Archive for July, 2014

Japanese tourists unaware of SL tourist attractions: official

Sri Lanka’s tourism sector should build awareness about the island’s tourism attractions and also improve its tourism facilities, if the country needs to attract more Japanese tourists to the country, said Kiichiro Iwase, First Secretary of Head of Economic Cooperation section of the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka.

Tropical climate, attractive tourist spots, food and comfortable atmosphere are some of the key factors that attract Japanese tourists to Sri Lanka. However, Kiichiro highlighted that the high tour cost, infrastructure issues such as the long time taken to arrive at tour spots and lack of sanitary facilities and more importantly lack of awareness about Sri Lanka in Japan as a tourist destination, as the major drawbacks.

The First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Colombo revealed these facts when he took part in an interactive evening and a panel discussion recently, which was conducted by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) – Sri Lanka Chapter which is an affiliate to the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

The interactive evening was held under the title of ‘Tourism opportunities for Sri Lanka in the Japanese market’.

Among the other speakers were Vasantha Leelananda, Executive Vice President- JKH, Head –Leisure Inbound Sector of Walkers Tours Limited, Amal Goonetilleke, Regional Director- Sales (Sri Lanka and Maldives) Taj Hotels, Merrick Gooneratne, Executive Director of TOS Lanka Co (Pvt.) Ltd and Dharshan Munidasa, founder of Nihonbashi and Co-founder of Ministry of Crab.

The panel emphasized that Sri Lanka should focus more on promotions and implement new marketing strategies for Japan’s baby-boomer generation.

Iwase also said that the travel companies should distribute information on natural and historical wonders of Sri Lanka, improve tourists’ convenience anddevelop new fields of tourism such as MICE, Green tourism, Health tourism and Sport tourism.

The PATA Sri Lanka Chapter enables its members to conduct their various assigned responsibilities for selling travel-related products and providing servicesto visitors to the island in a more effective manner. The key aim is to promote Sri Lanka as a PATA destination, under the aegis of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

Membership of the Chapter consists of 63 locals, comprising travel agents, tour operators, sightseeing operators, ground/water transportation operators and hoteliers whose businesses are situated within the geographical area of Sri Lanka.



TMC renews MOU with Hibiscus Beach Hotel, Kalutara

The renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Management Club to operate at the Hibiscus Beach Hotel at Mahawaskaduwa, Kalutara was signed recently for a further period of two years. The MOU was signed by the Chairman and Hony. Secretary of TMC – Kalutara,  Sunil Dharmaratne and Errol Smith respectively, on behalf of the Management Club with Ajith Amaratunga, General Manager and H.G. Wimaladasa, Accountant of the hotel signing on behalf of Hibiscus Beach Hotel & Villas, Kalutara.

The Hibiscus Beach Hotel has just re-opened after repairs and renovations and TMC members are most welcome to patronise the hotel which offers discounts of 20% to TMC members, on  food and beverages inclusive of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, soft drinks, beer and hard liquor (on ala-carte & bar tariff). Further, it offers special room rates to TMC members.
The hotel also would provide special menus on request at special discounts for TMC members wishing to use its facilities for special occasions. The hotel would also provide special menus for special events, occasions or larger groups on a negotiated basis.  The swimming pool could be used free of charge by TMC members and their families who avail of buffet facilities.
The hotel also offers a 25% discount to TMC members who wish to use the business centre, gymnasium, billiard room, tennis, pool table or herbal centre. Experience the uniqueness and hospitality provided to TMC members at the Hibiscus Beach Hotel in Kalutara. You are sure to enjoy it.


Tourism boom, PROOF OF THE economic PUDDING

On the seafront of Sri Lanka’s largest city, Colombo, tourists lounge on the terrace of a plush five-star hotel and sip their drinks against the backdrop of a mellow sunset. It is hard to tell on the surface that the country only in 2009 emerged from a civil war that lasted 26 years.

Since the end of the conflict, tourism to the Indian Ocean island, which is rich in culture and nature and boasts idyllic beaches, has surged as travel warnings were lifted and flights into the country resumed. “Occupancy levels have been improving year on year,” says Kavita Devi Faiella, the executive assistant manager of the Amangalla hotel, nestled in the historic fort city of Galle, a few hours south of the capital.

