Edward visits Sri Lanka – Kuoni Conference

I have recently returned from the first Kuoni agent partner conference held in Sri Lanka. On Sunday 14th of June I met up with the other delagtes who were invited to join the six day itinerary. We flew out of Heathrow terminal three with Sri Lankan Air; being my first time with the airline, I can confidently say that the ten hour plus flight time will seem a lot shorter with the entertainment system onboard. Free to use for every passenger, you’ll be hard pressed to find something you couldn’t enjoy and help pass the time. The service was of a good standard as you would expect however there could be a wait for the washroom! Arriving safely the following morning, the group was transferred to Colombo where we met with the Kuoni trade team at the 5* Cinnamon Grand. The hotel was of a high standing; as it has a deserved 5* rating, but I would suggest that it isn’t suitable for stays longer than a couple of nights. Staying at the Grand would be best suited for the beginning or end to a trip and those looking for somewhere to stay with a short transfer time to the airport.

For our stay, we were warmly welcomed by the hotel with a fascinating dance performance in the traditional style at the hotel’s Nuga Gama Restaurant. Our first day closed with a meal and informal instructions to our fellow conference delegates. Following a long first day, the conference formally begun with an introduction by Jeremy Skidmore acting as our moderator. Throughout the day we heard from various dignitaries such as Amanda Darrington from Kuoni, Dr. Rohantha Athukorala from Sri Lanka Tourism, Vasantha Leelanda from the John Keells group and Sunimal Senanayake from the Leisure group. All spoke passionately about their respective organisations and their time and efforts were appreciated by the group.

Unique to this conference was that we were able to hear a debate between three British based agents talk about their experiences in travel; the highs and lows of the industry, the state of travel today and their partnerships with Kuoni. Peter Giles, Jeanne Lally and Nick Marks performed with distinction and provided an insight into the business practices and problems other fellow agents have to overcome.

Probably the highlight of the day; other than lunch, was our guest speaker Barry Morris. An ex-marine and Kuoni customer, Barry spoke to us about his life and association with Kuoni. Barry has had an extraordinary life (so far), but has managed to overcome many trials and tribulations to get to where he is today but remains a positive force for good. Having an eye for adventure, Barry has used Kuoni exclusively for a number of adventures down the years. Highlighting Kuoni’s ability to tailor make excursions and provide help and support to book the trips Barry wanted to undertake. It was a privilege to hear about his harrowing story and an inspiration to those dealing with issues and still having the will to explore and live. With the conclusion of the conference the group attended a Gala Dinner and award ceremony hosted by Kuoni on-board along the Cinnamon Lakeside. Many agents were recognised for their efforts over the course of the last year. A grand ending for a grand day! Now that the Kuoni conference had finished, the group which consisted of around thirty delegates were split up into three separate groups which followed their own itinerary. These groups were Wildlife, East Coast and my assigned group Adventure. With the group now split up the real Sri Lanka experience could begin. Team Adventure began their time together by taking part in white water rafting in Kithulgala. Being my first time I was a little nervous, but as we got into the water the anticipation and adrenaline kicked in and we were flying down the river in no time. Reconvening after lunch we made the journey Nuwara Eliya and checked into the Jetwing St. Andrews and enjoyed high Tea at the hotel. Much the like the Grand in Colombo, St. Andrews is a quality hotel with a traditional style with the modern amenities you would expect. It would be a great starting off point for a group or tour into the forest and hills or a comfortable conclusion to one before a longer transfer back to the airport.

The following day we left St. Andrews in the early hours to embark upon a breath-taking trip of the Horton Plains. For you who don’t know the Plains is a National Park situated in the central highlands of Sri Lanka covered by grassland and a cloud forest. It is a protected area which is rich in biodiversity and has many species which are unique to the region. Despite this being very true we were greeted on our trek by lashing rain and wind which made the trek ever more difficult than expected. However after a break in the weather we made good time and completed the course of the trek all in one piece.

With the trek out of the way began our transfer to Kandy; one of Sri Lanka’s major cities, and enjoyed lunch at the Earl Regency Hotel. Following a short break for lunch we checked into the Cinnamon Citadel. Like the afore mentioned hotels the Citadel fulfils its function of providing comfort and good facilities for those staying for a short duration. The hotel does have the benefit of being situated on a beautiful hillside location and its terraces overlooking the river. That evening we dined at a local restaurant overlooking the city. Our final day as the adventure group proved to be a busy day. We checked out of the Citadel and made the short trip over to the Temple of the Tooth, a sacred site within Buddhism where it is believed that the Buddha’s tooth resides. Two ceremonies are carried out over the course of the day and scores of people come to the temple to take part in and meditate. Sadly for us it was too busy to see the casket where the tooth is thought to live.


Following a stroll around the temple and enjoying the ambiance we skipped lunch so that we could make a quick getaway from Kandy to the Geragama Tea Estate. We undertook a tour of the plantation witnessing the tea creating process which was fascinating as I am a tea drinker myself it’s always nice to see where things come from!
Before taking the last leg of our whistle stop tour to the Jetwing Sea Hotel, we made a detour to an elephant orphanage. For a long time I’ve wanted to see and meet an elephant and finally I got to meet dozens of them as they thundered along the road and into the nearby river. It was an amazing sight to see so many of them together, washing and playing with each other! It’s something I will never forget and luckily took plenty of photos to help me do that.

On our final evening we enjoyed an evening BBQ at the Ranweli Holiday Village, where we spent the evening swapping stories and saying our goodbyes before heading home the following afternoon back to England. Despite being a short trip, Kuoni’s first Summit was a rousing success. The conference was well planned and executed perfectly, the other delegates were a delight to meet; as I know many good friendships have been formed as a result, and the adventure itinerary was paced well for our team who were up for everything.
I learnt a lot about Kuoni and travel as a result and have returned back to work armed with even more knowledge which I’m ready and able to pass on to colleagues and potential clients. I would like to congratulate and thank the Kuoni team for everything and I hope to be asked again next year, even if it’s a bit closer to home!