five Star Butler Rating – International Institute of Modern Butlers (USA)

ADAARAN Prestige Ocean Villas, Hudhuran Fushi

Design “Hotel & Tourism” Excellence Award – Sri Lanka Institute of Architects 2008

ADAARAN Select Hudhuran Fushi

Presidential award for highest Occupancy in Maldives in the 300 beds and above category 2007

ADAARAN Resorts

Market Manager Special Award, 2009, Indian Ocean – Expedia at Arabian Travel Mart (ATM) 2009.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

Secretaries’ Mission Possible

16 Nov

Secretaries mission

On the first weekend of February 2009, seven secretaries working with the Aitken Spence group embarked on a mission that took them away from their homes into the deep south of Sri Lanka. These ladies who usually sit behind office desks keeping their bosses’ working lives in good order, ventured into the unknown, reaching out to help people they didn’t even know. Led by Daisy Kunanandham, they set out for the Elpitiya area to bring much needed items, and lots of happiness, to the workers and their children on two low country tea estates.

Daisy and her “Dream Team” comprising (in alphabetical order) secretaries Dinali Alexander, Tilaka Fernando, Georgina Felsinger, Honorine Panditha, Savitri Silva and Florence Weerasinghe, were determined to make a difference. Over the months in 2008 they had collected items to distribute on the estates with the object of making life better for the less fortunate.

The mission developed from the aftermath of the tsunami when Daisy, who is the dynamic secretary of Aitken Spence Deputy Chairman/MD, Mr J M S Brito, found herself involved in helping to clear a container from the UK containing items collected for those displaced by the tsunami. Since many of the donated goods were surplus to requirements, Daisy sent letters to her sister secretaries within the group, asking them to assist her in distributing the goods to others in need. The secretaries were so enthusiastic they began collecting other items and through contacts within Aitken Spence Plantations they were able to deliver the goods to workers on two upcountry estates.

This gave the Dream Team the idea of doing more, of making it their own project to assist the needy on plantations in rural areas. They began 2009 by collecting funds so they could buy and distribute exercise books to estate school children. To raise funds they sold greeting cards donated by a well-wisher, and also set aside 50 percent of the funds collected for their own Christmas party to make equipment purchases. They badgered husbands, friends, and even their bosses, to contribute to the dream.

The secretaries set out on that February weekend to estates that had been suggested to them by group plantation managers. They had decided they could be more effective by going to different estates for every project. In this case they took with them four computers for estate vocational centres; football, rugby, netball and badminton sets; 3,900 exercise books, 50 school stationery gift packs awarded to the top 25 pupils of two estate schools; milk powder, linen, toys, vitamins and clothes for the crèche babies; food, drink and confectionary items for 400 children; clothes and linen for all age groups; and dry rations.

Recalling the weekend, the secretaries confessed to feeling humbled at seeing how the little they were doing was making so much difference. “I have never felt so fulfilled in my life,” said one. Another pointed out that, unlike with formal charities that deduct costs, everything contributed for the secretaries’ plantation project went to those in need, not on administration. The secretaries covered their own expenses, even buying things from their own pockets when items ran out.

“The plantation managers are doing such a good job,” said Daisy, “and they welcomed our help.” She praised the management of Elpitiya Plantations and Aitken Spence board member Dr Rohan Fernando in particular,  “for making available to the secretaries this opportunity, without which we would have no project.” She also thanked the two estate managers and their families for their very willing help, warm hospitality and support, as well as all secretaries and other employees of the group who made donations in cash or kind.

The Dream Team is now collecting items and donations for their next project to help children on two other plantations within the group. Of course, donations of clothes in good condition are always useful, as are toys and sports equipment but cash is also necessary. They have heard of a plantation school band that has instruments and uniforms but no shoes in which to march, so funds are being sought for that. Another project they would like to help with is the raising of Rs. 500,000 towards the purchase of a second hand coach as a school bus for estate kids who have to walk miles to school every day.

The secretaries in the Dream Team are not the kind of people to sit around and wait until a disaster happens before they do something to help others. Their Plantation Project has enriched their lives as well those of the people they have been able to help. Daisy says modestly that she owes thanks “to the other members of the Dream Team who sacrificed a long and comfortable weekend with their families to bring a lot of joy to some well-deserving but less fortunate children in the Aitken Spence family.”

