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Monday, April 26, 2010

Sri Lanka’s tourism economy enjoys unprecedented boom

Sri Lanka’s tourism economy has recovered so quickly from last year’s civil war that the island is expected to shortly run out of hotel capacity as it experiences an unprecedented boom. Tourism arrives have risen for 10 consecutive months and were up 50 per cent in March, compared to the same period last year Indian tourists took the top slot with 8,607 visiting Sri Lanka, with tourists from the United Kingdom (8,559) and Germany (5,305) following. With the increase in operations of the low cost carrier, Air Asia, arrivals from Malaysia to saw a healthy increase.

Dilip Mudadeniya, Director General Marketing, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, said that this healthy trend would continue in the future too. “This positive sentiment is due to peace and the removal of travel advisories and we expect this healthy trend to continue,” he said.

But according to Ajit Gunawardene, chief executive of John Keells, Sri Lanka’s largest hotel group, if the tourism economy continues to grow at such rates there will be an occupancy shortage within two years.

Sri Lanka’s tourist infrastructure can handle up to 800,000 visitors a year, comfortably meeting expected demand this year of 500,000.However within the next two years, visitors arrivals are expected to double and then double again two years later to 2 million. He suggests that unless the country embarks on a hotel construction boom it will fail to meet demand.

“This gives you an indication of the type of momentum we want to maintain,” Mr Gunawardene said.
He said John Keells had begun renovating hotels and building more to meet the tourism boom.
It is currently upgrading its large hotel in Colombo, overhauling one in Trincomalee in the war-torn east and building tourist accommodation in the south.

John Keells also has a firm eye on the planned expansion of Colombo’s port, which is strategically placed on shipping lanes between Europe, the Middle East and China. The group is expected to bid with its partner Denmark’s Maersk for an additional terminal, which would make Colombo the largest port in south Asia.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Sri Lanka braced for tourist onslaught

Tourism is rebounding so quickly in Sri Lanka after the end of the island’s civil war that in one or two years the country will lack the hotel capacity to meet visitor arrivals, according to the head of the country’s biggest listed company.

Ajit Gunawardene, chief executive of John Keells, said Sri Lanka’s existing tourist infrastructure could handle a maximum of 800,000 visitors a year, comfortably meeting expected demand this year of 500,000.

But in the next one or two years, visitors arrivals are expected to double and then double again two years later to 2m, suggesting that unless the country embarks on a hotel construction boom it will fail to meet demand.

“This gives you an indication of the type of momentum we want to maintain,” Mr Gunawardene said.

Investors in Sri Lanka are betting that the island’s violent past is behind it following the defeat of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam last May in its battle for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east.

Hopes of political stability have been fuelled by landslide victories in the presidential and parliamentary elections this year by the incumbent leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his ruling coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance.

Sri Lanka’s market is up 22 per cent so far this year.

The rally has been led by John Keells, which accounts for about 10 per cent of market capitalisation and is expected to be one of the key beneficiaries of the economic recovery given its interests in hotels, ports and retail.

“The UPFA’s win bodes well for policy continuity and investment-led growth,” said Anushka Shah, an economist at Citigroup.

Tourist arrivals have risen for 10 consecutive months since May and were up 29.3 per cent in the nine months ended March 31 compared with a year earlier.

Mr Gunawardene said John Keells had begun renovating existing hotels and building new ones to meet the tourism boom.

It is upgrading its major hotel in Colombo, overhauling a hotel in Trincomalee in the war-torn east as well as building more tourist hotels in the popular south.

John Keells also plans to participate in the expansion of Colombo’s port, which is strategically placed on shipping lanes between Europe, the Middle East and China.

The group is expected to bid with its partner Denmark’s Maersk for an additional terminal when the port’s capacity is increased to 16m twenty foot equivalent units a year over the next decade. That would make it South Asia’s biggest port.

Tenders for the three new terminals in phase I are expected to be valued at about $500m.

By Joe Leahy in Colombo
Financial Times
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sri Lanka: Military Tourism

