A little more than three years ago, Sri Lanka was a basket case, and had been for more than a quarter of a century, as civil war ravaged the country. Sri Lankan-born novelist Michael Ondaatje, in his book Anil’s Ghost, put it succinctly when he wrote: “There had been continual emergency from 1983 onwards, racial attacks and political killings. The terrorism of the separatist guerrilla groups, who were fighting for a homeland in the north. The insurrection of the insurgents in the south, against the government. The counterterrorism of the special forces against both of them … the reason for war was war.”
But those days are finally and thankfully gone, with Sri Lanka bouncing back and providing a less commercialised, less spoilt alternative to perennial favourite destinations for Australians such as Bali. Lonely Planet, in its book, Best in Travel 2013, hails Sri Lanka as a “cut-price paradise back on the map” that is best for “culture, off the beaten track, value for money”.
One of the nicest things about Sri Lanka today is how often strangers will ask you what you think of their country. “You like my country Sri Lanka?” is a staple question everywhere you go. It’s like a collective sigh of relief, or perhaps a verbal pinch of the national skin to check that the nightmare has truly ended.
Today Sri Lanka is a beautiful and deeply spiritual country where almost every road junction is watched over by a Buddha; or a Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god; or the Virgin Mary; or Christ on the Cross. No doubt this explains how, despite driving like madmen, they manage to (mostly) miss the three-wheeled tuk-tuks, stray dogs, cyclists and motorcyclists who swerve in and out and under each other’s wheels.
It’s a fresh green land bursting with vitality and rice paddies and tea plantations, with wildlife parks and elephant sanctuaries, and where wild monkeys sit genially by in 1000-year-old temple grounds.
Sri Lanka is cheap and cheerful and – at a tad more than 65,000 square kilometres – small enough to be easily negotiable. You could lose it in the top right-hand corner of NSW should you be so carelessly inclined and yet it boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle, the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the city of Kandy, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Central Highlands area.
It’s the ancient cities that are its biggest and best-kept secret. Stories abound of the dive and surf beaches on the south and east coasts but until you’ve experienced the history and grandeur of Anuradhapura, or climbed the astonishing Sigiriya, you haven’t even scratched the surface. As one of our tour group whispered amid the magnificence of Anuradhapura: “It’s like we’ve found Narnia.” Here, then, is a crash-course in what you need to know to plan a holiday to this magical island.
What to see
The Cultural Triangle is the area of Sri Lanka’s northern plains that boasts the amazing ruined city of Anuradhapura. The capital of the island from the 3rd century BC to about 933AD, this was one of the mediaeval world’s great metropolises.
For a more than 1000 years this city thrived as a spiritual and political power. Just standing among the ruins of the monasteries – it was once home to about 10,000 monks – and the various royal halls and administrative buildings, is to encounter something magical. This was one of the golden ages of Sinhalese culture, when the kings built dozens of enormous water tanks to help with irrigation and threw up enormous temples and dagobas that were the architectural wonders of the time.
Polonnaruwa is another ruined city in the triangle, more compact than the sprawling Anuradhapura but no less fascinating. Polonnaruwa was the country’s pomp-and-circumstance capital in the 12th century and enjoyed 100 years of magnificence before being sacked by invaders from southern India and being reclaimed by the jungle and forgotten for 700 years.
Other highlights include the Dambulla Cave Temples, packed with hundreds of statues of Buddha; Mihintale, a beautiful wooded area shaded by frangipani trees and famous as the spot where Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka; and the breathtaking Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock), the sheer 200-metre rock citadel that was the site of the country’s most remarkable royal capital and palace.
If you do nothing else in the Cultural Triangle, do this. The site museum has a scale model of the area that gives a wonderful insight into what it was like and the approach to the rock itself, through the wonderful water gardens, is unforgettable.
Again, this was a site that rose to prominence as the country’s capital in the 5th century AD, was attacked by invaders and then forgotten for many hundreds of years. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982.
Halfway up are the beguiling Sigiriya Damsels, a series of frescoes of topless nymphs painted onto the walls of a cave more than 1500 years ago. They’re reached by two incongruous metal spiral staircases (one up, one down) but are well worth the detour.
