Steeped in history and verdant views, Sri Lanka continues to impress travellers around the world with its diverse experiences. Natalie Hami reports.
Famed for its ancient Buddhist ruins, the island nation of Sri Lanka has returned to many a traveller’s itinerary, having managed to successfully recover from a seemingly never-ending civil war. Lush landscapes, over 2,000 years of culture and tropical beaches are just some of the captivating scenes that unfold before visitors to this plentiful land.
Thus far, stakeholders appear to be making all the right moves, according to figures provided by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, illustrating that the months of January, April and June brought forth an increase in tourism arrivals compared to the same months in 2016, with a 12, 17.5 and 4.5 per cent rise respectively.
The destination’s flag carrier, SriLankan Airlines, has been paving the way for a bevy of visitors from countries such as Australia, China, India, Thailand, Oman, Bahrain and many more.
In turn, Sri Lanka’s hospitality industry is ensuring that it falls in line with this strategy, by upping its game to attract an array of markets from across the world.
General manager, Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, Markus Marti told TTG that the property’s team is actively working with Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Board and has most recently been participating in a project inviting international bloggers and writers to promote the island as a ‘destination’.
“We have hosted foreign media together with the Tourism Board from Australia, the USA and Ireland to name a few. We hope to continue this successful partnership and continue to work together with overseas markets such as India, China and the Middle East,” Marti said.
The UK and Germany are two of the main markets that Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort and Anantara Kalutara Resort will be focusing on, according to area general manager, Sri Lanka, Giles Selves, who also oversees AVANI Kalutara Resort, as well as the aforementioned properties.
Selves also declared that the GCC market is picking up: “We have a dedicated sales person based in Dubai to drive sales from this market. The pool villas at Anantara Kalutara are very popular within this market, as the villas provide complete privacy.”
Also looking westward to particular coveted and popular European markets is Thai hotel operator, ONYX Hospitality Group, which has a firm presence in Sri Lanka. CEO, ONYX Hospitality Group, Douglas Martell told TTG that the group will be looking to attract visitors from the UK, Germany and France, and will be broadening its reach even further.
“There has been a shift in travel patterns with more tourists now coming in from the East, therefore, we have widened our net to include Russia, Czech Republic and Ukraine, as well as shorter haul destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, China, India and the Middle East, which are also our secondary market segments,” he explained.
REST VERSUS ADVENTURE
As Sri Lanka’s tourism stakeholders continue to reach out to an ever-broadening range of feeder markets, visitors to the destination have come to realise that both adventure and relaxation come in bucketfuls.
Group director of business development, Sun Siyam Group, Evgenia Boyankova told TTG exclusively that the group is actively developing the unexplored tourism opportunities of the Batticaloa district in north-eastern Sri Lanka with Sun Aqua Pasikudah resort, located on Pasikudah Bay, which is home to one of the longest stretches of shallow coastline in the world and an incredible coral reef.
“We have the first Doctor Fish Spa in the area and a fully functioning spa with hydrotherapy and sauna treatments,” she stated.
Highlighting that the east coast of Sri Lanka is home to some of the most impressive and undiscovered dive sites in the world, with historical wrecks from WWII, Boyankova noted that for the more adventurous, Sun Aqua Pasikudah offers deep sea fishing boats, as well as an experienced and multi-lingual PADI five-star dive centre.
“The clear, calm waters of the bay also offer idyllic snorkelling opportunities with their abundance of tropical fish and exotic coral reefs.”
Appealing to visitors keen to relax after a long journey, Marti of Mövenpick Hotel Colombo noted that both leisure and business travellers can take advantage of the property’s wellness centre featuring Spa Ceylon, a traditional Sri Lankan spa, offering ayurvedic and Balinese treatments.
Meanwhile, Selves of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort and Anantara Kalutara Resort highlighted that at these two uber luxury resorts, guests can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Anantara Tangalle has its own coconut guru, according to Selves. “While lounging at the double-levelled pool, guests are very likely to meet this elderly but very fit and agile man, employed for the sole purpose of climbing the palm trees of the 21-acre gardens to harvest the King Coconuts. During his daily routine, he quickly climbs the palm tree, hand picks the ripe coconuts, opens them with his machete and provides guest with a super hydrating drink.”
And for those eager to get their pulse racing, Selves explained that Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort is set to build on its already thriving surf culture by partnering with Tropicsurf, which has been operating internationally for over 25 years and has built a roster of 50 specialist coaches stationed in nine different countries. “Regardless of age, experience or competency, the resort, in partnership with Tropicsurf, emphasises that everybody can enjoy surfing’s ultimate thrills in safety, comfort and style. Partnering with Tropicsurf will enable us to extend our current programme and offer more tailored experiences for each guest’s ability and surfing appetite.”
Catering to the needs of history buffs too, at The Galle Face Hotel, guests can enjoy heritage tours, according to the hotel’s general manager, Deni Dukic, who told TTG: “The half hour experience takes visitors back in time and shares tales from old Ceylon through tour stops, including entry to the room where Arthur C. Clarke penned the final chapters of 3001: The Final Odyssey and a glimpse of the half-finished wall murals by Russian painter, Alexander Sofronoff. It is rumoured that the famous artist took on the extra painting work around the hotel to pay for his growing bar tab.”
Keen on capitalising on the country’s great tourism reputation, hospitality stakeholders in vibrant Sri Lanka are ever-looking to strengthen their MICE business.
Dukic explained that The Galle Face Hotel opened a fully equipped conference centre with meeting facilities to deal with the demand for MICE business. Designed to host multiple groups at the same time, it consists of a cafe, six conference rooms, a library and two study rooms.
Highlighting a most unique element, he said: “Unlike any other hotel in Sri Lanka, our conference centre lobby doubles as a museum, with everything from a cannon ball that once smashed through our roof in the 1800s to the car Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, owned when he was stationed on the island in the 1940s.”
While some properties are eager to enhance their offering, others are keen to capitalise on their location. Boyankova of Sun Siyam Group told TTG: “We are focusing more on the MICE market because, having a secluded location right on the beach, it’s an ideal venue for corporate or family events.”
Referred to by some as ‘India lite’, Sri Lanka is in no way ‘light’ in the fulfilling experiences it presents to an array of tourism markets and segments spanning the globe.