Sri Lanka’s tourism industry – a vital contributor to the nation’s economic wellbeing - has rebounded strongly following the devastating effects of the December 2004 tsunami.
In the first nine months of the year, official figures indicate that visitor arrivals have reached 405,585 - an eight percent increase over the same period last year.
Peak tourist season from November to March promises to be another record year, with projections indicating that visitor arrivals will exceed the 500,000 mark for the third consecutive year.
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.
The upward arrivals trend this year reflects an interesting shift in the dynamic of Sri Lanka’s traditional tourism markets, to an increase in Asian travelers.
Arrivals from India - a total of 82,434 up to the end of September 2005, reflect a 21.5 percent increase over 2004. Tourist arrivals from India will exceed 100,000 in 2005 and are expected to exceed 250,000 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 percent, from Thailand 40.9 percent and from Malaysia 45 percent.
Other regional markets including Australia and New Zealand also grew by 35 percent and 34 percent respectively.
Bounce Back Sri Lanka
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 US$10 million marketing recovery programme.
International Hospitality Giants Move In
In a clear vote of confidence by foreign investors, several international hotel and resort brands have moved to establish presence in Sri Lanka.
Amanresorts International has opened two new resort properties on the south coast and work has begun on a US$100million Hyatt Regency in Colombo.
Big local players are also upbeat about the future. During the year more than US$50 million has been invested in developing new properties and refurbishing existing hotels.
The new developments include an entirely new, super-luxury wing at the historic Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, the construction of a 49-room Fortress Hotel in Galle and refurbishments of the famous Kandalama Hotel in Dambulla, and the Triton Hotel on the south coast.
Major city hotel, the Colombo Plaza, is undergoing a US$20 million facelift due for completion this year.
Sri Lanka a “Hot” Destination
The island’s luxury hotels received world-wide acclaim when four were featured in May this year in prestigious US-based travel magazine, Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List 2005, further enhancing the island’s reputation as a world-class destination.
In the latest round of rave reviews, esteemed US Vogue confirmed Sri Lanka as one of the season’s ‘coolest getaways’ in its October issue; and DestinAsian, one of Asia’s leading travel and lifestyle magazines, featured three of the island’s hotels – Amanwella in Tangalle, the Galle Fort Hotel and the River House near Bentota – in October’s Luxe List 2005.
Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) Director General, Mr Seenivasagam Kalaiselvam, said it is not only the luxury hotels and resorts offering great value.
“The country itself has arguably more diversity than any other destination – from seven UNESCO world heritage sites dating back 2,500 years, thousands of acres of rolling green tea country which retains a distinctly colonial atmosphere and 15 national parks which showcase the most amazing wildlife,” said Mr 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.
Mr Kalaiselvam said Sri Lanka is looking forward with confidence to the usual peak-season demand between mid-November and the end of March.
“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,” Mr Kalaiselvam said.
“The increasing presence of big international brand names such as Aman and Hyatt, together with niche luxury boutique operators, is gaining the attention of the traveller looking for a unique holiday experience," he said.
For the latest tourist arrival information, please visit the SLTB website at www.srilankatourism.org
and click on the tsunami link.