Sri Lanka bounces back one year after tsunami

Tourism rebounds strongly as new hotels open and visitor arrivals surpass 2004 figures

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  January 3, 2006

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has rebounded strongly following the devastating effects of the December 2004 tsunami. In the first nine months of last year, official figures indicate that visitor arrivals reached 405,585 — an 8% increase over the same period in 2004. What’s more, the peak tourist season from November to March promises to see another record year, with projections indicating that visitor arrivals will exceed the 500,000 mark for the third consecutive year. A US $320 million dollar tourism recovery plan initiated by the Sri Lanka government included an extensive infrastructure and construction programme, investment in community development and duty waivers for the industry. The Bounce Back Sri Lanka Programme also included a $10 million marketing recovery programme, aimed at placing the country back in the minds of travellers and travel trade professionals. “Virtually all the west coast beach hotels have reopened and many have benefited from a full refurbishment, looking better than they have done for years,” said Seenivasagam Kalaiselvam, director general, Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB). In a clear vote of confidence by foreign investors, several international hotel and resort brands have moved to establish presence in Sri Lanka. Aman Resorts International has opened two new resort properties on the south coast and work has begun on a $100 million Hyatt Regency in Colombo. Local hoteliers are also upbeat about the future. During 2005, more than $50 million was invested in developing new properties and refurbishing existing hotels. The new developments include a new wing at the historic Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, the construction of a 49-room Fortress Hotel in Galle, and refurbishments to the Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla and the Triton Hotel on the south coast. In addition, the city hotel, the Colombo Plaza, is undergoing a $20 million facelift due, for completion this year. “The increasing presence of big international brand names, such as Aman and Hyatt, together with niche luxury boutique operators, is gaining the attention of travellers looking for a unique holiday experience,” explains Kalaiselvam. The SLTB is also spearheading efforts to develop new resort facilities in some of the most pristine areas on the island. These are to be located at Kalpitiya, Yala, where there is an important wildlife sanctuary, and at Arugam Bay on the east coast, one of the best places for scuba diving, windsurfing, fishing and whale watching. “The country itself has arguably more diversity than any other destination — from seven UNESCO world heritage sites dating back 2500 years, thousands of acres of rolling green tea country, which retains a distinctly colonial atmosphere, and 15 national parks that showcase the most amazing wildlife,” said Kalaiselvam. The island’s luxury hotels received worldwide acclaim when four were featured in May in US-based travel magazine, Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List 2005, further enhancing the island’s reputation as a world class holiday destination. Although traditional European markets are still showing negative growth, other long haul markets and selected regional markets have surprised the tourism experts with steep increases in arrivals. The upward arrivals trend reflects an interesting shift in the dynamics of Sri Lanka’s traditional tourism markets, with an increase being seen in the number of Asian travellers visiting the country. Arrivals to Sri Lanka from India totalled 82,434 up to the end of September 2005, reflecting a 21.5% increase over 2004. Tourist arrivals from India were expected to exceed 100,000 in 2005, and it is predicted this market will exceed 250,000 tourists by the end of the decade. Tourist flows to Sri Lanka from Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia also showed significant increases; visitor numbers from Singapore increased by more than 80%, Thailand was up 40.9% and Malaysia figures showed a 45% growth. Other regional markets, Australia and New Zealand also grew by 35% and 34% respectively. According to Kalaiselvam, Sri Lanka is looking forward with confidence to the usual peak-season demand between mid-November and the end of March.

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