Archive | April, 2010

Aitken Spence Printing

29 Apr

For over five decades, an enduring commitment to quality has defined Aitken Spence Printing’s leadership in Sri Lanka’s printing industry. As an innovative print and packaging solutions provider, we continue to be the first choice for prestigious international brands in the FMCG, tea, confectionary, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and apparel industries locally and globally.

With a distinguished portfolio of leading corporate publications, international magazines and acclaimed coffee table books, we are committed to consistently offer exceptional solutions to all our stakeholders.

Our unwavering long-term relationship with our customers and suppliers is proof of our promise of reliability and trusted quality.

We are well-equipped with pre-press, press and post-press machinery to maintain our promise to our valued customers.

Pre-press: Latest graphics software and hardware with calibrated screens, digital proofing and CTP (Computer to plate) units.

Press: Comprises 6 colour and 5 colour large format presses with online coating unit operated with advanced press management systems, which assures print quality and colour consistency throughout the print runs. Use of colour management tools and software is a standard on the press floor.

Post-press: High-speed flat-bed die cutting machines with stripping units, combined with high-speed carton pasting machines, enable us to manufacture high quality packaging material within a very short lead time to meet urgent shipment deadlines.

Lamination (Aqueous and Thermal), UV coating, blind embossing and new binding equipment provide additional visible value to the products we provide as per our clients’ requirements.

Aitken Spence Printing Contact Details:
T:    + 94 11  2324604
F:    + 94 11  242 3551
E:    aceprint@aitkenspence.lk
W:   http://www.aitkenspence.com/strategic_investments/printing_and_packaging_in_sri_lanka.asp

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Aitken Spence Hotels Celebrates Earth Day Every Day

29 Apr

Today is 40 years since Earth Day was first celebrated and it seems like Mother Earth has never been faced with a crisis so severe. In the recent past natural catastrophes have been occurring on a weekly basis causing death and destruction to thousands. Climate change can be considered as the greatest challenge of our time; which also means that we have huge opportunities to turn the process around by advancing climate policy, energy efficiency, renewable energy and green jobs. This is the perfect opportunity for the community of the world to make a personal commitment to join together and create a global green economy.

At Aitken Spence Hotels we are all committed to safeguard and preserve air and water quality and reduce demands on Mother Earth, this philosophy is not practiced only on one day of the year but it is instilled in our blood and runs through our veins.  Aitken Spence Hotels and Heritance Hotels in Sri Lanka have achieved a remarkable feat by having all nine hotels in Sri Lanka attain the prestigious Green Globe Benchmarked status under the globally recognized Green Globe Benchmarking programme. Green Globe is the international benchmarking and certification programme for the travel industry based on the agenda 21 principles for sustainable development endorsed by 182 Heads of State at the United Nations Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. The aim of the programme is to assist international organizations to attain sustainability by providing a certification system that responds directly to the major environmental problems facing the planet, including climate change, waste reduction and non-renewable resource management.

“Receiving this accolade shows our strengthened commitment towards the individual environments in which we operate in and our responsiveness towards the crisis faced with regards to the depletion of natural resources” stated Mr.Ravi De Silva, Aitken Spence Hotels Environmental Consultant.  Individual hotels have demonstrated through a variety of initiatives, the hotel and its employees can make a difference by reducing their environmental impact.

For travelers, choosing a green globe benchmarked hotel provides some confidence that they have chosen a tourism operator that honors their commitment to sustainability. Aitken Spence Hotels are committed to minimizing their carbon footprint and are enthusiastic to welcome guests who are as eager to contribute towards this noble cause.

Aitken Spence Hotels

Sure We Can

27 Apr

An interview with Jerome Brohier, Director, Aitken Spence

TNT is one of the top three express companies worldwide and has been represented by Aitken Spence in Sri Lanka, for over 26 years. Recently, TNT and Ace Xpress have conjunctively opened an office in Vavuniya, which will help serve their growing number of clientele in this region. However, when Jerome Brohier starts talking about TNT, one soon realises that there is so much more to TNT’s activities than just courier services.

Mr. Jerome Brohier, Country Manager of TNT/Director AIX (On right) accepting the first package from Mr.Mads Vejlstrup (On Left) of UNWFP at the newly opened Express Center in Vavuniya.

