How do you see Sri Lanka’s social and economic structure evolving in the next five years?
As a country and as an organisation, this year we will be navigating through the darkest period post-independence of Sri Lanka. The solution will require urgent and consistent policy measures supported by good governance. Once this is sorted the country can attract FDI that will generate productive employment helping to alleviate poverty and procuring overall economic growth. Therefore, we need to rebuild an economy where support will come in the form of empowerment and generating sustainable income sources.
As an organization we play a role in this change and our actions have demonstrated what Sri Lanka is capable of achieving being an example for other companies in the country. Our continued efforts are to showcase our country as well as the society and in turn build confidence in local and foreign investors. To do so good governance at a national level is extremely critical.
In 2018 Aitken Spence celebrated 150 years, through its history, the group, has grown constant and exponentially to become one of the most diversified conglomerates in Sri Lanka. Could you please explain the story behind Aitken Spence?
Aitken Spence has been around for the last 153 years in many different sectors. The Aitken Spence family is referred to as the ‘Spensonians’ and we have a song that we sing with pride, every day before we commence work. Our story is of the same nature as most of the high performing holdings in the country, but strong singularities.
Thomas Clark and Patrick Gordon Spence formed Clark & Spence which was later joined by the Aitken brothers and becoming what Aitken Spence is today. Our foundation was built on a joint venture between merchants and commission agents; hence our nature is very internationally oriented, the other point of differentiator is that we are highly committed to long-lasting partnerships, we have successful partnerships with companies and renowned brands from across the globe and some are older than 140 years.
Nearing two decades, we are led by a visionary with unparalleled business acumen and an inspiring Chairman; Deshamanya Harry Jayawardena who is the driving force behind the Aitken Spence Group and the foremost entrepreneur in Sri Lanka.
2022 shows a significant recovery from last year’s tourism arrivals, Aitken Spence Hotels is one of the most successful and reliable hospitality companies in the country and the first one to invest in a hotel overseas. What is the company’s strategy in the tourism sector for next five years?
At this point in time, we are looking at markets beyond Sri Lanka where we can play an important role. Particularly, the Maldives and exploring untapped opportunities.
We are looking at expanding cautiously in the light of what is happening globally. We can’t get carried away by statistics alone as many of those visiting Sri Lanka are visiting friends and relatives. There is a slight strategy change in terms of looking at market segments, we are primarily a 4- and 5-stars category hotel operator, however; we have realized that there are prospects for lower categories such as 3-stars. Even if you look at a market such as Maldives which is high-end. Coming out of an economic crisis globally, many people cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars at a resort, but there is a demand to travel overseas and explore destinations such as Sri Lanka that offers a diverse range of unique experiences.
The United States of America is the main economic partner of Sri Lanka; its annual trade represents over 24% of all Sri Lanka’s exports. Some of your very successful corporative relations are with companies from the United States of America. What is Aitken Spence’s strategy to gain presence in the US market?
Our strategic partnerships are different because we have such long standing relationships with world renowned companies such as Lloyd’s London, Singapore Airlines TUI, DEG, Hapag Lloyd, Qatar Cargo, DB Schenker, Western Union and OTIS which really show the confidence they have in our organization and our people. Despite the pandemic we have been able to pioneer new projects and grow many partnerships not just in Sri Lanka, but beyond our country. It just proves our leadership and strength within the industry.
Sri Lanka being strategically located, we have some of the best ports in the world, however, there is much more potential and capacity to grow. We need to attract more investment from American companies. I understand that they have bigger markets to invest in, but they are important for our growth and make noticeable in the American imaginary that Sri Lanka is a country that has so much to offer. For example, we are strategically located at the crossroads of major shipping routes to South Asia, the Far East, and the continents of Europe and America. Moreover, Sri Lanka has investment opportunities in information technology services, franchise and light manufacturing. The country is equipped with a well-organised supply chain with good manufacturing processors supported by sustainable production and a literate and skilled workforce are some of the compelling reasons to strongly consider investing in Sri Lanka.
What is your final message for the readers the USA Today across the world?
We are a buoyant nation with buoyant people that have enormous potential; even at the height of the war and crises we are able to show resilience. This nation is largely driven by the private sector. Therefore, investors must have faith in the private sector of Sri Lanka.