The fort is a UNESCO world heritage site and popular destination in the south of Sri Lanka. The hotel, which advertises its rooms at between US$ 550 and $1,200 a night, is bustling with guests.

Tourism revenues

Figures from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority show that 727,353 tourists arrived in the country in the first six months of this year, up almost 25 per cent on the number of visitors in the first half of last year. The vast majority of tourists come from Western Europe, the data shows.

“The largest percentage of our guests are Brits, followed by Australia,” says Ms Faiella. “The United States in the last year has become the third biggest market. I think it takes a country a certain amount of time to be safe and not have any issues before American travellers feel confident. “I think with the civil war having been over for a while now and the tsunami well in people’s history, people really trust the destination now.”

The hotel opened under the management of the international hospitality group Aman just days before the devastating tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004. Tourism revenues are becoming increasingly important to the country, which has set a target of attracting 2.5 million visitors annually by 2016 – double the number it received last year.

Sri Lanka has identified tourism as one of the main sectors to boost the economy with the aim of securing annual foreign exchange earnings of $2.75 billion by 2016, while 500,000 are expected to depend on the industry for jobs by that year. Tens of thousands of people were killed during the civil war and the country’s economy was hard hit as the Tamil Tigers, a militant group, fought for the creation of an independent state in the north of the island.

Improved infrastructure in the country over the past couple of years, including freeways, are playing a massive role in boosting tourism by making it much easier and quicker to travel around the country.

Modern hotels

Popular tourist circuits in Sri Lanka take in the country’s cultural triangle, including the city of Kandy, visiting the tea plantations in the central highlands and heading to the beaches and the historic port city of Galle.

“Highways, roads are improving around the country,” says Henry Fitch, the managing director of the Wallawwa, a luxury boutique hotel in a former colonial manor house in Kotugoda, near Colombo’s airport. “I think that will always mean there will be return guests.”

Mr. Fitch says that the property has become increasingly popular among expats visiting from the UAE and the wider Middle East region. “There has been an increase, particularly at this time of year as the heat is picking up in the Middle East and Ramadan is on,” he says.

Occupancy levels at the hotel have been rising, he says, reaching about 90 per cent in the peak season earlier this year compared with about 86 per cent during the same time last year.

“I think now there’s been so much publicity in the press in terms of tourism what a great place it is,” Mr Fitch says. “It is more suited to independent tourists who are a bit more adventurous. There’s such a diversity in the country and everything’s so close together.”

The number of UAE residents holidaying in Sri Lanka was 2,716 tourists in the first five months of the year, up 55.6 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. The number of Chinese visitors also surged, up 139.6 per cent to 43,885 tourists between January and May compared with the same months last year. Tourist numbers from Russia were up 77.4 per cent.

“Very few tourists came during the civil war,” says Aman Mohomad, who runs a colonial villa guesthouse property in Galle fort. “There was no business at all in the north. Everything was totally closed. Now they’re putting up modern hotels in the north. The new market is the Chinese market. Every year it’s improving.” Growth in the number of flights into Sri Lanka has played a significant role in the tourism industry’s rise. Etihad Airways relaunched flights to Sri Lanka in early 2010 after the conflict ended and it has increased its number of services in the country since, doubling its flights into Sri Lanka in February. It also codeshares with Sri Lanka’s national airline.

Emirates Airline last year added more flights to the island to meet growing demand, while flydubai also increased its services to Sri Lanka last summer. International hotel operators are also aiming to capitalise on Sri Lanka’s growing tourism industry. Major hotel chains largely exited the country during the civil war, which has allowed boutique properties and local operators to thrive. But now the big players are starting to pile in.

A Hyatt in Colombo is nearing completion. Shangri-La and Sheraton hotels are also planned for the city. A Marriott resort has also been announced for the southern coast. Onyx Hospitality, based in Thailand, a few weeks ago opened a hotel in Colombo under its Ozo brand and is planning to launch more properties in the country.

Luxury international brands

“Almost every international player, they all moved out during the conflict,” says Amal Goonetilleke, the regional director for sales for Taj Hotels, explaining that the Indian hotel company remained in the country throughout the war because the group saw a “great opportunity for Sri Lanka in terms of tourism”.

