Building the Cinnamon brand, one event at a time

Dileep, a self proclaimed 'pracademic', believes in marrying research with practice

The successful debut of the first Broadway theatre production in Sri Lanka, which saw the legendary Sound of Music performed to full houses every day, marked a significant milestone in the country’s entertainment industry – and another feather in the cap for tourism veteran Dileep Mudadeniya.

“There was a lot of planning that went into it,” recalled Dileep, head of brand marketing at Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts, a key figure at the hospitality company tasked to transform the capital Colombo into a vibrant events destination in South Asia.

Dileep, a self proclaimed ‘pracademic’, believes in marrying research with practice

Dileep’s entry into the private sector – moving from the public sector to John Keells Holding (JKH), owing company of Cinnamon Resorts – has not only transformed the company but made Cinnamon a driving force in Colombo’s entertainment scene.

He has brought in foreign musicians, artistes, celebrity chefs including Australia’s MasterChef judge George Calombaris, as well as contestants from the Miss UK, Miss China and Miss India beauty pageants in the past two years to profile them as signature events in Sri Lanka.

The 45-year old, also a key member of the national tourism task force under the Prime Minister’s Office, sees branding as an asset for the tourism sector.

“Destination marketing is one of the (most) complex marketing (types) in the world. People can get easily lost; there are many stakeholders, a lot of egos are around, (and) money can be wasted by overdoing things,” he opined.

When he joined JKH in 2012, he brought with him a brand of research-driven decision-making that has helped take the conglomerate to new heights.

“I was able to convince John Keells on a forward-thinking approach and they became involved in destination marketing as a result of our research and they saw the benefit. We have built a powerful brand and come up with cutting-edge marketing campaigns,” he said, alluding to the many events that the Cinnamon brand has organised in Colombo.

Prior to joining the company, he had already started the non-profit organisation, Research for Sustainable Studies in Tourism. “We did a lot of social research. We want to bring together academia and practitioners through research and are developing an employer value proposition for tourism,” he said.

A non-believer of traditional promotion platforms like print ads or a TV commercials, Mudadeniya is strong proponent of user generating content. “People believe what is said on social media, which they are most accustomed to relate to. Brand and development comes through these platforms,” he said, referring to the annual Asian Travel Bloggers conference that Cinnamon launched in 2014.

While Sri Lanka has struggled to launch a marketing campaign since the war ended in 2009, Mudadeniya has engaged bloggers from around the world, organised innovative treasure hunts for writers, run best photography, video and blogging competitions to promote the Cinnamon brand and, in the same breadth, the Sri Lankan product.

“One good thing that has come out of the (Cinnamon) campaigns is that we were able to rally everyone in the industry to agree on the destination positioning strategy. That is kind of carved in stone,” he remarked.

A firm believer that the private sector should take the lead, Mudadeniya cited New Zealand’s private sector-led success in tourism as an inspiration, and hopes to develop similar “industry maturity” for Sri Lanka.

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