Sri Lanka’s tourism poised for take off

Accolades from UNWTO Secretary General:

Sri Lanka’s tourism poised for take off

Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa

Tourists visiting Lankathilaka ruins in Polonnaruwa
Pic: Shirajiv Sirimane

Unawatuna beach..one of the top ten beachers in the world

The Hambantota Cultural Centre built by the Koreans.

The Colombo Cultural Centre built by the Chinese.

Sri Lanka has received many accolades from superstar celebrities,
politicians, international sports legends and other personalities.

They have praised the Lankan hospitality, the beaches, nature
culture, adventure and the diverse attractions that this country has to
offer. International magazines have recommended Sri Lanka as one of the
top ten places in the world for a perfect holiday. The list, goes on and
on…

On top of all these accolades, Secretary General, United Nations’
World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, who was in Sri Lanka
last week described the island as the emerging country in Asia’s tourism
sector.

Speaking at the 23rd Annual UNWTO Conference of South Asia, East Asia
and the Pacific, hosted in Colombo last week, he said that Sri Lanka’s
target of achieving 2.5 million tourist arrivals by 2016, set by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, can be achieved. Coming from a personal
such as the Secretary General of the UNWTO, this truly is a comment Sri
Lankans can be proud about. The World Tourism Organization has 400
affiliated members in 154 countries.

While pledging the support of the UNWTO for Sri Lanka’s endeavours,
he also praised the efforts taken by the Ministry of Tourism and said
that they would drive Sri Lanka even closer to this target.

Rifai also met Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa and
Ministry Secretary, Dr. P.B. Jayasundara and discussed matters of
interest. General Manager, Sri Lanka Convention Bureau of the Ministry
of Economic Development Vipula Wanigasekera said that none of these
would have been possible if Sri Lanka was fighting a separatist battle.

“If there was terrorism in the country, Sri Lanka could not have even
dreamt of hosting an event such as the UNWTO conference or the World
Cup”, he said.

The publicity these events brought to Sri Lanka as a destination
would help promote tourism in a bigger way.

Wanigasekera said that Sri Lanka would once again be in the global
map when it hosts the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Conference next year
to be attended by over 1,000 delegates.

One of the most talked about events Sri Lanka hosted when the
country’s infrastructure was still undeveloped was the Non-Aligned
Summit at the BMICH in 1976.

For nearly four decades, the BMICH was the only conference facility
Sri Lanka could boast of.

However, in the last two years, conference facilities and sports
venues in Sri Lank took a major leap forward, not only in Colombo, but
in the outstations as well with new venues being built.

The first project is the Homagama sports complex which would
facilitate rugby, soccer and athletics. The complex will comprise a
swimming pool, a rifle shooting range and a gymnasium with two
pavilions.

The second project is the Hambantota international conference
facility.

Located in Siribopura, Hambantota, the project started in 2006 with
Korean aid with the objective of “promoting balanced and comprehensive
regional development”.

It has direct access to the southern expressway and the rail link
between the capital Colombo and the other regions. In addition to these,
Hambantota would also have an international airport, tele cinema
village, international port and the Suriyawewa cricket stadium. Built
for the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, the Suriyawewa International Cricket
Stadium is the biggest cricket stadium in Sri Lanka

Many facilities

Wanigasekera said that for the first time in the history of the
country, Sri Lanka is now able to host international conferences and
major events outside the capital in Hambantota. “This is a major
marketing tool for MICE tourism as we now have a second capital to
market MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions).”

The private sector too has played a major role in the development of
Hambantota with the hotel sector intensifying investments in the area.
Peacock Beach Hotel was refurbished and Tissa Hotel, owned and operated
by Galle Face Hotel, was completely redone; from next week it would be
marketed as a star class property.

He said the revenue they gained from MICE tourism last year was in
excess of USD 55 million; they accounted for over 88,000 guests. This
was USD 43 million as revenue and 75,000 arrivals in 2009.

He said that MICE tourists are high spenders and as they are decision
makers in their countries, what they say about another country goes a
long way. “The biggest advantage is that they come back to holiday
destinations with their families and stay for a longer period as high
spenders.”

There is also new cricket stadium in Kandy and a new cultural centre
in Colombo which would woo more MICE to Sri Lanka.

For the first time, plans are also under way to build Sri Lanka’s
first multi-functional convention centre in Peliyagoda. This is expected
to offer multi-purpose conference facilities, from hosting of weddings
to huge outdoor and indoor exhibitions and conferences.

Heavy investment

Meanwhile, Dilip Mudadeniya from Sri Lanka Tourism said investments
for tourism are picking up as the Government is providing the right
infrastructure. He said that Sri Lanka has the right investment climate
and is an emerging tourist market.

“If these are not facts, a top hotel chain such as Shangri-La would
never even dream of investing in Sri Lanka.”

Mudadeniya, now handling investments, said that several other
countries along with Sri Lankans are investing heavily on the travel
sector, not only in Colombo, but in outstation areas as well.

The John Keells Group is building a hotel in place of Beach Hotel
Beyroo in Beruwela while the company which had plans of disposing the
Hikkaduwa property has now reinvested in the hotel. Another area that
has seen new properties and developments is Trincomalee while Jaffna too
is now offering star class accommodation.

Kuchaweli and Pasikudah which have been identified as tourism zones
too have already attracted investors.

The Connaissance Group has invested on a 50-room upmarket hotel in
Kuchaweli while several foreign investors have shown an interest in
development in this area.

Undoubtedly one of the most talked about and Sri Lanka’s biggest
tourism development projects is the Kalpitiya integrated tourism zone.
Infrastructure is falling in to place here and Dutch Bay Resorts has
already started projects. Companies from India, Switzerland and Maldives
too have shown a keen interest in this project which would be for high
spenders.

Deputy Minister of Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena
said that two islets have already been leased out to foreign investors
on 30- year leases for Rs.18 million for the first five years.

With the success of the project, the Government has called for bids
to lease out 10 more islets.

When completed, the Kalpitiya integrated tourism zone would have over
15 hotels with a total room capacity of 5,000.

It would also have floating restaurants, cable cars, golf courses,
underwater activities and many other forms of entertainment.

It is expected to generate 15,000 direct and 30,000 indirect
employment opportunities.

The Palali Airport too would be upgraded.

The development of the new sea plane landing port at Ja-Ela and the
Colombo airport would also add value to Sri Lanka as a destination and
the travel sector is looking at better times. They thank the Government
for keeping its promise and ending the conflict, heralding a golden era
in tourism in time to come.

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