“It was a very tough time – travel bans, bomb scares,” she says. Taj now manages three hotels in Sri Lanka, including a five-star property in Colombo and a resort under its Vivanta brand in Bentota, a popular tourist spot on the southern coast. Taj recently spent $50 million renovating its hotels in Sri Lanka, as the group readies the properties for competition. “That will be the biggest challenge,” says Ms Goonetilleke. But others point out that big hotel chains will help to promote Sri Lanka as a destination.

“You need to have that development of more luxury properties,” says Ms Faiella. “More brands will make travellers trust the destination more. I think what we’re seeing now is more luxury international brands coming in and that will probably – what we hope – tip the scale a little bit more to Sri Lanka being known as a luxury destination as well as just a new avant-garde ‘have you been to Sri Lanka?’ voyager-type destination.”


Thailand, India, Sri Lanka popular Eid destinations

Residents opt for distant places to celebrate the festival with Malaysia and Thailand on top choices; no buyers for neighbouring places

This Eid, residents in the Capital are opting to travel far rather than staying in or heading for neighbourhood areas, as per a random check with some of the leading travel agencies. “We don’t have many domestic bookings, (nor do we have any) for Muscat and Salalah,” said Mary Thomas, managing director of Bin Moosa Travel. “We don’t experience the rush there used to be (for these places) anymore.”

Abdul Hakim Azeez, business development manager at Sama International Holidays, has also found that holiday bookings to Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Salalah have dipped. In Asia, Thailand and Malaysia remain at the top of the list. However, India and Sri Lanka are also getting some interest this year, particularly among the UAE nationals.

Thomas said mountainous areas, beaches and the backwaters in these countries are proving to be an attraction for the residents here. Mohammed Abdulla Al Fahim, general manager for products and services at Al Fahim Group, whose company Safar Travel and Tourism has a substantial stake in the Capital’s travel trade, told Khaleej Times that he saw considerable surge in bookings for holiday packages this year, compared to last year, showing “strong paying capacity” of the residents.

In Europe, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy are the sought-after destinations with stays going up to three weeks. “People booked in advance to go to Germany and Austria. There’s a lot of requirement for properties in Germany and Austria. All are sold out for August because of the Music Festival in Salzburg,” explained Azeez. There is also a good traffic to the US, particularly to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

Azeez attributed this to the increased frequency and opening of new flights by Etihad and Emirates Airlines, as well as the facility at the Abu Dhabi International Airport where passengers to some US destinations are pre-cleared for customs. “There are more travellers this year, maybe because of the longer holiday and because the schools are closed. They waited for Ramadan to finish so they could get more holidays,” Thomas said.


Fahim said for Emiratis, the favourite destination this season is Thailand. However, expatriate tourists purchased packages for serene, majestic and economically affordable tourist hideouts like Sri Lanka and Maldives. Other popular places, he said, are in Europe.

Tourists are also heading to Goa and Sharm-El Sheikh and Hurghada in Egypt, where the security situation has returned to normal in the recent months after the presidential elections.

Shorter breaks

Shorter breaks of four to five nights are popular for island holidays in the Maldives and Seychelles, particularly for those who couldn’t take a longer break this Eid. “The problem is the people deciding at the last minute,” said Ahmed Bassoun, manager of Golden Gate Travel and Holidays.

“This time almost all flights are fully booked.” Among those places travellers are undecided about are Thailand, despite its popularity, and the UK, probably because of the incident in a London hotel where Emirati guests were attacked with a hammer by a burglar. Thomas said the rush a few days before the start of the Eid is common. Air fares have gone up, which travel experts said, “are normal”. Rizwan Butt, a Dubai-based biker, who organised a charity bike ride across Sri Lanka during the holidays, said he paid almost 10 per cent more than the normal fares to book tickets for his group comprising 26 riders. But the situation on other international routes is even worse. Egyptian Abdul Fateh Muntasir said fares have gone up by 40 per cent, this Eid, which, he said, is more than his paying capacity, so he has postponed his travel plans. Pakistani Zubair Mir, who plans to be with his family back home on Eid, said he paid 25 per cent extra to book tickets on Abu Dhabi-Islamabad route. —


The Palms Beruwela to go for ISO

Owned and operated by Colombo Fort Hotels Ltd, Palms Beruwala are currently in the process of recording and maintaining necessary documentation as well as conducting regular training for staff in relation to ISO 22000 (Food Safety Management System).

