Sri Lanka’s moment in the tourism spotlight looks set to continue in 2019, with improved transport links, new accommodation offerings and a growing selection of activities and initiatives solidifying this emerging destination’s position as an international travel mainstay. Emily Millett writes.
Sri Lanka has come a long way since the civil war, which ended some 10 years ago. Following its conclusion, the destination was finally able to open its doors to tourism in earnest. Today, following this exponential rise to fame, the small island nation has found its feet as a tourism force to be reckoned with.
Visitor arrivals to Sri Lanka have increased significantly since 2009, reaching a record high of 2.1 million in 2018, and the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has ambitious goals to double that figure by 2020.
In the wake of this newfound popularity and on track to ensure the numbers continue to increase, the destination is undergoing a spate of development and infrastructural investment. Hugely popular amongst travellers, the rail system in Sri Lanka has been undergoing renovation and expansion, facilitating access to the northern port city of Jaffna and the surrounding areas. Access to Sri Lanka by air is also improving, with rising numbers of domestic and international flights, while the road networks in the country have additionally been enhanced, with new motorways being built around the country.
And the portfolio of accommodation offerings across Sri Lanka is also being injected with a healthy dose of investment, with new hotels and resorts of all ratings coming onboard over the next few years.
International hotel chains are increasing their interest in Sri Lanka, with new properties due to be opened by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Radisson Hotel Group, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts and Marriott International.
DoubleTree by Hilton is launching its first hotel in Sri Lanka this year, as senior vice president and global head, DoubleTree by Hilton Shawn McAteer commented: “By opening hotels such as DoubleTree by Hilton Weerawila Rajawarna Resort, our first property in Sri Lanka, our brand continues to maintain its commitment to innovation and the gold standard for hospitality for guests around the world.”
As the first Hilton property in Weerawila, this resort will be near three of the top 10 most visited Wildlife National Park and Sanctuaries in the country.
THE BEGINNING OF A NEW ERA
At the World Travel Market London last November, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau unveiled a new brand identity, So Sri Lanka, designed to capture the diversity, authenticity, richness and true essence of the country, and show that it is so much more than just another travel destination.
Set to roll out across key source markets in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it is hoped that So Sri Lanka will target and attract more high-end visitors, as well as the younger generation of Millennial travellers, who are driven by a desire for authentic experiences.
Commenting on the launch, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, Vasantha Senanayake said: “The launch of the So Sri Lanka brand is the beginning of a new era. We envisage that tourism will flourish to be the most significant sector contributing to our economy – that’s the goal we aspire to reach in the next few years.
“So Sri Lanka is an amplifier brand that supports and engages typical Millennial travel exploration. This is important in view of the statistic that in 2020, half of travel revenue will be spent by Millennials. Asia is a Millennial favourite, so we are committed to making Sri Lanka future-savvy and a vibrantly relevant destination going forward,” Senanayake added.
Millennial and high-end travellers are currently the main growth markets in Sri Lanka, according to managing director, Resplendent Ceylon, Malik Fernando, who told TTG: “The growth in the last few years has been led by Instagram-inspired Millennials surprised by the beauty of the country. There has also been strong growth in the luxury sector, which Resplendent Ceylon with its three Relais & Chateaux properties has focused on. Marketing of the destination is being addressed to move up the value chain, to support the increasing supply in Colombo and other regions.”
FOLLOWING A GREENER PATH
Sustainable tourism and eco-tourism are emerging as new trends within Sri Lanka’s blossoming travel scene, with the destination’s wildlife and natural landscape proving the ideal backdrop for wildlife conservation projects and sustainable initiatives.
In a bid to set new directions for the industry and align it comprehensively with UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), a group of around 100 senior Sri Lankan travel and tourism executives took part in a forum at the end of 2018, to discuss how each of the 17 UN SDGs can be applied to make travel and tourism more sustainable in Sri Lanka.
Commenting on the forum, chairman, Jetwing Symphony, Hiran Cooray said: “The global travel and tourism industry is entering a new era in which it is unfortunately seen as being a part of the problem due to its environmental impact. This presents a golden opportunity for Sri Lankan travel and tourism entities to adopt the UN SDGs as a new business model for future growth, and hence, become an intrinsic part of the solution.”
It is hoped that as an emerging tourism destination in the region, Sri Lanka will be able to learn from the environmental mistakes of other Asian countries and succeed in developing a more sustainable and environmentally conscious model for its travel and tourism sector.
“This forum could not have come at a more opportune time, as we in Sri Lanka strive to expand our tourism offering after almost a decade of peace and stability,” added Cooray. “It is now up to us to provide the leadership to put Sri Lankan tourism at the forefront of embracing all 17 SDGs and show the world that it can be done.”
2019 is set to be the year that not only cements Sri Lanka’s status as the top emerging destination to visit, but also the year that the island nation focuses its energies on heralding in a new era of improvement, investment and meaningful initiatives.