On a worldwide scale, TNT has been involved in social responsibility activities for many years, and although, every TNT country office is required to donate a small sum to the CSR fund, it was the 2004 tsunami that first brought Sri Lanka to the attention of TNT’s corporate “help” radar. During the first eight months following the tsunami, TNT volunteered to assist the UN World Food Programme, not only did the company volunteer logistical services, but funds were donated as well. Over 24 million rupees worth of assistance was given, with financial aid being completely donated by TNT offices worldwide.

TNT’s CSR project was proving to be truly sustainable, not only for the lives and livelihoods affected by circumstances but also for the company’s future business. For, it was not long before the WFP had established that the integrity and efficiency of TNT and Aitken Spence Cargo would make them an ideal commercial partner and made a request for the handling of transport and distribution. In an emergency situation, TNT assists WFP through a range of activities varying from vehicles to manpower.

During the fiercest fighting in the North, TNT vehicles carrying food and other necessities were allowed into the war zone bearing WFP flags on the side of the trucks and with personnel wearing both TNT and WFP arm bands.

Aitken Spence Cargo now provides supply chain solutions to three key NGO’s operating in the North and East and particularly in the Manik Farm IDP camp. Solutions range from providing warehouse personnel who help manage the WFP warehouse, to supplying transport and logistical vehicles.

Jerome says that the fact that they work not just with the UN WFP, but also with many other NGO’s is a testament to the work ethics of the company; in an industry where “incentives” are a norm, Aitken Spence Cargo combines hard work with creativity in order to ensure that all services are supplied in compliance with the international and local laws and ethics.

Ace Magazine – 2010

Heritance Tea Factory Triumphs at the Asia Pacific Property Awards

22 Apr

The results of the Asia Pacific Property Awards 2010 in association with Bloomberg Television have been revealed and Heritance Tea Factory is rightly proud to be amongst the winners. Successful entrants were announced at a high profile gala dinner held at the Langham Hotel in Hong Kong on April 16th and Heritance Tea Factory was delighted to be presented with an award in the category of Best Hotel, Construction and Design. Presenter for the evening was Paul Gordon, news broadcaster for Bloomberg Television.

The event is part of the International Property Awards, the world’s most prestigious competition dedicated to identifying the best real estate professionals across the globe. Scooping one of these coveted awards is proof that Heritance Tea Factory is not only able to compete at this level but also win within the highly competitive Asia Pacific property arena.

Later this year, the highest scoring winners from the Asia Pacific Property Awards will compete against other winning companies from Europe, the UK, Europe & Africa, the Americas and Arabia to find the ultimate World’s Best in each category. Last year, the Asia Pacific region scooped no less than seven World’s Best awards – two more than the year before and an amazing feat. No doubt the property industry will be watching and waiting to see if this record number of international wins can be matched or even beaten in 2010.

The judging panel is formed by a large group of professionals whose collective knowledge of the property industry is unsurpassed by any other property awards. This year’s judges include Ben Wood, industry head property markets of Google UK; Peter Bolton King, group chief executive of the National Federation of Property Professionals; Christopher Hall, president elect of FIABCI; Patrick Grove, executive chairman of i.Property.com Group Asia Ltd; Thijis Stoffer, International Consortium of Real Estate Agents Association (ICREA); Helen Shield, editor-in-chief of International Homes magazine and Iris Dunbar, British Institute of Interior Design.

Mr. Malin Hapugoda, Managing Director, Aitken Spence Hotels said of the award,

“Heritance Tea Factory is the result of the successful development of an abandoned tea factory into an eco-friendly world class hotel and we are delighted that the recently re-branded Heritance Tea Factory has won this prestigious accolade. ”

Media Release – 22 April 2010

World Earth Day 2010

22 Apr

Sustainability – 22 April 2010

Taken With Tamil Nadu

20 Apr

By MARGOT COHEN

TAMIL NADU, India—It can be tough to lure high-end travelers away from the most iconic sights in India: the Taj Mahal in Agra, the palaces and camels in Rajasthan, the party-hardy beach resorts in Goa and the houseboat cruises and ayurvedic spas in Kerala.

But a growing number of hoteliers aim to rattle those ossified itineraries by offering high-end comforts close to other marvels, found in Tamil Nadu state in southern India.

So today a traveler can enjoy the likes of Madurai’s psychedelic Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple, one of the country’s most lively and absorbing Hindu pilgrimage sites, and Thanjavur’s jaw-dropping, geometrically precise Brihadisvara Temple, a Unesco World Heritage site that marks its 1,000th anniversary this year—and do it without fear of having to stay in a grimy pilgrim lodge.