The Resident Manager of Palms, Ishani Senaratne said that they are hoping to obtain this certification this year. “This would be under our phase one plan and later we plan to obtain the ISO 14000 (Environmental Management System).” “We have a HSH Team (Health Safety and Hygiene) team comprising of Executives, Supervisors and Staff from all Departments to oversee these and they are coordinated by our General Manager, Executive Housekeeper, Executive Chef, Food and Beverage Manager, Engineer, the Group Learning and Development Manager and myself. This HSH Team ensures that all necessary matters relating to Certifications are intact and attended to.” The hotel also has a sea food restaurant which is very popular among the visitors. “We would be adding several more features. These include more therapy rooms to the internationally managed Coco Spa and a modern Gym.” (SS)


Kamili Beach Villa invests Rs. 280 m

Kamili Beach Villa located on the Southern pristine beaches of Sri Lanka had invested Rs.280 million in the last two years to upgrade the hotel. General Manager, Kamili Beach Villa, Roshan Perera speaking to Daily News Business said that now they are reinvesting to upgrade the services to meet and maintain high standards of a boutique hotel and offer an even better service to their guests.

“The boutique hotel opened in 2012 March is located at First Station Road Waskaduwa, Kalutara. The eco friendly resort, Kamili Beach Villa has 24 rooms of two categories, superior rooms and deluxe rooms which comes with bath tubs. All superior rooms comes with mini bar, safe deposit boxes, tea, coffee making facility, flat TVs with DVD players, cable TV connections, hair dryers, shower cubicles and many other amenities,”he said.

“In addition, the boutique hotel offers a unique sea view lobby, a gym, pool bar, a Souvenir shop, travel desk, Ayurvedic Spa, a Library, an outdoor pool and a magnificent full service restaurant overlooking the ocean are the amenities offered to its guests,” he noted. “Built on four acres of beachfront landscape the hotel deluxe rooms provide guests with a magnificent sea view from a private balcony,” he noted.

“TripAdvisor Certificate of excellence 2014 was also awarded to Kamili Beach Villa for accolades of applaud and recognition in reviews by the TripAdvisor. Currently we offer special promotions for HSBC credit cards,” he said. “Kamili Beach Villa is designed and built in approximately nearly four acres of land, nearly 2 acres of land is allocated for the garden.

It encourages customers to have company launches, garden parties, avrudu games, weddings and many more things. Guests who prefer outdoors will also have ample opportunity to enjoy beachfront with a 100 metre stretch of sand and sea,” he added.


BOI signs investment agreement with Union Resort & Spa for Water Garden Sigiriya

Recent economic growth, infrastructural development and an overall rise in tourism to the island has also seen a host of ambitious new projects which will cater to these new arrivals and the projected boom in tourism. Union Resorts & Spa Ltd. is now embarking on an innovative and ambitious new venture, titled Water Gardens, after the resounding success of uts previous endeavor, the famed The Blue Water in Wadduwa, a timeless creation by architect extraordinaire Sir Geoffrey Bawa. A rise in demand for high quality leisure products sees the company expanding its business further afield, the most recent being to the cultural triangle, with the aim of fulfilling the current need for a comprehensive, high quality, upmarket leisure experience.

Water Gardens will be situated in Sigiriya at the heart of the island’s Cultural Triangle. Facilities will include 30 super luxury villas, each equipped with every imaginable facility, amenity and convenience. These new developments will in turn cater to the discerning traveller that demands the highest quality experience, with a rich serving of diversity, culture and history.
The project which has been currently estimated at over Rs. 650 million will be overseen by one of Sri Lanka’s most celebrated architects Channa Daswatte, protégé of Sir Geoffrey Bawa.
Apart from the positive impact on the island’s tourism industry, there are also plans for infrastructural development locally as well as the development of other local support services that will go a long way towards improving industry standards as a whole. This in turn will help create opportunity in and around the cultural triangle, providing employment for capable young men and women, whilst also empowering the communities they are a part of.
The project also places heavy emphasis on being environmentally friendly and socially responsible, incorporating state-of-the-art technology, the use of renewable resources and a host of other innovative features, which makes for a more sustainable business model and a reduced carbon footprint. BOI encourages the development of tourism projects which is one of the main goals of the Government.