Further up, at the Lion Platform, two enormous paws flank stairs up to the summit itself. These are a little more strenuous but the view from the top is worth it. Only the foundations remain of the former castle in the sky but the sheer scale of the undertaking is mind-boggling.
What to eat and drink
You could easily eat some kind of curry at every meal, including breakfast, but most hotels provide plenty of alternatives more suited to the Western palate. This also extends to the curries served up at the pretty much ubiquitous buffets around the country. Sri Lankan tastes in curry run to the fiery end of the spectrum but most of those offered to foreigners have been, shall we say, dumbed down.
If you prefer something hotter you can always add a little extra from the pot of hellishly hot sambal (crushed chillies) that comes with every meal. Sri Lankan food is a mix of influences from Arab traders to Malay navigators, and the various colonial powers such as the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British, notwithstanding influences from the country’s south Indian neighbours.
There never has been much of a dining-out culture in Sri Lanka so most of your meals will be taken in your hotel or in a hotel restaurant during the day. A full all-you-can-eat buffet will cost about 1300 rupees (about $9.80).
Vegetarians are well catered for in this majority Buddhist country, as evidenced by one of our group who kept a daily dhal diary and raved about the high standards of this popular dish. Street food isn’t exactly a thriving industry but you can get what are known as “short eats” or “quick eats” from a few stalls or the front section of little cafe/restaurants. Here you can a classic Tamil savoury known as a vadai (or wadai), which is a spicy doughnut made of deep-fried lentils, or perhaps a samosa or a vegetable/meat-filled roti.
Fruit is pretty much in abundance, too, with great bunches of bananas hanging on almost every roadside stall next to papayas, pineapples, jackfruit, durians, custard apples and guavas. One thing you must do is get the guide to stop at one of the many stalls selling thambili (king coconut), on sale for about 30 rupees. The vendor will use a machete to cut a square hole in the top and pop in a drinking straw. The glucose- and potassium-rich liquid inside is said to be good for hangovers.
Afterwards the vendor will slice off part of the underside before chopping the remains in two. You then use the sliced-off section to dig out the jelly-like coconut pulp inside. Delicious.
Tea is a popular drink and tends to be taken black with copious amounts of sugar. The Sri Lankan palate for hideously fiery chilli is matched equally by a frighteningly sweet tooth. Of all the local bottled beers – there is little in the way of draught beer – Lion Lager is the uninspired best of a bad bunch. Prices depend on where you are buying it; it will obviously be more expensive in a hotel (about 400rupees) than from a street liquor store (about 120 rupees).
At one local hangout we found, the deliciously seedy but friendly Palladium Restaurant in Nuwara Eliya, a glass of Lion Strong Beer turned out to be a mind-bending 8 per cent proof and was priced at 205 rupees.
What to spot
Unlike its neighbour India, there are no tigers to see. But Sri Lanka is said to be home to 92 mammal species, 242 types of butterfly, 435 birds, 107 species of fish and 98 types of snakes, including the revered and feared king cobra. If you are very lucky you might spot one of the leopards that make their home in the national parks. Ditto the golden jackal, shaggy sloth, civet and the armour-plated Indian pangolin.
What you will see are buffalo, elephants, the bushy-tailed, five-striped palm squirrel (a sort of zombie apocalypse squirrel the size of a small dog), and more monkeys than you can poke a stick at. These last include grey- and purple-faced langurs, hairy bear monkeys and the distinctive toque macaques, notable for their odd, “pudding bowl” haircuts.
The monkeys can be found hanging out at most old city and temple sites and are, mostly, harmless. They are relaxed around people but bring out a banana or any other recognisable food and you’d be advised to let fly with it pretty quickly or risk getting a finger torn off in the rush.
Elephants are both a blessing and a curse for Sri Lanka as the country struggles with the problem of human-pachyderm co-existence. They occupy a special place in the local psyche and it was once a capital offence to kill one. Then along came the British and their big game hunters.
Today estimates vary as to how many are left. At the end of the 18th century there were between 10,000 to 20,000 elephants in the wild; today that number is down to 3000 to 4000. To see even 200 or so of them in the wild (from old tuskers to tiny new-borns), as we did from the back of a safari jeep in the Kaudulla National Park, is a humbling sight.