By Indi Samarajiva
Military tourism by air is slowly but surely taking off
Post-war, the Sri Lanka military is adapting for tourism. The Navy and Air Force have been especially active in re purposing ships, planes and helicopters for civilian use. Two specific civilian services are the Jetliner cruise ship berthed in the Colombo Harbour and the Helitours air transport service. These two services are now in almost daily operation.
Navy tourism
During the war the Navy Jetliner was a top target for the LTTE. Now it is a top destination for blue-chip companies and organisations. This multiple-storied ship is docked in the Colombo Harbour, near the Pettah clock tower entrance. Civilians can enter this formerly high security area to book a tour and take the Jetliner out for a sunset cruise, with 350 of their closest friends. But it wasn’t always like this.
During the war this Jetliner was a lifeline to the north. It was capable of ferrying over 3,000 troops from Trincomalee to Jaffna and large quantities of supplies. As such, it was also a target for the LTTE. It saw action — shots came near the Jetliner but never reached its bow. During some missions the ship was escorted by gunships and helicopters. It was also equipped with its own complement of guns, hand held missiles and about 150 soldiers to operate its defenses. Today, however, Captain Nilantha Heenatigala is more likely to inquire about what equipment you’d like at the bar.
“This service started in January. We expected about four events a month. This month alone we have 11,” he said.
One such event was held in March. It was well attended but compromised by poor food and beverage service, services meant to be provided by the Navy. Bookings aside, the service does still have some hiccups when it comes to delivering five star service to match the facilities.
And the Jetliner is an excellent ship. It is large and has ample room for hundreds of guests in the lounge, Club Room, dining hall or on two decks. These have facilities for sound and light, though at times additional generators may be required. The facilities are spotless and well maintained and the ship itself is a recent lease from an Indonesian company. It can cruise at a top speed of 28 knots (over 30 MPH), burning commensurate amounts of fuel. Being a military ship, it has all the required clearances to sail in our highly secured waters.
The most idyllic package is perhaps the sunset cruise, comprising 1.5 hours at sea and 3.5 hours at harbour. This costs over Rs. 400,000. That price can be divided among 125, 175 or 350 people, costing Rs. 2,300 per head for 175 guests, for example. The cheapest package is about Rs. 200,000, comprising five hours in the harbour, without sailing anywhere. The ship is also available on longer charters. You can sail up to Galle for around Rs.2.5 million, for example. The service is by no means an outing for the family, but it is affordable for companies or large groups.
Of which there are many. In just a few hours aboard the boat there were over four groups of local and international companies inquiring about the ship’s services and being happily obliged with tours. Captain Heenatigala, however, was clear that this remained a project in the ultimate service of the military and nation.
“This vessel has to run,” he said. “If the government wants to transport a battalion at any time, we can do that. This ship is available as a contingency, for any disaster, to evacuate people in cases like a tsunami, for example. It is also able to assist anywhere in South Asia.”
In this way the government is making some of its military/emergency facilities somewhat self-sufficient. Is it breaking even? “We’re not losing money, not making money,” the Captain said. So the ship continues to run, for security and for fun.
Air Force Tourism
Another type of military tourism is by air. The Air Force maintains a variety of aircraft and highly trained personnel. Recently these formerly military flights have been opened to the public and anyone can book a seat. Simply visit the Air Force office across from the Cinnamon Lakeside and the capable staff will fill out a ticket in about half an hour. In the morning you can leave from Ratmalana Airport and be in Trincomalee after 40 minutes in the air.
The service is not seamless — one test flight was an hour late for example — but, most importantly, the flights are safe and regular. According to Group Captain Janaka Nanayakkara, the Helitours service has been operating for almost a year. It does flights to China Bay airport in Trincomalee for anyone and flights to Palaly in Jaffna for citizens or foreigners with Ministry of Defence clearance.
The planes themselves are AN-32 turboprops, comfortable but still obviously military aircraft. They have only four windows and a back bay that opens. On a test flight there were only six tourists and all were seated near a window, which is worthwhile. The experience is remarkable as the plane flies at a constant viewing altitude.
On the test flight check-in time was 6:30 am and the flight arrived at 9:50, about an hour late. This is still incredibly convenient. At Rs. 4,100 for a one-way ticket, it is also affordable, especially for those whose time is money. One-way to Jaffna is Rs. 9,550. A round-trip to either destination is double, with flights leaving Colombo at 8 AM and returning in the afternoon.
Helitours, like the Jetliner, remains ultimately in service of the military. On each flight there are Air Force and military personnel traveling alongside tourists and business people. All involved are extremely courteous and professional and it is a slightly odd but pleasant experience. There are two professional checks, but much less obtrusive than a regular airport.
Travelling to the old ‘Colombo Airport’ is actually like stepping back in time to a more casual and personal age of air travel. It is quiet, uncrowded and one walks across the runway to the plane. Delays aside, the Helitours service is a novel, fast and ultimately breathtaking way to go.
In this and many ways the armed forces are adapting to peace, serving civilians and maintaining themselves. Available services include the ship and plane charters as well as canal boat rides in Colombo, holiday homes, etc. There are hiccups, especially in terms of adapting to regular customers, but both the cruise ship and flight service are entirely operational. The facilities are pleasant and safe and the people, while not necessarily trained in hospitality, are unfailingly hospitable.
This is, in many ways, true to the character of the Sri Lankan armed forces. War was certainly not pretty, but Sri Lanka has emerged from this decades long conflict with an extremely capable military. This military remains ready for war, but they are also moving into more leisurely pursuits. There are certainly very few armed forces in the world that let anyone ride their ships or planes, but it is an experiment the Sri Lankan military has begun. For civilians, it may be worth a try.
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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Galle, Sri Lanka: A Visit Can Bring You Back in Time

The Famous Fort of Galle, pronounced as “gawl”, is not what you would expect if you will first get to look at the charmless commercial district of the area. However, upon your entry into the Fort’s gates, it would be as if you are transported back in time, particularly the Dutch colonial period.

