Destination Sri Lanka

A relatively new kid on the tourism block, Sri Lanka is in a constant state of flux, evolving at a rapid pace in tune with the changing needs of the modern day traveller. Emily Millett writes.

If ever there was a destination made for tourism, it was Sri Lanka. Blessed with a stunning natural landscape, a rich and fascinating history, famously friendly people, delicious food and tropical weather, Sri Lanka is finally able to bask in the glow of the spotlight it deserves. And as the world’s travellers direct their attention towards the tiny island nation, further advancements seem set on the horizon for Sri Lanka.

“With new markets and high demand come new developments which are taking shape in Colombo and around the country,” director, Amaara Hotels, Danukh Amerasinghe told TTG. “New hotels, from global chains to small boutique villas are sprouting and this is good news for the traveller. ”

Travel Forward 20

Commenting on the sudden surge of development, area general manager, OZO Sri Lanka, Alexandre Glauser said: “The consistent upward trend due to regained stability is driving curiosity for the destination. Sri Lanka benefits from being an exceptionally diverse travel product within a compact territory with the beach, colourful multi-ethnic and religious cultures and untouched nature. The country is now focusing on improving infrastructure such as the new highway.”

CONFLICT ZONE TO TOURISM MEGASTAR

Considering that just six short years ago, Sri Lanka was still in the midst of a turbulent civil war, the country’s veritable leap through the ranks of tourism popularity is an impressive feat of infrastructural development. And yet the growth and advancement of the tourism industry is ongoing, as companies scramble to get in on the action.

An example of this is local Sri Lankan hotel group, Amaara Hotels, which is gearing up for the opening of its latest new property, The Amaara Forest Hotel. Commenting on the imminent launch, Amerasinghe told TTG: “Our most exciting news is the opening of our new property in Sigiriya – 40 luxury rooms amidst 20 acres of jungle. The Amaara Forest Hotel is at its final stages of construction and is set to open in a few months.”

International hotel chains are also pricking up their ears to the sound of Sri Lanka’s increasing success, and beginning to add the destination into their own expansion plans.

In May 2015, ONYX Hospitality Group opened the first international branded hotel in Kandy since 1981, with the opening of OZO Kandy. According to Glauser: “For the rest of the year, we plan to further strengthen our presence in Kandy and continue to improve our OZO Colombo hotel.”

THE EBB AND FLOW OF DEMANDS

Still in the nascent phase of developing its infrastructure and establishing its tourism presence on an international level, Sri Lanka is welcoming a plethora of new trends and demands from a wealth of diverse travellers.

“Over the past few years, the development of the overall infrastructure in Sri Lanka has improved allowing for greater accessibility throughout the country,” director of sales, Centara Ceysands Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka, Avantha Wadugodapitiya told TTG.

“The main trend we are seeing is an increased interest in sightseeing. Travellers are much more educated and looking for a more authentic experience, which includes cultural experiences. There is also a greater interest in exploring the rich history of destinations, especially in a place like Sri Lanka, where there is a combination of beautiful landscapes, beaches, cultural heritage sites and more, all in one location.”

Noticing a shift in the feeder markets in recent years, head of sales and marketing, Jetwing Hotels, Ishanth Gunewardene commented: “Currently, we are seeing a wide variety of trends – for example, the type of visitor to the country. We are now seeing a growing number of youth travellers on a budget, who focus on the experience of a new culture as well as country.

“At the same time, they expect a certain standard of quality, and are willing to pay for it. This is the main reason we came up with Sri Lanka’s first select service brand, Hotel J. The first hotel under the brand opened in Negombo in 2013 and the second launched in Hikkaduwa in January this year. We will be expanding the brand to other destinations such as Uppuveli in the next few years.”

The steady growth of the online traveller is also making headway in Sri Lanka, as Amerasinghe said: “Another new segment coming in is the online traveller. Mango Holidays, is a sister company of ours which has been set up to handle this market exclusively. Our team at Mango are dedicated to handling customers on a personal basis and cater to their every need.”

According to vice president, sales and marketing, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements, Althaf Mohamed Ali, the easy accessibility of information through mobile platforms is driving the travel trends in the country.

“The significant improvement in technology has given rise to the emergence of a digital age, booking windows are becoming shorter and direct booking through online platforms are significantly increasing,” he exclaimed.

“Online reputation is fast becoming the single biggest influencing factor for the choice of a hotel. In order to stay competitive, we are revamping our websites to a ‘Responsive’ platform as well as introducing mobile applications for bookings and other functions.”

Shaking off the dust of 30 years under the thumb of civil war, Sri Lanka is now truly beginning to shine in the spotlight of its potential as a leading tourism destination. Not willing to rest on its laurels, the country is continuing to develop its offering, attracting the attention of new feeder markets in the meantime.