For a more close-up experience of elephants, head to the government-run Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage between Colombo and Kandy. Here, about 80 elephants of all ages are looked after by the keepers (or mahouts), who for a small consideration of about 500 rupees will take your picture with the animals.
Twice a day the animals are herded down to the nearby river (10am-noon and 2pm-4pm), a short walk from the orphanage which takes them down a dusty street lined with tourist shops selling elephant T-shirts and paper products made from elephant dung. To see these gentle giants come lumbering along the street and gather in the flowing river where their keepers shower them with water is something you will not soon forget.
What to do
Cycling is an increasingly popular way of touring the country but you really do need to stick to the back blocks and avoid the madness of the main roads.
Diving, snorkelling and surfing have long been staple reason for Westerners to go to Sri Lanka and in that department nothing has changed. White-water rafting, canoeing and windsurfing are also becoming increasingly popular as visitor numbers increase.
Trekking isn’t something that has taken off in Sri Lanka (yet) but one short trek you should do is the seven-hour, 15-kilometre round trip up to the Buddhist temple at the top of Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada, or Sacred Footprint) and back. This sometimes near-vertical climb is strenuous but worth every aching muscle. The “footprint” depression at the top is said by Buddhists to be that of Buddha himself, while Muslims claim it to have been made by Adam after he was cast out of heaven. Hindus believe it was made by Shiva. Whatever, it makes Sri Pada a popular place of pilgrimage for people of many faiths and during the main season it can get crowded.
We were lucky enough to go just before the main season and enjoyed a fairly pilgrim-free ascent – if “enjoy” is quite the right word for leaving the hotel at 2am for a three-hour clamber up stairs in the pitch black.
Sunrise at the summit is spectacular (clouds willing), as you might expect, and when the temple doors are opened at 6am scoot around to the far side to see the mysterious shadow the mountain casts over the countryside. It seems to be an almost perfect pyramid – which is odd, given that the mountain itself, all 2243 metres of it, isn’t.
Keith Austin travelled to Sri Lanka courtesy of World Expeditions.
The prestigious award, which honours hospitality excellence, is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveller reviews on TripAdvisor and is extended to qualifying businesses worldwide.
Siri Goonewardene, Managing Director of Coral Sands Hotel said, “The award is based on the extremely positive experiences that our guests have had in the past few seasons. Our hotel has strived to maintain an exceptional level of service for over three decades and we will continue to keep improving the guest experience at the hotel.”
“TripAdvisor is pleased to honour exceptional businesses for consistent excellence, as reviewed by travellers on the site,” said Christine Petersen, President, TripAdvisor for Business.
“The Certificate of Excellence Award gives highly rated establishments around the world the recognition they deserve. ”Chamindra Goonewardene, the hotels’ Marketing and Outreach Manager added, “Online reviews have become the new standard bearers for a testament on the quality of the hotel, and we are proud to be one of the few hotels in the South to achieve this honour. With the advent of online booking sites, we believe that this award will help position the hotel as a top beach hotel in the south, considering the variety of amenities that both the hotel and Hikkaduwa has to offer. ”Sites such as tripadvisor.com, booking.com and agoda.com have come to the forefront of the tourism industry with an influx of FIT’s (free independent travellers) to the country.
Stella Koh, Account Manager of booking.com for Sri Lanka and the Maldives said, “Coral Sands has performed exceptionally well in the last season, and ranks #1 amongst the hotels in Hikkaduwa, and has attracted a large number of tourists through our booking engine.”
SriLankan Airlines the national carrier of Sri Lanka has now commenced daily direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai. The service inaugurated on 15 July.
Initially, SriLankan Airlines flew three times a week to Beijing and four times a week to Shanghai with a stopover in Bangkok. SriLankan also flies four times a week to Guangzhou (Canton) and three times a week to Hong Kong.
With this move, the total number of flights operated by SriLankan to China and Hong Kong increases to 21.
At a press briefing in Beijing ahead of the official opening of the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), it was announced that SriLankan Airlines is expected to be inducted into the Oneworld alliance late next year.
