Thursday, February 25, 2010

End of conflict will boost tourism in North & East

The possibility of a lasting peace opens up the prospect of the great swathes of pristine sandy beaches in the north and east of the country becoming new tourist hotspots. Sri Lanka travel experts, however, hope that in the long term, the ending of the 30-year-long civil war will signal a fresh start for tourism in what is potentially one of the most attractive holiday destinations in Asia.

“This is a good step forward but we have to be cautiously optimistic; there is still a lot of work to be done to bring about a true peace,” said a Sri Lankan Tourism promoter, who promotes a number of hotels in Sri Lanka.

But in fact the best beaches on the island are on the east coast. Also, with the rainy season there coming at a different time to the rain in the south and west it could turn Sri Lanka into a year round destination. Resorts that are likely to become holiday favourites include Nilaveli, just north of Trincomalee, and, further south, Kalkudah and Passekudah. Arugam Bay is set to attract the surfing crowd while Trincomalee itself, described by Admiral Nelson as the finest harbour in the world, could become a major new tourist hub.

Throughout the years of conflict, tourism to these parts of the island has been almost non-existent or limited to domestic visitors and more intrepid western backpackers and they lack the hotels and infrastructure of the more developed south and west.

There is a great potential to develop tourism on north and east of the island. The likelihood of future stability is fantastic news for the country’s tourism industry, which needs and deserves a lift. Sri Lanka remains a great-value destination. Hope for a raft of demand now that the civil war appears to be at an end. If things do settle we can expect a surge of interest in the south and west of the island and in the long term we would certainly consider looking at the north and east.

Sri Lanka has big plans to boost the number of tourists – and fast. By 2011, which the tourism authority has dubbed “Visit Sri Lanka” year, it hopes to welcome 700,000 to 750,000 visitors, a sizeable increase on the predicted total of more than 415,000 visitors this year. The government has set an even bolder target of 2.5 million tourists by 2016, an influx that will require some 36,000 additional rooms. I recently met with representatives from the tourism authority is concerned by the prospect of such vast numbers. Sri Lanka is facing a choice, he says: either to develop as fast as possible, or to develop more sustainably for the long-term.

Understandably, there is pressure from within the country because Sri Lankan tourism industry has been nowhere near as successful as bigger destinations such as India, there is a feeling that we have missed out for many years. And, as a destination that has its fair share of poor communities, there is an understandable desire to develop as fast as possible.

Land is currently being parcelled out to developers in the north and east of the country but the future of tourism in Sri Lanka, a country he describes as a “green, green, green island”. I believe that there is enough oversight in place by both government and non-governmental organisations to prevent the country from becoming a concrete-clad carbuncle. We are very pleased that as a result of the conflict that went on for many years, we were unable to develop the north and eastern coast, and now we are ready to do so. When we do it we will be doing it according to set very rigid regulations.


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