The secretaries’ dream has become a reality, inspiring others through a genuine, personal concern, and in keeping with the values at the heart of the Aitken Spence brand.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

Our Printing Heritage

16 Nov

While Aitken Spence began as an agency house in the mid 19th century, the group’s successful expansion in the 20th century had its foundation in printing.

Our printing heritageIt all began in Galle where Clark Spence & Company, engaged in shipping, diversified in 1955 into printing, mainly for producing its own stationery. However, as other companies placed orders, expansion became necessary. In 1962 the printing plant was moved from Galle to Colombo and the company became a division of the Aitken Spence group.

It was a far-sighted venture that brought the group unexpected profits through being able to print for local companies during the years of restricted imports. The 1970s also brought in a change in printing methods, from letterpress to offset and the introduction of colour press. Disaster struck at the peak of its success when the entire printing department burnt down in 1977. However, recovery was rapid and profits from printing helped the Aitken Spence group to fund further diversification, this time building the group’s first hotel, Neptune at Beruwela.

In 1982 the printing division moved again, from Vauxhall Street (now the group’s headquarters) to Bloemendhal Road, Colombo 13.  The Managing Director of Aitken Spence Printing, as the brand is now known, Indrajit Abeywardene, and the Assistant Vice President, Buwaneka Wijedasa, as well as the secretary, Savitri Silva, are among those who have been with the company since then. At present there are 68 workers and 64 executives, who are highly skilled machinery operators and qualified technicians. The printing plant functions 24 hours a day.

In the 1990s, the success of Aitken Spence Printing – and the introduction of new techniques – spawned many competitors, described by the Assistant General manager – Marketing, Janaka Kotelawala, as “me too companies.” These newcomers were able to start with the latest equipment, leapfrogging over the conventional methods used by Aitken Spence Printing. It was a period of intense competition making it necessary to introduce new machines and techniques as the company saw its market share erode.

Sustained by its core values of dependable reliability – of meeting deadlines and delivering a good quality product – and by judicious investment in the latest equipment, the company has returned to the forefront of printing in Sri Lanka. It is now recognized, not just in Sri Lanka but also in important export markets, as “a reliable total print solution provider,” says Kotelawala.

The production of printed packaging materials represents about 80 percent of the company’s order book, according to Indrajit Abeywardene, much of it for the garment industry. A joint package-printing venture was set up with a British company with the name Wilkin Spence in 2000 and a room at the plant is dedicated to showcasing its products. The company prints for major High Street brand names like Marks & Spencer, British Home Stores, Tesco and DBA Europe. In his office Buwaneka Wijedasa proudly displays other printing products, ranging from beautifully created hotel menus to lavishly bound coffee table books in full colour.

The company introduced the concept of printed, illustrated and bound Annual Reports for companies in the 1980s and continues to be the printer of choice for prestigious products. It produces several magazines for different publishing companies in Sri Lanka, as well as paperback books for publishers in the UK and USA. While sometimes the printer is acknowledged by its different brand names of ACE Exports or Ace Printing & Packaging, some publishers make no mention of the printing being done in Sri Lanka.

“We expect to expand into more periodicals and book printing,” says Abeywardene. “We have introduced a complete pre-press facility and Desk Top Publishing so we can work directly with clients. However, our mainstay will continue to be good quality printed packaging.”

While Abeywardene and his colleagues are aware of the difficulties because of the current economic downturn, the declining value of the rupee, and competitive pricing, they are confident that Aitken Spence Printing will maintain its position as the market leader.

“Where we are far ahead of the competition,” Abeywardene says, “is in quality. We have a highly skilled technical team and attract the best talent in the industry, enabling us to exceed international standards. Our flexibility, product, service and on time delivery, and the warm relationship we have with our clients, cannot be matched.”