The induction of SriLankan Airlines will see three new destinations covered by the Oneworld network in South India. These new destinations include Kochi, Tiruchi and Thiruvanthapuram. This new move will see the Oneworld alliance spread to over 850 destinations in more than 150 countries worldwide.
As soon as our vehicle turns onto the rough gravel entrance road, I know we are up for something unusual. This totally unexpected encounter with grit comes at the end of a day spent exploring central Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle – lost kingdoms, cave temples and now, lush jungle and a sense of entering unknown territory. Our five-star base will be no ordinary abode.
When the hotel’s entrance lobby finally swings into view, it appears as a cavernous space beside great granite boulders. Rock emerges from the floor like a primal lava flow. Smooth-plastered corridors feature boulder walls and walkways create the impression of traversing the jungle canopy.
Rather than dominating, the Heritance Kandalama hotel displays sensitivity to context. From certain viewpoints it is barely visible at all as it presses against a rocky outcrop on one side and succumbs to the consuming embrace of thick jungle vines and tropical forest on the other.
I fall for these natural charms immediately. It helps, of course, that we’ve just come from the calmness of the cave temples of Dambulla.
These lie 12 kilometres away and mark the central point of the Cultural Triangle, a region of UNESCO-listed sites that include old-kingdom locations Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. Dambulla’s fame stems from the deeds of an exiled 1st-century king from Anuradhapura. After regaining his kingdom, he established a Buddhist shrine beneath Dambulla’s great granite ledge. Subsequent kings added shrines and the site remains a pilgrimage spot to this day.
We’ve reached Heritance Kandalama in time to see the sun slip from Dambulla rock and, on a far horizon, Sigiriya, the magma plug of an extinct volcano, upon which a paranoid king built a fortress-palace long ago. Beneath them, the sunset streams across Kandalama Tank, a vast reservoir built by yet another ancient king.
Later irrigation networks sent these waters rolling to the edge of the tropical forest at our doorstep, creating one enormous lake.
When the hotel’s architect, Geoffrey Bawa, saw this landscape from the air, he elected to run with the topography, famously stating that you shouldn’t push nature out of a building.
Less than two decades later, thick jungle runs right up to the hotel’s windows, bringing giant squirrels and monkeys with it. Such natural disorder outdoors creates a suspension of time and an impression of absolute seclusion.
Only a visit to the buffet illustrates that Heritance Kandalama is a sizeable hotel, and full. It’s February, peak season. Post-monsoon, the weather is warm-temperate.
Post-civil war, visitors are flocking to Sri Lanka. Tonight, the buffet, known for its excellent quality (at US$31 a head), resembles the crush of mealtime at a boarding school.
These are several in-house options: dinner in a natural cave ($US400 [$414] a double); dining with the chef ($US350 a double); the Bawa degustation dinner ($US600 a double) — prices at wild variance with those in the airy Cafe Kachchan or, for that matter, the Kalu Diya a la carte restaurant, which proves an excellent choice, with attentive service, great ambience and fine fusion food (for about $US50 a person, three courses).
As for the guest rooms, I love them. They are spacious, use natural products and are clutter-free. Should you prefer chintz over texture, they might seem austere.
There is also the issue of the wildlife. Giant squirrels eat jungle fruits but monkeys eat everything, so we stare at them through closed windows while the air conditioner or ceiling fans go into overdrive.
Hopefully, the hotel’s recycling centre — they recycle everything, apparently — offsets some of this wasted energy.
In any case, Heritance Kandalama consistently wins awards, receiving EarthCheck silver certification for environmental practices in 2010.
The hotel also boasts a Six Senses spa. Anyone familiar with Six Senses philosophy knows it pays more than just lip service to environmental matters. But it’s a visit to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa that completely wins me over to the Bawa philosophy.
Heritance Kandalama’s natural features evoke Sigiriya’s boulder garden and ancient polished-plaster mirror wall.
And of the hotel’s three swimming pools, two recall the ancient sites. Kachchan, Bawa’s signature infinity pool, creates the impression of merging with the Kandalama Tank.
