Druvi Gunasekera

Jul 01 2024.

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Druvi Gunasekera has been a prominent figure in the travel industry for over 15 years. She is widely recognized as the flagbearer for Sri Lankan boutique and luxury tourism, passionately promoting this niche segment across the globe. Druvi's tenacity and dedication have significantly benefited the many stakeholders within this industry. Each year, she produces the "Luxury Guide to Sri Lanka," a highly regarded resource among international travel agents.

This guide is considered an almanac, providing comprehensive information on over a thousand properties, all personally vetted by Druvi for their credentials as boutique and luxury hotels. Recently, Druvi organized a B2B event in Dubai to further promote luxury tourism in Sri Lanka, highlighting her continuous efforts to elevate the country's profile in the global travel market.

Q WHAT SETS BOUTIQUE AND LUXURY TOURISM EXPERIENCES APART FROM MAINSTREAM TRAVEL? It is simply the provision of privacy, personalized service, luxury amenities and personalised local experiences.

Q CAN YOU SHARE SOME UNIQUE DESTINATIONS OR ACCOMMODATIONS THAT YOU PROMOTE FOR BOUTIQUE AND LUXURY TRAVELLERS? Boutiques in Sri Lanka doesn’t promote individual properties as we represent the entire segment of small luxury accommodation in Sri Lanka. Most of these properties are unique in terms of design and /or offerings.

Q HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE LOCAL CULTURE AND AUTHENTICITY INTO YOUR BOUTIQUE AND LUXURY TRAVEL EXPERIENCES? Incorporating local culture and experiences in its fullest form of authenticity is an important factor. Most properties help local communities by purchasing guests’ give aways or providing guest experiences, engaging and enhancing their lifestyles whilst respecting their environment. As a property, design and architecture must infuse elements inspired by the local culture of its location, provide culinary experiences that highlight local cuisine and flavours, organize local experiences that allow guests to engage with local communities and traditions, support local communities, buy local, embrace sustainable practices that support the local economy and environment, develop eco friendly initiatives, provide personalized service that reflects the warmth and hospitality of the local culture and preserve local culture and heritage.

Q WHAT TYPES OF AMENITIES AND SERVICES DO BOUTIQUE AND LUXURY TRAVELLERS TYPICALLY EXPECT? Definitely non plastic! In-room amenities of reputed quality with a local blend (ie lemon grass, spice essence etc) placed in environment friendly bottles, locally produced goods, personalized yet unobtrusive service.

Q HOW DO YOU STAY UPDATED ON EMERGING TRENDS AND PREFERENCES WITHIN THE BOUTIQUE AND LUXURY TRAVEL INDUSTRY? Constantly being in sync with guests needs, their tour operator requirements and following global trends through various participation at forums i.e. trade events, networking forums, technology/digital marketing, market research and property surveys through visits.

Q HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE LUXURY ACCOMMODATION LANDSCAPE IN SRI LANKA? Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with so much to offer within so little travel time. Most luxury boutique hotels are situated in some of the best locations within the Island, be it in the scenic tea plantations, beach, jungles, cultural locations, UNESCO heritage sites, river side, etc. The ambience, product offering, concepts etc of these properties brings out the true essence of these respective locations.

Q WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE LOOKING TO PLAN THEIR FIRST BOUTIQUE OR LUXURY TRAVEL EXPERIENCE? Be ready to be pampered  in luxury… Research – Look into different boutique hotels to find one that aligns with your preferences ( location, budget, amenities, style etc) Book in advance – Luxury boutique hotels have limited inventories and fill  up quickly. Consider your preferences – think about what you expect; is it wild life, beach, culture, luxuries, location etc While reading reviews provides a good insight, it is also important to consider that each one’s level of understanding luxury and personality are different. The Luxury Accommodation Guide is an excellent tool to follow as we list properties by location, facilities and we also grade properties after personally visiting the properties, as a form of genuine endorsement.

