Top tourism official: Sri Lanka boasts alluring environment for holidays
A rendezvous with Sri Lanka — Ceylon to historians — is not all about serendipity.
A rendezvous with Sri Lanka — Ceylon to historians — is not all about serendipity. A little effort, which does not entail a great deal of time and space, and chances are you’ll be rewarded with attractions that are right after your heart.
Lord Buddha’s Temple of the Tooth, Adam’s Peak, Dambulla Cave Temple, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya, Yala National Park, Knuckles Mountain Range, Diyaluma Falls and Kandy Lake — to name just a few — are breathtaking tourist destinations in an island nation, dubbed as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.
Once marred by a prolonged insurgency, the tourism industry is booming in the post-war, and entirely safe, Sri Lanka. With a special focus from both the government and private organisations, the local infrastructure is rapidly taking the tourism potential to the next level.
Tourists from all over the world are once again flocking to this serene island nation of 20.6 million.
“During the war, Sri Lanka got only 400,000 to 500,000 tourists up till 2009, but after the war ended and the entire international community supported Colombo to bring about peace, the tourism industry has revived big time. This last year alone, Sri Lanka received 1.2 million tourists and the government is targeting 2.6 million by 2016,” A M Jaufer, President of the Chamber of Tourism and Industry, Sri Lanka (CTIS) says.
The head of the private tourism and industry promotion body was recently on a visit to Qatar to explore the vast untapped business and tourism opportunities.
Detailing the current scenario vis-à-vis the tourism sector back home, Jaufer says many new hotels, restaurants and resorts have sprung up and several countries are investing in the industry such as India and Britain.
“We are now operating eight domestic airlines to facilitate easy and fast travel between different destinations and we want to share with tourists the best of Sri Lanka. Any particular destination can now be reached within no time,” says a beaming Jaufer.
The Sri Lankan government has initiated new projects to build highways and roads infrastructure on priority. The capital, Colombo, is a now a neat, clean and serene city.
There are beaches, wildlife, ancient cultural sites and a lot more for people to see in Sri Lanka. Weather is almost always pleasant and the added advantage is the new upmarket hotels coming up.
“I think Sri Lanka would be the only country in South Asia where a low-level to high-level budget tourist can come and equally enjoy their time out. Now, we have introduced a new concept which is that of home-stay. It is that people with, for instance, 10-room houses would rent three rooms to tourists. This way, the local community would benefit and also the tourists would get to know the local culture and life better,” sums up the CTIS president.
Some of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka are located in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Bentota, Negombo, Hikkaduwa, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, etc. The new sites that have come up are Nilaveli, Pasikuda and Arugam Bay beaches which are fast becoming the hottest tourist destinations.
In Kandy, for instance, the biggest tourist attractions are the stunning 17th century Temple of the Tooth (housing left upper canine tooth of Lord Buddha) besides many natural wildlife parks and temples. The climate is serene and there are many five-star hotels, including boutique hotels, he says.
“My purpose to visit Qatar was to convey the message to the world that Sri Lanka is a paradise, boasting an alluring environment for holidays. People are always looking for new destinations, and I wanted to tell people that Sri Lanka is that new destination,” says Jaufer.
“We wanted to reach out and one of the most amazing markets in the Middle East is Qatar. I wanted to meet people here and convince them to visit Sri Lanka and invest in the various businesses opportunities coming up there,” he adds.
The response, Jaufer says, is very good. He had very cordial meetings and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry was forthcoming and very helpful.
“They are willing to come to Sri Lanka and coordinate and develop our business relationship. People in the hospitality industry in Qatar are also very keen in helping Sri Lanka,” says the CITS president.
Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lankan government’s official body, is already active in promoting local tourism globally. They have been doing campaigns worldwide. Recently, they held the fort in Britain, China, Japan, India, and are also going to do one in Qatar soon, he says.
“The bureau is a government body and they are working globally now. We, as a private organization, are assisting them. And with this public-private partnership, I believe by 2020, Sri Lanka would the best tourist destination in the world,” claims Jaufer.
A large number of Sri Lankan expatriates are already working in Qatar. Multiple flights operate between the two countries. Sri Lanka can be reached in just four hours. “People of Qatar are very nice and we would like to enhance our mutual relationship,” he says.
His organisation was established in 2007 to facilitate the tourism industry at the medium and small scale in particular. There was no private body to address concerns of these industrialists so the Chamber of Tourism and Industry Sri Lanka voluntarily started to assist village level rural committees, especially in the industry.
“We have six general members in the country. Additionally, there are incentives for industry people to become members of the chamber for marketing and branding of their products and also for services,” says the CTIS president.
Normally, the members are hotels, restaurants, cottage industry, etc. The members are also given trainings. For instance, taxi drivers are trained on how to cater to the needs of the tourists and deal with them. The industry people also get to know how they can legalise their businesses and SME development through tourism.
Jaufer says his organisation has made a substantial difference, especially in the eastern parts of Sri Lanka where there were a lot of concerns. Most of the businesses were affected by the war and nobody was doing anything for their rehabilitation. CTIS facilitated and assisted them.