Kaludiya, a natural rock pool, evokes the water garden and the rock-cut storage pool at Sigiriya. The same goes for the so-called Sea of Parakrama, a vast water reservoir at ancient Polonnaruwa.
In short, the hotel forms part of the larger Cultural Triangle picture. That’s its great strength, really.
And, like any aesthetic concept, you either get it or you don’t.
For those who do, this experience can be profound.
The writer was a guest of Travel Indochina.
Sunset at Kandalama Hotel, Dambulla
The Sri Lanka Navy owned Passenger Craft, “Princess of Lanka” is re-commencing her whale watching cruises off the Eastern Coast upon completion of the vessel’s refurbishment/revamping to meet the necessities of its new clientele in Trincomalee.
Whale enthusiasts and tourists to the region can now enjoy whale watching onboard the Navy’s luxurious passenger vessel in the scenic blue waters off Trincomalee.
Sri Lanka, renowned as the best place in the world to experience both blue and sperm whales, is ideal for close encounters with the biggest mammal on earth. Passengers can watch the whales in total peace of mind, knowing that their comfort and safety is in the hands of the most competent sailors/professionals that include on-board life-saving and medical teams/personnel.
Interested in a whale watching cruise? You can call the SL Navy Whale Watching Tours Manager on +94 77 7323 050 – where you will find a range of whale watching tours designed to meet your every need.
To qualify, the businesses must maintain an average rating of four or higher out of a possible five, as reviewed by travellers on TripAdvisor. Additional criteria include volume of reviews and how recently they have been submitted by TripAdvisor travellers. The accolade is extended to qualifying businesses worldwide.
“The TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence program gives exceptional businesses in a variety of different industries around the world the recognition they deserve,” said TripAdvisor for Business President Christine Petersen. Amaya Hills has a long standing tradition in hospitality and this is the icing on the cake for 2012.
“Amaya Resorts and Spas is honoured to have received this TripAdvisor mark of recognition for its aforementioned hotels and is proud that these hotels’ facilities, services and gracious warm Sri Lankan hospitality have satisfied its guests,” a spokesman for Amaya Resorts and Spas said.
Surrounded by breath-taking views, Amaya Resorts and Spas proudly ensemble six properties around Sri Lanka. The portfolio includes Amaya Hills – 100 rooms and suites with Kandyan architecture, ayuruveda spa and delectable cuisine; Amaya Lake – 120 rooms and suites embodying a typical village setting, ayuruveda spa, bird watching, lake rides; Hunas Falls – 32 rooms and suites, ayuruveda spa, golf, and many activities; Langdale by Amaya – boutique resort with 13 rooms, heated outdoor pool, adjacent strawberry farms and an unbeatable view
Coral Rock by Amaya – 32 state of the art rooms bordering the shores of Hikkaduwa and Wild Trails – camping experience at Yala with game drives to get closer to nature.
An exclusive luxury holidays brochure produced by Emirates for the UK market devotes 12 pages to Sri Lanka, one of 14 destinations featured in the 2012 edition.
Produced by Emirates Tours UK, the tour operating arm of the airline in the UK, the glossy catalogue titled ‘2012 EXCEPTIONAL’ describes the island as ‘a land bursting with colour, energy and history’.
The Sri Lanka section provides a description of the country’s many attractions, historic sites, cultural heritage, wildlife, hill country and beaches, and features 12 hotel properties located in the Cultural Triangle, the hill country and the western and southern coasts.
It offers a wide choice of customised tour packages as well as an eight-day tour labelled “Essential Sri Lanka” priced between £ 1,759 to £ 2,429 per person and an 11-day privately-guided tour titled ‘Discover Ceylon’ from £ 2,359 to £ 3,255 per person.
Emirates Area Manager for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Chandana de Silva said: “The latest Emirates Tours UK catalogue is an excellent demonstration of the commitment of Emirates to promote travel to Sri Lanka, a destination the airline has served for 26 years.” He said the brochure is targeted at high-end travellers, and is in addition to the annual ‘A World of Choice’ catalogue produced by Emirates Holidays, which also features Sri Lanka.
Emirates has operated services to Sri Lanka since April 1986 and now connects Colombo to the airline’s global network of 122 destinations with 28 flights a week.
