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Sunday, 27 March 2011

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Tourism - a big success after the dawn of peace



S. Kalaiselvam

Sunday Observer spoke to the Director General (DG) of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) S. Kalaiselvam on the latest developments pertaining to tourism in Sri Lanka. With this year being designated the ‘Visit Sri Lanka’ year, the DG said that tourism in Sri Lanka is a true success story, after the dawn of peace.

Q: As 2011 is the ‘Visit Sri Lanka’ year, how is the tourist sector faring presently?

A: Sri Lanka’s tourism sector bounced back so quickly after achieving peace two years ago. We got a record number of arrivals this year with January bringing in as many as 76, 197 tourists and in February these were 65, 797 tourist arrivals. These arrivals reached new heights last year registering a growth of 46.1 percent to 654, 476 from 2009’s figure of 447, 890.

The 206, 586 increase shows that tourism has achieved massive growth which is a real achievement in the history of tourism in Sri Lanka. We are expecting to surpass all boundaries this year with a total of 750,000 tourist arrivals.

The overall annual hotel room occupancy rate increased to 70.1 percent from 48.4 percent occupancy rate recorded last year due to the high demand of hotel rooms both from domestic and foreign tourists.

Q: What are Sri Lanka’s earnings from tourism so far?

A: Foreign exchange from tourism increased from Rs. 56.24 billion marking an increase of nearly 50 percent compared to the Rs. 37.51 billion registered in the previous year. In terms of US dollars, this amounted to earnings of US$ 497.4 million in 2010 as compared to US$ 326.3 million in the previous year; an increase of 52.4 percent.

Q: How can the tourism sector compensate for the shortage of rooms with 750,000 tourists flooding in to the country?

A: At present, we have 15,000 rooms or 25,000 beds. It also depends on the type of tourists, distribution and average duration of stay. The capacity available at present can easily accommodate 750,000 tourists or more.

To assist investors, we have launched a program called the One-Stop-Unit - Unit for National Investment in Tourism (UNIT). This is a centralised promotion and facilitation centre established to help potential tourism investors interested in starting up a tourism venture to set up a hotel, resort, a guesthouse or even a boutique hotel.

It provides a trouble-free, convenient and time-saving way of gaining approval and implementing projects. Under the One-Stop-Unit program, we launched a special Home Stay program to give a helping hand to private homes to earn an income and give tourists a different kind of tourism experience.

The Home Stay Unit program is a unique service in which Sri Lanka Tourism ensures that homes are of high standard and those that maintain strict hygiene will be selected for this service.

They also have to be registered under this program to operate. The primary aim of this program is to work hand-in-hand with the community offering employment and economic benefits to all.

Q: How are tourism development activities taking place in the North and the East?

A: The North and East have greatly benefited after the dawn of peace. The first star-class hotel in Jaffna with 40 rooms came into operation in November 2010 and today, the renowned Subhash Hotel has been handed over to its owners.

As a former manager of the Passekudah resort a few years ago, it is good to see sustainable development paving the way for tourism, economic benefit and employment in those areas.

A major hotel and resort development program was launched last year and this year will see it being constructed. It is only next year that we see tangible profits coming into play as the North and East are still grey areas that are still being developed. Passekudah resort, Kalpitiya resort and Kuchchaveli resort are all earmarked as tourism development projects and will see the light of day very soon.

Q: How is the adventure tourism sector coming up?

A: It’s good to see Sri Lanka’s adventure tourism steadily improving with water sports and other adventure activities becoming popular. But this sector still needs to be improved with proper infrastructure with good-quality equipment, professionals and the right safety standards behind the services. We have a few who are versatile and reliable in the industry but we still need good direction and encouragement to support potential adventure tourism providers in this area.

Even though this is a developing segment, I am confident that there is something for any tourist who sets foot on our island. We have all the right places to do adventure activities but still need infrastructure to develop so I hope that more tourism investors look into this area.

Q: What are the future planned projects that SLTDA will tackle?

A: With the Home Stay program, we are seeing tourism relaunched to Sri Lanka in a new way. One of the oldest tour operating companies commenced open-air double-decker buses on Sundays, the ‘Feel Sri Lanka’ cultural shows take place every Friday and Kirala Kelle in Matara, a pristine nature-site was launched to mark World Tourism Day in Sri Lanka.

In addition, a new scheme to renovate existing Walauwas to high-quality five-star accommodation catering to the niche market in the form of boutique hotels is also being done.

During the year under review, five such Walauwas with a total bed strength of 20 were registered and licensed by the SLTDA.

We have achieved success in Sri Lanka’s tourism sector and we are confident that we can grow in the years to come. Plus, we have small-time tourism operators promoting Sri Lanka as a sports tourism destination for schools to come and have friendly matches with our local schools.

What is good about this government is that the dreams we had before are now becoming a reality and what we thought impossible is now possible. We have got optimistic reviews and good feedback from loyal tourists so we are quickly developing into one of the world’s biggest and best destinations.

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