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Interview by Ruwandi Perera

Travelling leaves you speechless; it then turns you into a storyteller. And the Executive Editor Travel – CNN Brekke Fletcher knows how to share a story. Currently overseeing CNN’s worldwide travel coverage while managing 800 plus contributors and insiders around the globe, she is a figurehead in tourism related media circles.
Fletcher visited Sri Lanka in September to deliver the keynote address at the Cinnamon Future of Tourism Summit organised by Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts to mark World Tourism Day. Brekke spoke to Cinnamon magazine about her visit as well as a burning desire to transform the business of travel to suit the needs of tomorrow’s travellers – in her words, those who “hold the world in their hands.”

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka as a travel destination?

A: I only got to spend a short time here but this is the kind of place where you must try to spend as much time as you possibly can because there is so much to explore!

Q: And how was your experience exploring the island?

A: I first visited Habarana and then Polonnaruwa to explore the ruins and monasteries – everything looked extraordinary and I learnt how to walk barefoot on hot sand! We were also taken to Minneriya to see The Gathering – I saw some incredibly beautiful animals and the entire jeep experience in the wild made me feel so alive.
Sigiriya is another amazing place and the view was worth the climb! I would’ve spent so much more time there if I’d been able to. Afterwards, we travelled to Kandy and spent quality time at Cinnamon Citadel, which occupies a breathtaking location.

Q: What are your insights on tomorrow’s traveller?

A: Firstly, next generation travellers are very visual and images are very important to them. They speak in emojis and GIFS. Eve-rything is communicated through short videos. They want to be a part of others’ lives and ‘follow’ people. And they like to see where they go and what they do.
Instagram is their preferred platform since every tag leads you to another person, location and restaurant, and you find yourself in an endless journey of discovery.
Travellers of tomorrow are a well-educated group. The younger generation has grown up in a world where every question they have can be answered at the press of a button. So the world is much smaller to them and every destination is a possibility. Nothing is off-limits.
The opportunity to CNN Travel is to become a complete answer to any travel question – the trusted best friend when you don’t know who to call about where to eat or how to reach Tokyo station. We also spend time developing a ‘mobile first’ experience because next generation travellers have a mobile in their hands with which they can do anything.

Q: And what are the challenges facing the tourism industry?

A: The ugly side is that there will always be people who’ll never get out of their seats, leave their homes and see anything but their part of the world. I think it’s a waste of opportunity.

Q: What are the strategies travel companies including hotels must adopt to be on top of the evolving challenges faced by the hospitality and tourism industry?

A: I’m not the best person to talk about mechanisms that work behind the curtains but I do think that brands need to think long and hard about what they look like on social media. For example, do we need a map? Is our content confusing? How can we have better photographs of hotel rooms?
Brands should not be afraid to change. It’s important to be able to change because then you become a part of the conversation. You want your content to be everywhere and to show your ‘best life’ to everyone.
And brands must also remember that people like people – they don’t like objects that are trying to sell themselves. So they must think about how to develop trust in the minds of travellers.

Q: And finally, how would you describe Sri Lanka in three words?

A: Majestic. Magical. Moving.

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