In 2002, a couple of gentlemen on a visit to the Barnes Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in UK were immensely impressed by what they saw there. “Why not replicate something similar in Sri Lanka?” they thought. In due course, they did! They are Hiran Cooray, Deputy Chairman, Jetwing Hotels Ltd, and Gehan de Silva Wijeyratne, CEO, Jetwing Eco Holidays. Their replica was created within view of the renowned Sigiriya rock fortress and is Jetwing’s newest property – Vil Uyana.
But the transformation of their dream into reality was not quite smooth sailing. “We wanted to turn barren land into wetland, but the authorities here did not understand,” recounts Cooray. “Consequently, we had to struggle for 23 months to get approval.”
The creation of the 9½ acre lake alone cost Jetwing a whopping Rs 40 million. But it’s payback time now. The premium price-tag of US$ 110 per night for bed and breakfast does not seem to be a deterrent. Cooray says, “Occupancy is pushing 40% and the majority of our guests are locals… We can’t grumble at the way things are shaping up.”
Vil Uyana’s moment of glory, however, came recently, when the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) announced its 24 Gold Award winners. In addition to these, four Best-of-Show Grand Awards were announced. Jetwing’s Youth Development Project at Vil Uyana bagged the Grand Award in the Education and Training category for the ‘We Dreamed a Dream’ project. The project was originally planned to bridge the skills gap and equip local youngsters for employment. This was done by providing training in hospitality and English – free – to school-leavers from disadvantaged farming families in the Sigiriya area.
Jetwing went to temples and asked monks to find them youth aged 18 years and above. Teaching of English to the selected youth commenced in January 2006, at the temple premises itself. A ‘personality profile test’ facilitated determining the youngsters’ aptitudes for different areas of hotel operations.
Accordingly, individuals were trained in Front Office, Housekeeping, Food & Beverage or Kitchen Operations.
The passing out ceremony took place in June 2006 and successful candidates were absorbed into the staff cadre.
In addition, Sri Lanka has won three Gold Awards. SriLankan Airlines bagged one for its ‘Home Away from Home’ marketing campaign for carriers. Chaaya Hotels & Resorts won two: (a) in the Environment category, for its ecotourism project, Chaaya Village Habarana and (b) in the Marketing Media category, for its CD-ROM.
All award recipients will be honoured at a special luncheon at the PATA Travel Mart 2007 to be held in Bali, Indonesia , on September 28, 2007.
its accomplishments – in ecotourism and engagement of local communities – Jetwing has recently signed a contract to build two rainforest lodges in Cambodia.