Trip Planner – HOW TO GET THERE
While most tourists enter Tamil Nadu through its capital city, Chennai, the drive from there to the sights around Madurai is long and tiring. Better to fly to Madurai or Tiruchirapalli. The former has a domestic airport served by the likes of Kingfisher Airlines and Air India from Bangalore and Chennai; plans call for international flights to begin in July. The latter has an international airport with connections that include Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Colombo; among the carriers are Air Asia, Sri Lankan Airlines and Air India Express.

From either, these sights of southern Tamil Nadu are mostly within a couple of hours by car and driver. Rentals run the gamut from plain sedan to imposing SUVs, though the best bargain may be India’s classic Ambassador, which once monopolized local roads.

WHERE TO STAY

Madurai
Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai is 63 rooms set on about 25 hectares atop Pasumalai Hill. (40 TPK Rd.; Tel. 91-452-2371601; http://www.thegatewayhotels.com)
Heritance Madurai was designed (as a club) by architect Geoffrey Bawa, famous for buildings that include the Sri Lankan Parliament. (11 Melakkal Main Rd., Kochadai; Tel. 91-452-2385455; http://www.heritancemadurai.com)

Chettinad
The 25-room Bangala takes its name from the Tamil pronunciation of “bungalow.” (Karaikudi; Tel. 91-4565-220221; http://www.thebangala.com)
The Visalam is an Art Deco-influenced house turned into a 15-room hotel. (Kanadukathan; Tel. 91-484-3011711; http://www.cghearth.com)

Kumabakonam
The stained-glass-tinted cottages of Paradise Resort are set along the Cauvery River. (3/1216, Tanjore Main Rd., Darasuram, Ammapet; http://www.paradiseresortindia.com)

The Mantra, recently opened, is about 12 kilometers west of Kumbakonam. Guests are escorted by cart (bullock or golf) down a narrow path to its 30 cottages. This leafy setting also hosts music and dance performances. (Veppathur Village; Tel. 91-98412-88000; http://www.mantraveppathur.com)

INDeco Swamimalai is a converted century-old home, about six kilometers east of Kumbakonam, whose thatched roofs and courtyards (and village-tank-style pool) nod to its South Indian heritage. The menu is vegetarian. (Thimmakudy Village; Tel. 91-43524-80044; http://www.indecohotels.com)
Instead, the accommodation choices along this pilgrimage route include an urban resort designed as a club in the 1970s by the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, along with a boutique hotel that recalls a French provincial inn and a converted 70-year-old home with Art-Deco flair.

And for secular road-trippers fearful of being overwhelmed by Hindu ritual, geography comes to the rescue, for between the two great living temples lies the quiet dignity of the Chettinad region, home of the Chettiar clan. Here 19th-century salt merchants and gem traders, seeking to cocoon their wives and children while they were off doing business in Southeast Asia, erected grand courtyard mansions, some now open for visitors. Also on hand are antique shops where visitors can search for remnants of some formidable dowries.

The best way to start the journey is to fly into Madurai or Tiruchirapalli (called “Trichy” for short) and hire a car and driver. From there, the landmarks are within reasonable driving distance.

Plunging into the vast complex of Meenakshi Temple requires a bit of stamina. No spot has a monopoly on spectacle; every nook and cranny pulses with color and devotion, with jostling processions on (the many) festival days. Constructed primarily between the 12th and 18th centuries, it reels with 300 Hindu priests, countless vendors of temple trinkets and 15,000 daily visitors. Elephants provide an element of placidity.

Notably, childless couples come to pray for offspring. (India’s infertility rates are rising, with the blame going to factors that include longer working hours and psychological strain.) Temple lore harks back to a childless king who made a series of fiery sacrifices in hopes of being granted an heir. Ultimately, the gods yielded and an infant girl emerged from the flames—a peculiar birth, the oddness compounded by her having three breasts. It was prophesied that the third breast would disappear when she met the perfect husband. Sure enough, in time she encountered the Hindu god, Shiva—and became his two-breasted wife, Meenakshi, now revered as a fish-eyed goddess for the infertile.

Clare Arni for The Wall Street Journal
The psychedelic Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai is one of India’s liveliest Hindu pilgrimage sites.