The airline recently invested Rs 200 million on its own premium lounge at the Bandaranaike International Airport for the exclusive use of its First and Business Class passengers and Gold members of Skywards.
The other destinations featured in the 2012 Emirates Tours UK catalogue are Dubai, Oman, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, India, China and Australia-New Zealand.
In the 2011-12, ‘A World of Choice’ catalogue of Emirates Holidays, Sri Lanka has been accorded another 12-page spread and is the first destination featured in the 503-page publication, which is available at Emirates sales offices around the world.
The winner of more than 500 prestigious international travel and aviation awards, Emirates operates 14 direct flights a week from Colombo to Dubai, seven flights via Male to Dubai and daily flights from Colombo to Singapore, offering First, Business and Economy Class services. In 2011-12 the airline added 11 new destinations to its route network and took delivery of 22 new aircraft and flew 34 million passengers.
The government of Qatar is considering investing in Sri Lanka’s hotel and leisure sectors to the tune of US $ 1 billion, External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris told the Daily News in a telephone interview from Qatar yesterday.
He said investment focus will also be on developing the areas surrounding the proposed hotel projects in the form of shopping malls and relevant infrastructure.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had successful bilateral discussions with Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabar Althani who is also Qatar’s Foreign Minister. The discussions centred on strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries. “We followed up discussions which took place some months back in Colombo and the matter of Qatari investment in Sri Lanka’s hotel industry figured prominently in yesterday’s discussions,” Prof Peiris said.
“Qatar assured us that they have very significant interests in Sri Lanka and are convinced that Sri Lanka has huge potential for growth. Hence they want to come in a big way to Sri Lanka,” he said.
Following the talks, President Rajapaksa and his team visited a sports complex in the Qatar capital where the President said he was interested in taking sports to the rural areas of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan delegation also visited projects focusing on the reclamation of land from the sea. Sri Lanka’s focus on strengthening ties with Qatar reflects the emphasis laid in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of strengthening ties with the Arab world.
Sri Lanka is a natural hub for world cruising yachts. “We are well positioned to be a yacht hub and marina development can boost our tourism potential and worldwide publicity considerably” said Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce.
Minister announced this in the aftermath of an in-depth presentation on ‘Marina Development in Sri Lanka’ made to him and his top officials on 18 May by the Channel Islands based visiting international marina consultant and developer, Simon J Arrol (CEng, FICE), Managing Director of Arrol Ltd in Jersey. As an international marina consultant, Arrol has undertaken marina projects in 34 countries during his career that spanned 5 years of independent consulting, 16 years as Managing Director of Camper & Nicholsons Marinas and 15 years in the dredging and ports sector, mostly with RBKW, the world’s largest dredging firm. Arrol was in town to attend the third international “Boat Show 2012″ inaugurated by Minister Bathiudeen on 18 May at the BMICH.
Highlighting Sri Lanka’s tourism development to Arrol, Minister Bathiudeen stressed: “Thanks to the efforts of Basil Rajapaksa, our Economic Development Minister, we are experiencing record numbers of tourists and tourism earnings. We are expecting over one million tourists this year and revenue of one billion dollars. I believe marina development will enhance our tourism earnings even more. The Belgium investment delegation that arrived here for Expo 2012 show and also visited me on 30 March too expressed their interest to invest in Marinas here.”
The 28 member strong Belgium delegation that met Minister Bathiudeen in Colombo on 30 March also was keen to invest in manufacturing and consulting sectors in Sri Lanka.