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

Unsung Hero

16 Nov

Unsung heroThe disabled worker with big ambitions

When Priyantha Rathnayake started working at Aitken Spence in 1998, under the government-sponsored Tharuna Aruna scheme offering skills development training, he was employed as a Telephone Operator and General Clerk in Human Resource Development. As a legally-blind member of society who could not write his name, Priyantha was not expected to tackle tasks beyond answering calls and making photocopies. Ten years later Priyantha has become a sub assistant in the Human Resources Division where he is writing and receiving emails in two languages, as well as helping his department in a number of key logistical areas that includes the organization of training sessions.

‘Just like able-bodied people,’ Priyantha explains, ‘people with disabilities wish to test their capabilities. I am no exception in this regard.’

Priyantha’s strength of character has always been evident. After he was diagnosed, aged 18 months, with cataracts, his parents felt surgery would render him totally blind and so they opted not to have him treated. However, even with only partial sight, the young Priyantha was determined to receive as normal an education as was possible.

Not content with obtaining impressive Ordinary and Advanced Level results from school, Priyantha applied to the University of Colombo where he completed a degree in Political Science, the only person in his batch to use Braille. A member of the National Chess Association and leader of his college debating team, Priyantha is clearly a man who enjoys stretching his own potential and getting the most out of life.

‘I am very happy working here and grateful for the opportunities I have been given,’ he says with a smile. ‘I get treated like any other member of the office. We are more like a family, sharing in one another’s disappointments and triumphs.’

Since joining Aitken Spence, Priyantha has had some personal triumphs of his own. Several years ago, he married Sunethra and they are the proud parents of Saumya Sathsarani. The family live in the house they have built together.

‘I think it is important to take responsibility for your own actions in life,’ he explains. ‘If you are prepared to work hard, it is possible to make things happen.’

Such a positive outlook has won the admiration of many people within Aitken Spence. It has also inspired other disabled people working in the company to set higher standards for themselves.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

The Long Haul

16 Nov

Aitken Spence has been the General Sales Agent (GSA) for Singapore Airlines (SIA) for longer than any other GSA associated with the airline. The long haul with the world-admired airline has been a journey of challenge and opportunity.

Sasi Ganeshan, Managing Director of Aitken Spence Aviation, and Keethi Jayaweera, Jt Managing Director, have each spent more than 30 years representing and promoting Singapore Airlines in Sri Lanka. Much of the success of the long-term relationship between the airline and Aitken Spence has been due to the excellent relationship that exists between SIA and Aitken Spence and the staff exclusively dedicated to Singapore Airlines.

“The relationship has survived because of mutual respect built up over the years,” says Jayaweera. “We have developed an enviable compatibility between us. SIA require a GSA who is a hundred percent reliable, trustworthy and honest, and we have never let them down.”

The role of General Sales Agent in Sri Lanka covers everything an airline does except operate flights. Most of the airlines serving Sri Lanka do so through a GSA. The relationship between Aitken Spence and Singapore Airlines has its roots in the appointment by Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) of Eus Tours, owned by Mr Eustace Ranasinghe, as their GSA in 1970. Malayan Airways had been formed in 1947 and eventually – as MSA – began flights to Colombo in 1970.

The Long HaulIn 1972, the airline split into SIA and Malaysian Airline System (MAS), with SIA concentrating on international flights and MAS operating mainly domestic routes and some selected international flights. It was in that year that Eus Tours went into partnership with Aitken Spence to form ASET Airways Ltd (AS = Aitken Spence and ET = Eus Tours) to be the GSA for the revamped airline. When SIA became independent of MAS, Aset Airways became SIA’s choice for GSA. It has remained so ever since, even though the company was rebranded as Aitken Spence Aviation in 2006.

Aitken Spence Aviation is exclusively dedicated to SIA in Sri Lanka, handling both passenger and cargo operations for the airline. Some 50 Sri Lankans, all employed by Aitken Spence Aviation, work in the SIA offices in the Aitken Spence Tower in Vauxhall Street and at the Bandaranaike International Airport. There are that number of employees to make sure the standard of service matches that required by SIA, as the airline is renowned for its emphasis on good customer care. Only two employees – the Country Manager and the Airport Manager – are Singaporeans on a posting to Sri Lanka.