There are other sights to absorb in Madurai, including the Gandhi Memorial Museum, which contains volumes from the personal library of Mahatma Gandhi, the revered “Father of India,” and a blood-stained cloth relic of his assassination. But visitors may well be tempted to enjoy some leisurely hours at the Heritance Madurai—the resort created from architect Bawa’s old Madurai Club—and indulge in the Sri Lankan cuisine that spices up its otherwise quiet nightlife. Conceived as a serene retreat from the hectic temple scene, the resort offers roomy WiFi-equipped villas, ancient banyan trees and a pristine swimming pool entered by gently descending steps—a contemporary take on traditional temple architecture. The architect’s signature reliance on local materials is reflected in jagged granite pillars and paving stones salvaged from a famed local thread factory, Madura Coats.

It’s not the only choice in Madurai. For those who prefer more traditional British colonial architecture (also with WiFi) and hilltop cocktails, a venerable Taj hotel beckons. (Long known as the Taj Garden retreat, it is newly renamed as the Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai.)

Moving on to Chettinad requires a two-hour drive. A good place to settle is the Bangala hotel in the central hub of Karaikudi. Opened in 1919 as a genteel men’s club, complete with a tennis court, it fell on hard times in the 1960s—but renovations commenced in 1999, with further expansion in December 2009 to 25 rooms. Today, this cozy boutique hotel offers floral cotton bedspreads and rattan recliners poised in shady tiled corridors (the perfect spot to peruse the memoirs of the 75-year-old owner, Meenakshi Meyyappan). It also enjoys a growing reputation for elaborate Chettinad meals, with specialties ranging from chicken pepper fry to tamarind prawns. While Chettinad food bears a reputation as of one of India’s most spicy, throat-burning cuisines, Ms. Meyyappan rejects that as “media hype” and says her establishment’s dishes are finely calibrated with coriander, cinammon and fenugreek.

The hotel can arrange a detailed tour of the surrounding mansions, some of them linked to the family of Ms. Meyyappan. The traders showed off their wealth with these homes, adorning them with materials such as Burmese teak, Italian marble and Belgian glass. “They got the best products from all over the world, but translated them into something that is essentially Tamil—a home for the extended family,” says Nicole Bolomey, a New Delhi-based program specialist at Unesco, which is supporting efforts to preserve knowledge of Chettinad architecture, water-harvesting and village planning. In February, for example, a squad of French and Indian university students fanned out to map the most distinctive mansions in the area.

Many Chettiar-clan fortunes collapsed in the 1950s and ’60s, the businesses hit by such changes as the loss of the once-thriving gem trade in newly independent Burma, and thousands of these properties fell into disrepair. Some heirs moved overseas. But with locals eager to host more tourists, more restoration efforts are now under way.
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Clare Arni for The Wall Street Journal
The nonspiritual side of Madurai includes street food.

Typically, the outer verandah in these vintage mansions was reserved for male business activity, leaving women to use the side or back entrances. A series of inner courtyards was lined with small rooms, most often used for caches of jewelry and household utensils. Plastered walls, heavy carved teak doors, and colorful patterned tiles from Chettinad’s famed Athangudi village all contributed to the striking interior design.

A local guide recounts that the Chettiar women wore toe-rings engraved with waves, symbolizing the overseas trading habits of their husbands. (They were also known to remove these clattering toe rings on occasion, to avoid alerting the household that they were abandoning the communal sleeping area to steal a few intimate moments with a visiting spouse.)

In contrast to the living traditions on display at the temple in Madurai, these Chettinad homes are largely abandoned—save for weddings, which can still draw families together from different corners of India and the globe. The rest of the time, they’re typically inhabited by a few elderly family members and servants.

Yet the village of Kanadukathan seems to be experiencing a mini-revival. French and German tourists have discovered its Art Deco Visalam hotel, a 70-year-old converted house with plenty of vintage photographs and a sleek swimming pool. It was built as a wedding gift for a young woman who never actually lived here, though she did store her dowry items behind locked doors. Guests may take cooking lessons, though spice levels have been adjusted for foreign palates.

For a more lived-in feeling, visitors can follow the rather strange sign “Genetically Chettinad” to find the Chettinadu Mansion and its 73-year-old owner, A. Chandramouli. He raised funds to restore the family home by allowing Tamil crews to shoot a few feature films here. “Then we said, thank you, movie-wallahs!” he recalls. The money went to repair the leaky ceiling, eradicate the termites and scrub the moss from the terraces. While his 12 guest rooms are not as big and posh as those at Visalam, the place certainly has character.