Arrol, who recently completed a marina potential study in another well-known tourist island destination, said in his detailed presentation to Minister Bathiudeen and his top officials: “Marinas are the boat parks and ‘the infrastructure’ for yachting. The marinas around the world constitute very high potential multi-billion dollar revenue sector and is closely linked to yachting and related activities such as diving, offshore fishing, and water-sports. In the UK, the equivalent of Rs.280billion (US$ 2 Bn) and 63,000 jobs are found in this sector. The reason is that along with boat parking, commercial property development such as shops and theme parks too spring up with Marinas. The beautiful coastline, the foreign tourists, and the increasing wealth of the professional classes in Sri Lanka mean that there is vast potential for doing marina business. Sri Lanka also has the necessary hospitality, boat-building, and sporting skills to add. The potential for Sri Lanka is so strong that If only “marinas, yachting, and related activities” contribute just 5% extra revenue to the Government’s tourism target of the annual revenue of US $ 2.75 billion by 2016, then this sector alone will return $140million (Rs.17 Billion) per year. This will be in addition to other benefits such as port development, creation of jobs and introduction of new sporting and leisure activities to the country. Also, Sri Lanka is well placed to develop all classes of Marinas –the “Ocean class” which are full-service marinas, “Coastal class”, which are limited-service marinas and “Yachting Stations” for safe, overnight berthing.”
Arrol also explained his evaluation of the potentials of a strong Marina in the capital: “A well designed Marina in Colombo can boost its international profile significantly. It will draw leisure tourists and Colombo could become a marina destination. International marina events can be held regularly generating valuable worldwide publicity which will be almost free, an essential factor for a fast growing tourism destination.”
Speaking on “Marketing an emerging tourism destination in Asia : The Sri Lanka perspective of Green Tourism”, he spelt out the entire plan and philosophy behind the drive to grow tourism in the country referring in particular to giant strides made by individual hotel companies on issues of environment and green tourism. Here are excerpts of his presentation: “Amongst the recent global trends, green tourism plays an important role. The number of travellers seeking green tourism destinations is clearly on the rise. According to UNWTO research 34% of world travellers today are willing to spend more for a hotel that has a record of being environmental friendly. 50% of tourists are willing to pay more for a hotel which shares the economic benefits with the community.
What is green tourism or sustainable tourism? We can simply define it as responsible travel to natural destinations that preserves the environment and improves the well-being of local community thereby ensuring sustainability. The Tourism Development Strategy document published by the Ministry of Economic Development has very clearly articulated the sustainable tourism development policy of the country which is built on three main pillars.
Firstly making sure that there is absolutely no negative impact on environment in any of our tourism development activities and also to contribute actively towards conservation of natural environment. Secondly to ensure that the economic benefits of the tourism industry is shared with a larger cross section of the society.
Thirdly to ensure a pleasant experience throughout the stay for each and every tourist so that these tourists will not only repeat their visits but also promote the destination to friends and relatives. In Sri Lanka tourism is 100% private sector driven industry.
The Government has confined its role to planning, policy making and regulation. Of course we support the development of the industry through development of common infrastructure like roads, ports, airports, energy and water supplies etc. The private sector is making the business investments and is responsible for capacity building, innovation, value creation and quality assurance. Just to demonstrate how the country is approaching green tourism, let me therefore take a few examples from the private sector. Aitken Spence is one of the largest groups of companies in Sri Lanka involved in tourism. All its nine hotels are Earth Check Silver certified for energy and water savings, waste management and community involvement.
They are all ISO 14001 certified for environment management. One of the group hotels has already received ISO 50001 certification. Some of Aitken Spence group hotels can calculate their carbon footprint and are able to state how much CO2 is emitted per guest per day. Jetwing, another large group in the tourism industry, is a PATA gold award winner for corporate environmental program in 2012.
They have an ongoing environment conservation project called Jetwing Eternal Earth Project. Through this program they educate the younger generation of country on best practices of environment conservation and minimising global warming.
Most of their hotels invite the guests to volunteer to plant a tree when they stay at the hotel. What is interesting is not just the idea of planting a tree but the follow up. The tree is given a number and the information of the progress of the tree is reported in a website that the guest can visit. So year on year the guest can monitor how his or her tree in Sri Lanka is growing. They can one day visit the tree or recommend their friends or relatives who visit Sri Lanka to go and see the trees they planted. John Keels is another large group managing two famous hotel brands in Sri Lanka. They have started out sourcing most of the services originally managed in-house creating more opportunities for entrepreneurship.
For example recently they discontinued one of the largest fleets of cars owned and operated by them and started hiring vehicles from private owners for tourist transportation. Around their new hotels they help upgrading the nearby shops owned by small time vendors and encourage their guests to go out and shop.