The reason for this is simple. The Dutch built this 36 hectare fort in 1663. This port makes up a very big part of Galle, Sri Lanka. At that time, even Paul Theroux, who is known to be very hard to please, only have great things to say about Galle. Indeed, Galle’s Fort has inside it a number of culture as well as structures dating back over hundreds of years.

A visit in Galle will truly be an unforgettable one. Even a simple walk on its streets will make you appreciate the great architecture of structures as well as get a breathtaking view of the ocean and the nearby towns. Galle’s Fort was even recognized by no less than UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Aside from being a perfect place to visit however is the allure of Galle for being a community of working locals. You will find in Galle numerous courts, export companies, administrative offices and other types of offices. Given this energy vibrating all around, the income from tourism becomes unnecessary.

Yet, more visitors are now enticed to give Galle a visit especially with the fast development and increase of hotels and boutiques that makes it more conducive to entertaining visitors. Many locals are even selling properties, such as vintage buildings, to foreigners for possible investors who will bring their business in the city. This is despite the devastation it experienced as a result of the tsunami that was brought about by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

In fact, after the tsunami, Galle immediately went back to its feet and even came up with the world renowned Galle International Stadium which became a cricket ground. Likewise, it is now on the path of making itself a Green City that will not only allow the conservation of its rich inheritance but also make Galle a great tourist destination.

There is no doubt about it, Galle, Sri Lanka is a place you should not miss seeing if you want to enjoy every minute of your travel. Those who give it a visit prefers to stay within the Fort. For a better schedule and package, plan your trip ahead and have an online travel consultant help you will everything necessary before your trip.

by Melanie GuecoFactoidz Writer
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Sri Lanka Visa Requirements For Business Travelers

Sri Lanka has a growing economy based on agricultural products like tea, rubber and coconuts, as well as textiles and gemstones.  In 2006, the Sri Lankan GDP grew 7.4% to reach the US equivalent of $27.4 billion.

According to WorldTravelGuide.net, American business travelers in Sri Lanka should feel right at home.  Many business customs in Sri Lanka are similar to those in America.  Most businesspeople speak English, punctuality is expected for meetings and appointments, and when you meet someone new, it’s considered polite to exchange business cards.
While American tourists in Sri Lanka do not need Sri Lankan visas,  business travelers do. Here are the documents required to get a Sri Lankan visa for a business trip:
  • 1 Sri Lanka visa application form
  • Your US passport, which must have a blank page and at least 6 months left before it expires.
  • 2-passport-sized  photos
  • A copy of your round-trip itinerary
  • A business letter of responsibility from your sponsor. The letter must provide the nature of your business, the purpose of your trip, the name of your contact  and the length of your stay and promise financial support for you while you are in Sri Lanka.
  • Your sponsor in Sri Lanka also needs to send a fax to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, DC to confirm the details of your trip.
  • You will be required to show proof of a yellow fever vaccination if you are arriving from an area in which the disease is present.
Business travelers to Sri Lanka must apply for a visa in advance.  At RushMyTravelVisa.com, we specialize in making sure that business travelers have all the documents they need to travel. We’ll research your itinerary to ensure that you know exactly which visas are required, and we’ll provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions to help you get them. Then, we’ll deliver your Sri Lankan visa paperwork directly to the appropriate embassy or consulate for the fastest possible processing.
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Sri Lanka Tourism gets major publicity from National Geographic website

Sri Lanka. “The words mean ‘resplendent isle’ and the natural charms of this pear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean that nearly kisses the southeast tip of India are indeed splendid.”

This is how Sri Lanka is described on the National Geographic website which recently awarded the island the second spot on its list of the world’s 20 best tourist destinations which includes some of the most exotic and exclusive locations such as Bali. This latest accolade follows a recent spate of positive reviews the country has received, placing it well on the international map, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB).

The National Geographic’s countdown show included Sri Lanka’s beaches, food and wildlife in addition to must see attractions such as Sigiriya as features to entice tourists to the island.

In a statement, the SLTPB’s Managing Director Dileep Mudadeniya said Sri Lanka is proud to have received such prestigious reviews from a reputable media channel such as National Geographic.

“The network, as always, carried positive features on Sri Lanka and we are regularly featured on Animal Planet as well,” he said. The National Geographic’s features also included sound bytes from internationally reputed travel writers for the Times, Jill Crawshaw and Editor for Wanderlust magazine, Lyn Hughes.

The SLTPB said it has been working continuously with all international media groups and with National Geographic in particularly, providing information on various facets of Sri Lanka Tourism. The SLTPB added that as a destination, Sri Lanka is also on the threshold of being granted the status of being a ‘Geo tourism’ site through the National Geographic group. Expectations are that the new status will increase the number of inbound tourists, bringing in a new fast rising segment of tourists who only frequent ‘Geo tourism’ destinations.
According to the SLTPB, National Geographic Canada was in Sri Lanka last year shooting footage for an episode of its popular series ‘Departures’ which will be aired on the programme’s fourth season. Sri Lanka has also been heavily featured in National Geographic publications including a 20 page photo spread in National Geographic China this year.
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