Clare Arni for The Wall Street Journal
Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur bowls over many visitors with the spiritual force of its architecture.

From here, it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive to the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur—one of the most aesthetically thrilling sites in all of India. Its subtle earth tones contrast with the lurid colors at the Meenakshi temple, and many visitors find it hard to resist the humbling, spiritual force of the architecture (though superstition holds that Tamil politicians should avoid the temple if they want to hang on to power). Unfortunately, few are permitted to view the original Chola murals, which are in fragile condition. But special music and dance performances are planned into early next year to commemorate the temple’s millennium.

Thanjavur can be seen on a stop along the way from Karaikudi to Kumbakonam, or as a day trip from Kumbakonam, site of a more intimate temple experience. Darasalam temple, another World Heritage site, is known for its exquisite carved detail. It has attracted special attention lately from officials at Archeological Survey of India, who have supervised repairs of cracked pillars and ceilings in anticipation of more tourists this year.

Indeed, two nearby resorts are determined to broaden the market. The Mantra, which just opened, serves only vegetarian food and asks guests to abstain from alcohol, in line with orthodox Hindu Brahmin preferences. “Tourists want to follow all the rules and regulations that local people follow,” reasons V. Kannan, the resort manager. An upper-caste touch is also evident at the recently expanded Paradise Resort, where the cottages are painted rust and white, colors that signify a Brahmin presence. In the dining room, however, anything goes—including a cold beer and a hot fish curry. —Margot Cohen is a writer based in Bangalore.

As seen on http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303950104575185354099298516.html?mod=WSJ_LifeStyle_LifeStyleAsia_3 on16 April 2010.

Media Release – 16 April 2010

A Capacity To Endure

20 Apr

A discussion with Dr. Rohan Fernando, Director, Head of Business Development & Plantations, Aitken Spence PLC

Sustainability, the carbon footprint and carbon neutrality have become the “buzz words” of business today, but few truly understand the need or the multi-faceted significance of sustainability in today’s business climate. Dr. Rohan Fernando says that the Corporate Sustainability Team champions the need for sustainability in the current global context, adding that “Sustainability is not about doing good; it is about doing good business.”

Whilst most understand the environmental aspect of a sustainable business, many are unaware of the economic and social factors being focused on in a corporate sustainability strategy. In a drive to ensure the long term viability, profitability and integrity of business, the Corporate Sustainability Team in conjunction with the SBUs have taken it upon themselves to build on the strengths of each individual company, guiding the group on the path of corporate sustainability. The team is led by Mr. Ravi De Silva, whose vast experience and knowledge on the topic of sustainability, is consulted on sustainability strategizing and implementation.

Dr. Fernando says that sustainability in business makes the company more competitive, and, therefore, improves the bottom line. Globally, customers, investors, financing institutions, governments and interest groups are increasingly demanding greater levels of transparency in business conduct. Likewise, businesses which embrace corporate sustainability stand to gain with more loyal customers, enhanced business opportunities and mutually beneficial partnerships with key stakeholders. Hence, as a leading conglomerate with a dynamic global outlook it is natural that Aitken Spence builds on its heritage to aggressively pursue a group-wide sustainability strategy.

The diverse activities of the group pose a challenge in itself, for the nature of each company’s business dictates the aspect of sustainability it should adopt. Whilst certain companies, within the group such as Aitken Spence Hotels are able to champion sustainable strategies which have an environmental impact, other companies may decide to champion health and safety, governance, innovation, quality and human resources.

A deep-rooted belief that “As a leading corporate in Sri Lanka, with a global reach, it is our responsibility to maintain sustainable practices,” is one that must be both instilled and cultivated.  Each subsidiary has its own “sustainability representative,” who works in tandem with the Business Development unit to help inform and assist their colleagues in formulating an enduring and practical strategy for continuance, one that is customised to each entity’s separate needs.

The road to sustainability will be neither short, nor easy, but if travelled properly it will most certainly be a rewarding one for Aitken Spence.

Ace Magazine – 2010

How to Find the Best Eco-friendly Hotels

16 Apr

by Katherine J. Chen
Published on April 15th, 2010

From the outside, the Heritance Kandalama in Sri Lanka may look like an abandoned temple run over by weeds and vegetation, but the luxury hotel is actually one of the most eco-friendly resorts in the entire world.