Q WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DELVE INTO ORGANIZING B2B EVENTS SPECIFICALLY FOR LUXURY AND BOUTIQUE TOURISM? We ventured into small luxury accommodation eleven years ago to publish Sri Lanka’s only luxury accommodation guide as there are many hidden gems unknown and many lacking exposure and to differentiate those who are good from those who are not. Five years ago we wanted to bring the Luxury Accommodation Guide to life, so we launched the B2B Luxury Connect which provides all small luxury properties a focused opportunity to meet business providers who specifically produce for small luxury accommodation in Sri Lanka. To-date the B2B Luxury Connect is Sri Lanka’s only luxury travel fair and it focusses exclusively on small luxury properties.

Q HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT YOUR B2B EVENTS CATER TO THE SPECIFIC NEEDS AND INTERESTS OF LUXURY AND BOUTIQUE TOURISM PROFESSIONALS? A lot of hardwork, commitment and focus goes into making the B2B Luxury Connect a successful event. Staying focused is key. Focused on the objective, focused on the target market, focused on quality, focused on the correct mix in every aspect of the event. The properties are personally checked prior to inviting their participation, as this ensures control on quality. The Agents/ Operators are also checked to ensure they produce or have potential to produce for small luxury properties.

Q WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE WHEN ORGANIZING B2B EVENTS IN THE LUXURY AND BOUTIQUE TOURISM SECTOR? The challenges are many. Having to constantly follow up with hotels/suppliers etc takes a lot of valuable time. I feel the industry could support better by organizing SLTB sponsored media/influencer programmes to coincide with the date of the B2B Luxury Connect, by DMCs inviting their foreign tour operators to attend the B2B luxury event as it is the only and best platform to showcase Sri Lanka’s best properties and meet owners etc to name a few of the mammoth challenges faced.

Q IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU LEVERAGE YOUR BOOK TO COMPLEMENT AND ENHANCE YOUR B2B EVENT OFFERINGS IN THE LUXURY AND BOUTIQUE TOURISM SPACE? The annual publication of the Luxury Accommodation Guide, is circulated in 25+ countries. The global awareness is created through the Luxury Accommodation Guide. Most foreign operators refer to the Luxury Accommodation Guide as the “Bible into Sri Lanka” and many even book their copies in advance each year! The next step would be to visit the properties in the luxury guide by participating at the B2B Luxury Connect. The Luxury Accommodation Guide also connects us with luxury properties as we visit each property prior to listing the properties in the Luxury Accommodation Guide free of charge. The visits provides us with great insights and local and foreign connections.

Q WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO BUSINESSES LOOKING TO TAP INTO THE LUXURY AND BOUTIQUE TOURISM MARKET THROUGH B2B NETWORKING AND COLLABORATION? It is a one stop shop! As a buyer you discover over 300+ small luxury properties under one roof in one day. All of which have been pre-checked and qualified to participate. As a seller, identify your target audience, as you are provided the opportunity of meeting over 350 good business providers in one day under one roof! Network and build relationships, follow up and make the best of this only focused small luxury opportunity for all qualifying small luxury properties in Sri Lanka.

Q WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INTERNATIONAL FAIRS YOU  HAVE PARTICIPATED IN?  TELL US ABOUT THE B2B IN DUBAI. I’ve participated in over 100+ overseas travel fairs from the more common fairs like WTM in London, ITB, Germany, ATM Dubai to niche fairs like  ILTM in France, ILTM in China, Singapore, New York Times, Conde Nast Luxury Fair, Aman events, Vfirtuoso, to numerous others. The Luxury Connect Dubai was held in Dubai on 7th June 2024 and it was our f irst overseas B2B Luxury event. At this event our focus was on on small luxury accommodation, and we targeted business producers handling the expat business market, the Arab business markets and high end FIT business club members.

Pix courtesy Druvi


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]


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