The in house training facilities are extended to rural youth with no commitment to join the group after training. There are many other groups of companies such as Serendib Group, Tangerine Group, Taj Group, etc which have similar initiatives which focus on environment conservation and community development.
I must emphasize that it is not only the group companies who are actively focusing on sustainability. There are a large number of boutique hotels, villas and lodges which have won world attention for best practices in eco tourism. There are many hotels in the country which use renewable energy, recycle waste and cook using bio mass generated out of waste.
When we talk about tourism development it is also interesting to note that the Government is not focusing on specific tourism zones like many other counties. For us the entire country is a tourism development zone.
Sri Lanka has an inherent advantage of having a highly diversified tourism product which could be pitched against any other well established tourism destination in the world. It has beaches like Maldives or Mauritius, ancient heritage sites like Egypt or Greece, Rain forests like Congo or Amazon, art and culture like India or Thailand, waterfalls like Zambia or Canada, wildlife like Kenya or South Africa, natural beauty like Switzerland or Myanmar, gemstones like Madagascar or Burma, spices like India or Indonesia and festivals like China or Brazil.
Now just think of any tourism destination in the world where you can find all these in one place. Even if you do, where else can you cover all these within a few days? Sri Lanka is probably the only country which makes it possible. To many tourists visiting Sri Lanka is a refreshing experience. The whole country is a natural wonder. That is why in our tourism promotions we use the tag line “Refreshingly Sri Lanka – the Wonder of Asia’ .
Teoria Investment Company Limited of Japan is investing two million US dollars in a beach resort to be built by Sri Lanka’s Asia Leisure, which is seeking partners for new hotels, officials said. The company is acquiring a 34 percent stake in a beach front property in Balapitiya, on Sri Lanka’s South-western coast.
Teoria’s Chief Executive Shigenori Shinagawa said he hoped the investment will act as a “bridge between Japan and Sri Lanka”. The hotel venture also marks Teoria’s first foray into the South Asian destination, which Shinagawa described as “very exciting”.
Sri Lanka’s Asia Leisure, a division of listed Asia Capital Plc, is scouting for private cash to develop small luxury hotels along the island’s coastline including Trincomalee in the northeast and Galle in the south.
“Internally, we are reaching the limit of raising capital to build new hotels,” Asia Capital’s director, Stefan Abeysinghe told reporters on Friday after the deal with Teoria.
“We need to raise seven-to-eight million dollars each (for each hotel), to start projects in Galle and Trincomalee.”
Sri Lanka’s interest rates have moved up over the past year as a sudden surge in bank credit taken by state energy enterprises to manipulate prices triggered a balance of payments crisis.
“Asia Capital will buy the properties, but we need working capital to build, for that we are talking to several foreign parties to invest in each property,” Abeysinghe said.
The 30-room Balapitiya boutique property is due to be ready for occupation by April 2013, for which the local partners hope, will attract Japanese holidaymakers.
Formerly known as ‘Taruvillas’, Asia Leisure owns and operates three small luxury properties: The Park Street Hotel, Colombo (13 rooms); The River House, Balapitiya (five rooms); and the Tamarind Hill, Galle (13 rooms).
Another 35-room property is being developed along the southern coast of Wadduwa.
The five properties will raise Asia Capital’s room portfolio to 100 by mid-2013. Abeysinghe said they were looking out to buy an existing brand and rename the hotel chain or add new developments under the existing brand name.
Teoria’s investments come as Sri Lanka’s traditional tourist markets in the West slow down in the face of economic hard times in home countries. The island is looking to new markets of China, the Gulf and Russia.
Sri Lanka has set it’s sights on attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2016, after experiencing a boom following the end of the near four decades-long ethnic conflict in May 2009.
Tourist arrivals hit a record 855,975 in 2011 and continue to grow after the government scrapped the visa-on-arrival system in January.
From January to March 2012, tourist arrivals have climbed 21.1 percent to 260,525 over the same period a year earlier, according to Sri Lanka Tourism figures
“I think now is the time to enter, with things taking on a slight dip,” said Abeysinghe. “Tourism is billed for a healthy growth in the coming years.”