The wild vines, shrubs and plants that cover the hotel’s windows, balconies and roofs ensure that rainwater is able to flow from the hills to the hotel reservoir located just below.

Given the hotel’s abandoned appearance, the location also serves as an attraction to toque macaques and hundreds of species of birds.

The fact that the Heritance Kandalama is eco-friendly is one detail which is proving to be more important than ever for travelers. Expedia, an online travel website that processes thousands of flight and hotel reservations daily, has made plans to add a brand new feature to its hotel listings called Green Lodging Certifications.

This will enable tourists to compare and contrast competing hotels’ green practices, in addition to teaching travelers how they can incorporate green living into their vacation plans.

“Today’s travelers are increasingly interested in gauging the environmental practices of hotels and other travel suppliers,” says Expedia’s Janice Lichtenwaldt. “To that end, Expedia has elected to increase the green resources available to our customers, as well as the green recognition available to our partner hotels.”

In partnership with Green Key, an agency that specializes in ranking and auditing hotels based on the effectiveness of their eco-friendly practices, Expedia will also be creating an additional resource for eco-conscious tourists called the “Traveler’s Guide to Going Green.”

Kit Cassingham, the founder of Best Green Hotels, explains that what sets green hotels apart from conventional hotels is a genuine concern for the environment. She says, “Green hotels act on their concern by conserving and protecting resources while conventional hotels act as if there is no problem.”

Best Green Hotels, one of the most comprehensive listings of environmentally friendly hotels online, features its own rating system, a term glossary and directories divided by city, state and country.

Cassingham believes that an association for green hotels is necessary for two reasons. The first is to give travelers an accessible resource through which they can easily research and find green hotels. The second is to provide hoteliers with a place where they can learn more about incorporating green practices into their resorts, while getting the support they need.

Cassingham is optimistic about the future of eco-friendly hotels and does not believe that this is only a trend. She says of Best Green Hotels, “The site is about five-years-old. I was thrilled to have 750 green hotels listed within a few months, but I also figured I had only scratched the surface of finding hotels that had green operations.”

“Between more hotels and hotel chains adopting green and sustainable practices and hotels promoting what their actions are online, we are pushing 5,000 listed properties,” she adds. “That speaks to me of a growing sector of eco-friendly hotels.”

Media Release – 16 April 2010

A Match Made in Travel Heaven

12 Apr

An approachable, easy-going man, Gehan has worked with Aitken Spence Travels his entire career and has played a significant role in the company’s growth. When he joined the company, just after school, the 18 year old, had no intention of staying in the travel business; this was to be a short stint of two years, before he started on his tertiary education. Three decades later, listening to Gehan speak of Aitken Spence Travels, the partnership with TUI and his career in the travel industry, one cannot help but think that had he followed his intended path, he would certainly have missed his calling!

Gehan recalls that “It was the late Mr. R. Sivaratnam,” (later to become Group Chairman), “who was instrumental in getting the TUI agency,” and when he joined the company, not only was the agency in its early days, TUI itself was still a young German company formed by a merger between four German tour operators and known more formally as Touristik Union International. By 1980, TUI was the market leader in Germany thereafter growing in leaps and bounds, to become the world’s largest integrated travel company. Now headquartered in the UK, TUI Travel Plc caters to over 30 million travellers a year and employs over 50,000 people worldwide.

Aitken Spence Travels became the agency for TUI whilst still in its infancy, having only been in existence less than two years, at the time but within four years, AST was the third largest operator in Sri Lanka.

The partnership with TUI, proved to be a prudent venture as each company grew separately and yet, together. For, whilst TUI was reaching beyond its German borders, into other German-speaking markets and later spreading its arms to become an international entity, the operators it was acquiring were already agencies under the AST umbrella. By the mid-90’s, 55% of AST’s business came through TUI, one way or another.

Long before TUI became the largest operator in the world, Gehan had foreseen growth in consolidation and knew that TUI would be a giant in the future. Wanting to leverage AST’s position as the “best agency” in the TUI group, negotiations were started to form a joint venture. The early negotiations, in the mid-90’s fell through, however and, in the meantime, TUI became an international company; still, Gehan did not let go of his vision for a joint venture.

In 2003, the environment in Sri Lanka being favourable, discussions were restarted and a joint venture agreement was reached on 1st April, 2004. The contract was for a sale of 50% of AST to TUI, a merger that was to be effected over a five year period.

