“Around 100 acres have been given to 13 investors under 99 year leases so we should have another 100 rooms by the end of next year. We have three hotels already operating in that area.
“There are also 13 hotel projects in the pipeline,” said Chandra Wickeramasinghe, chairman and managing director of Connaissance de Ceylon, a destination management company.
Following two years of peace, Sri Lanka is looking to bring back the tourists that were frightened away by the internal conflict.
“The government wants to have more hotels in the east. The area was abandoned for so many years because of the terrorist problem, but it has tremendous potential,” said Anura Lokuhetty, president of Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka.
According to Sorath Wijesinghe, ambassador of Sri Lanka to the UAE, the biggest number of tourists visiting Jaffna is those in the diaspora – the Sri Lankans who fled during the conflict. “A lot of the affluent people who have been living in Europe for the last 20 years are now coming back to see their own country,” he said.
According to the Sri Lankan Tourist Board, 654,000 tourists visited the country in 2010, a number they’re looking to increase to 2.6 million by 2016 and to five million by 2020.
“We’ve identified the Middle East as one of the largest growth markets for Sri Lanka with tourist arrivals growing steadily at 46 per cent last year. In order to increase this, we are committed to improving infrastructure, trains, hotel rooms etc…” said Malraj Kriella, managing director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Board.
As part of this plan, they are looking to increase their 15,000 hotel rooms to 45,000 by 2016.
Shangri-la recently announced a plan for a 500 room seven-star resort hotel in Colombo and China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation is planning another six-star hotel near the new Shangri-la property. According to Lokuhetty, Movenpick Hotels which is expanding across Asia has also earmarked Sri Lanka for future development.
Sri Lanka has also been working to making remote areas more accessible to tourists by introducing air taxis or seaplanes. “These flights which are only $99 on average are very popular and are always fully booked.
“They save time and comfort on going to different places,” said Mohammad Fazeel, head of worldwide sales at Sri Lankan Airlines.