TV cameras focused on them whilst the Kandyan dancers who gyrated to the drumbeats were watched by thousands of Sri Lankans during the live coverage. The guests, including a few journalists, were on a ten-day free tour of Sri Lanka with all expenses paid.
When the fanfare at Mattala was over, the group was driven to a luxury hotel on the outer fringes of the Yala National Park. They were too tired to go for a luncheon event at Ranminithenna, Sri Lanka’s Hollywood, since the opening ceremonies had gone on well past 2 p.m. It is then that the group realised something was missing, at least for some of them. It was their personal baggage.
The group of mostly expatriate Sri Lankans from Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York among other cities had all flown into Mattala via Dubai. At their boarding points, some wanted to interline their baggage to their final destination, Mattala. According to International Air Transport Association (IATA) procedures, an airport code printed on a baggage tag is attached to their unaccompanied luggage. A counterfoil of this tag is given to the passengers so they may collect their luggage at the point of arrival.
For a group that arrived at the Kennedy International Airport in New York, airline staff checking in passengers to a Dubai bound flight found there was no airport code for Mattala. Some passengers said it was the new code HRI.
With the airport opening over, the group was given a conducted tour of the hill country and the east. In attendance to look after their needs was an official of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC.
The visitors were three days into their programme when some of their baggage arrived. From Dubai, the luggae had been sent to the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake and transported by road. Until then, at least a couple of them wore borrowed clothes from relatives in Sri Lanka. The Yanks had purchased clothing to last until their baggage arrived. No one still knows who caused the blunder.