Obvious pride shows in Gehan’s expression as he points out that the relationship with TUI was built on mutual trust and respect. TUI’s consideration that AST is a well-managed company was made patently obvious by the fact that the full sale went through in three years, instead of the allotted five year period, and this, whilst Sri Lanka was in the throes of a bloody civil war.

Since the 2004 union, business has grown from 30,000 to 60,000 inbound travellers, per year. The majority of the company’s business comes from outside its TUI associations and the company is consistently quoted as an example in TUI as being one of the best, both in management style and service.

AST’s marketing initiatives and procedures have been shared with other companies in the TUI family and, in 2008, the company was adjudged the Best Handling Agent by TUI Germany in the small destination category. The biggest testament, however, is to the confidence TUI has in AST’s management. Despite a shareholder’s agreement that entitles TUI to management involvement, the group chooses not to be directly involved. AST, in turn, takes this confidence seriously and, since the merger, the budgets set by TUI have been met and exceeded, year after year.

The benefits of the union with TUI have not stopped at Travels, however, as Aitken Spence Shipping has since acquired the agency for Hapag Lloyd, the fifth largest shipping agency in the world and a member of the TUI group.

With peace returning to the country, Gehan is optimistic, saying that “business can be grown exponentially as you cannot have a better partner than TUI to grow our business in all fronts in Tourism.” He recognises, however, that it is the professionalism and excellent teamwork of the staff that has helped make Aitken Spence Travels the number one inbound operator in Sri Lanka for the last five years and it has an excellent foundation that will ensure the company’s future growth.

Ace Magazine – 2010

The Edible Route

8 Apr

In January 1975, Gemunu Goonewardena was a kitchen trainee, starting his career at the Neptune Hotel, shortly after the property’s opening. He continued working at the Neptune, whilst attending hotel school and in 1983 he joined the newly opened Palm Village for a brief period before being posted back to the Neptune Hotel, this time as Executive Chef.

Aitken Spence sponsored a course conducted by the Culinary Institute of America in 1985. In 1987 he migrated to Australia where worked and studied before returning to Aitken Spence in 1991 as a consultant. Now a Director, Gemunu Goonewardena fervently believes in coaching and empowering staff and “Developing people through work.”

On his return from Australia, Gemunu had been given the task of streamlining Food & Beverage operations at all the hotels. He did this by setting up standard operating procedures and putting in place minimum quality standards for food and beverage operations; his expertise was called on to give direction on proper infrastructure facilities for new hotels and for creating a working environment that was conducive, by allocating proper resources and giving leadership. Today Gemunu Goonewardena is heavily involved in ensuring that F&B staff are well-trained.

When asked how he went about the daunting task of streamlining F & B operations in all the properties, Gemunu cites three main tasks. The first and foremost he says was to train the staff by inspiring a passion for service, this he does by speaking to each individual, getting to know them and encouraging their aspirations. It is only then that Gemunu mentions the steps that have been put in place to guarantee that clientele are ensured of the same high quality standards at any Aitken Spence hotel. All suppliers have been given specifications for each product purchased and food is stored separately so as to preserve their unique individual flavours. In addition to internal checks and procedures for ensuring high quality food, Aitken Spence also has ISO 22,000 certification in several hotels and is working towards making this a norm for all hotels in the group.

Gemunu Goonewardena’s love of his job and his loyalty to Aitken Spence is evident when he speaks of his role in staff training, saying that each individual must be trained, moulded and allowed to grow. He says “You have to believe in people,” and when asked what he felt his greatest achievement was he simply says “My biggest pride today is that my chefs in all the hotels are much better than me”. He is proud to see the immense talent of the people who work in the different properties and to have watched them grow and develop from trainees to managers, now training others in turn, passing on and sharing knowledge, he says, “It’s like a tonic to see what they have achieved.”

Moreover, Mr. Goonewardena stresses that his journey has not been made alone, nor without help and that he will always grateful to the company, superiors (past and present) and to his colleagues for the their support, encouragement and values. Citing colleagues Amal Nanayakkara (now General Manager Training) and Ravi De Silva (whose sustainability principles guide the group’s activities) as particular examples, Mr. Goonewardena adds that his work has been facilitated by all departments, from training and engineering to finance, purchasing and marketing; he says he is truly appreciative of everyone he has had the pleasure of working with as each and everyone has contributed in some way, to make his career and his ideas for improvement, a success.

Ace Magazine – 2010