Although the relationship has lasted so long between SIA and Aitken Spence, it is subject to review and monitoring of over-all performance. “Our relationship has become the benchmark for agreements SIA has with other GSAs elsewhere,” says Managing Director Ganeshan. “We are totally honest and open, understanding each other’s problems. This bond survived a period when SIA didn’t fly to Sri Lanka in 1985 & 1986 when we went “off line” for a year.”

“Off line” in this case means that the airline was still represented by Aset Airways in Sri Lanka and the GSA could make passenger bookings and cargo arrangements for SIA flights worldwide, even though the airline wasn’t flying to Colombo. SIA responded to the loyalty of its GSA and its passengers in Sri Lanka by maintaining services to/from Colombo even when other major airlines suspended flights because of terrorism. When the airport was closed because of a terrorist attack, only one SIA flight was cancelled and the airline resumed scheduled flights the next day. Now the airline operates day time flights to and from Singapore.

The airline is popular with travellers going beyond Singapore to other SIA destinations worldwide, in part because Sri Lankans do not require a visa to visit or transit Singapore. Although the ticket office run by Aitken Spence Aviation is as luxurious as flying first class with SIA, there is no longer much walk-in business from passengers wanting to buy tickets. “Ticket sales have changed,” says Jayaweera. “Most of the sales come through travel agents because they give a full service such as applying for destination visas for passengers, passport formalities, insurance and hotel accommodation. We give the travel agents support with accurate fare quotations and details of scheduling. Other ticket sales are done through the Internet, although that has not yet become popular here as Sri Lankans prefer to deal with people they can see and trust.”

“No other GSA in Sri Lanka goes in for the training we provide our staff,” says Ganeshan. “We have an annual budget for training of Rs2 million, and our staff go to Singapore very two years for training in the latest methods.” Jayaweera adds: “Lots of people heading the airline business in Colombo started with SIA and got their GSA exposure working with us.”

This exposure extends even to the Singaporeans who, over the years, have been appointed as Country Managers working with the GSA and have gone on to senior positions with SIA and with other airlines. Ganeshan recalls with a smile: “Some of them didn’t want to come here, but when it is time to leave, they didn’t want to go.”

He explains that is because the attention to detail and genuine desire to do their extra best, typifies the attitude of all those working with Aitken Spence Aviation. It’s a quality born from the long haul of nearly 40 years association shared by SIA and Aitken Spence. It creates the sense of confidence that is essential to a good business relationship between the GSA and the airline’s clients, whether they are booking flights or sending cargo.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I

What was lost, is not found

16 Nov

What was lost is now found(Adapted from an article appearing in the April 2009 issue of the Singapore Airlines in-house magazine)

Shortly after checking in at Colombo’s International Airport for her flight on Singapore Airlines, Mrs Perkins panicked and felt her heart sink when she discovered she had left her diamond ring in a room at the Ceylon Continental Hotel.

When he learned about her predicament, SIA Customer Services Manager Vasantha realised Mrs Perkins had no time to return to the hotel and retrieve the ring before her flight’s departure. So Vasantha quickly invited the distraught lady and her husband to his office where he offered them tea while he tried to contact the hotel manager for assistance.

After waiting for the manager to return his call as promised, Vasantha phoned him again. He and the Perkins were elated to learn that the ring had been found. The problem was how to return it to Mrs Perkins. Thinking quickly, Vasantha enquired if it was possible for the hotel to arrange for the ring to be delivered to the airport in time for Mrs Perkins to catch the flight. Vasantha stuck gold in securing the hotel’s cooperation and he was able to pick up the ring from the hotel’s representative at the outer porch of the airport entrance. Mrs Perkins was extremely relieved.

Vasantha’s assistance to the couple did not end there. He personally escorted them through the necessary customs procedures, given that the ‘lost’ item was a valuable one, and made sure they caught the flight.

Impressed with Vasantha’s pro-activeness and professionalism, Mr Perkins was moved to write: “I find it incredible that a manager like yourself would go out of his way to help a traveller. I believe this action on your part was far beyond the call of your duty. We sincerely appreciate your professional assistance in retrieving this valuable ring for us, prior to our flight.”

Vasantha Kudaliyanage is the Customer Services Manager of Aitken Spence Aviation/SIA at the Colombo International Airport.

2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I