Archive for November, 2015

Raban playing and coconut toffee add local touch to new Anantara Peace Haven

At first glance, the 152-keys Anantara Peace Haven opening on Tuesday, December 1 in Tangalle is like any other 5-star resort with an international brand to boot! But looking closer, the Bangkok-based Asian premium brand which is growing rapidly across the world has far more to offer than any other resort in Sri Lanka.

The 21-acre site of the hotel built out of a total of 42 acres held by the joint Minor Hotel Group ( MHG)-Hemas Holdings joint venture, is a revelation itself. “This is unlike any other 5-star property. This is an incredibly unique site a premium itself,” says Abbas Esufally, Group Director of Hemas Holdings, as he enthusiastically discusses the group’s latest and most exciting product, sitting in his 9th floor office in Colombo.

When the hotel opens its doors on Tuesday, guests will be given an unfamiliar greeting on arrival: three women dressed in traditional attire, playing the rabana accompanied by a conch shell blower.

The king coconut welcome drink may be too familiar but families with young children are in for a surprise. If they arrive during the day, they get a ride on an authentic bullock cart!

The owners are proud of the fact that this is the only resort in Sri Lanka, costing US$52.5 million to build and has a state-of-the-art staff complex estimated at Rs. 325 million. It has 93 staff apartments that can accommodate 255 people, two cafes that can cater to over 150, a library with books and computers (with separate work stations, a mini market, a recreation room and one of the largest staff gyms with the latest cardiovascular and weight equipment, among other facilities.

“We want the staff to be happy and contended. Only a happy staff will provide service with a smile and go that extra mile to make sure guests are comfortable and all their needs met,” Mr. Esufally, who oversees the group’s leisure business, told the Business Times.

The Anantara Peace Haven has 120 rooms and 32 one bedroom pool villas which will sell upwards of $400 to $600 a night during peak times.

There are no immediate plans for the balance 21-acre land but being seriously considered to build residential villas for sale.

“An advantage is that we have a private beach. Private villas for sale, is a concept all over Asia. High net worth individuals want to buy or timeshare apartments. They buy these units as a second home or as an investment and give to the hotel to manage,” he said.

Mr. Esufally believes this is the future of tourism and on a financial modelling this is really what make a project like this (Anantara Tangalle) viable. “Heavy investments at 5-star level pay back only in 5-12 years and make it almost unviable for an investor. But this model (selling apartments) gives us cash up front,” he noted.

The expansive resort has added many new features not often seen in most properties here and is part of the uniqueness of the Anantara brand to blend with local customs, according to hotel officials.

For example, in the evening when the room is prepared for the night, staff will place Sri Lankan sweets – coconut or jaggery toffee – instead of the traditional chocolate.

Electric tuk tuks are available for guest use on the resort and for hire to nearby areas while electric rickshaws will transport guests to their villas.

The ‘Guru’ experience will figure prominently as part of the service. Officials said this is an Anantara hallmark to hire experts in specific areas to share their expertise with guests. The resort will have Wine and Tea Experience Gurus.

During certain meal times e.g. breakfast, the resort will showcase local artisans and invite them to display their craft in front of the guests like curd making, wood carving, etc.

Spice Spoons is a cooking class where the chef will take guests to the local village, local market, fish market, etc where they can see local produce, engage with local traders and then cook an authentic local meal together with the chef.

The hotel with over 230 staff has 30 local executives with international experience having worked in brands like Ritz Carlton, Jumeirah, Marriott and Rotana. Some 20 per cent of the Sri Lankan staff is from Tangalle while 24 per cent of the employees are female.

The Anantara resort has restaurants, a wine cellar and a high tea lounge.

A second Anantara branded property – the Anantara Kalutara Resort – is scheduled to open in March 2016. Serendib Leisure Management Ltd– the leisure arm of Hemas Holdings manages Hotel Sigiriya and Club Hotel Dolphin and the internationally branded hotels AVANI Bentota Resort & Spa and AVANI Kalutara Resort.

Minor Hotel Group (MHG) is a hotel owner, operator and investor, currently with a portfolio of 135 hotels, resorts, camps and serviced suites in operation under brands like Anantara, AVANI, PER AQUUM among others. It operates over 17,000 rooms in 22 countries across Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, the Indian Ocean, Europe and South America and has ambitious plans to grow the hotel group to 190 properties.

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Shangri-la’s Hambantota Resort set to open mid next year

 Shangri-la’s Hambantota Resort and Spa, the first of the two Shangrila hotels being constructed in Sri Lanka would be opened on June 2 next year, General Manager of Shangri-la Hotel and Resorts Sri Lanka, Mehdi Serrour said.
Shangri-la Hotel and Resorts Sri Lanka General Manager Mehdi Serrour (R) is seen describing the Hambantota Resort while Sales and Marketing Director Marcel Kromhout looks on. Pic by Nisal Baduge

The constriction of Shangri-la’s Hambantota Resort and Spa on a-145 acre land, commenced in late February, 2012.

One of the major attractions of the Resort would be an 18-hole golf course, a first-timer in the Sri Lanka’s hotel sector.

Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism-based facilities, themes made focusing families and children, Ayurvedic care facilities and wildlife tourism would also be available at the resort once completed. Serrour said Hambantota Shangri-la Resort is not just another hotel with restaurants and swimming pools but a hotel made focused on family and home based concepts with an added authenticity of the island to promote happiness among the visitors.

“Sri Lanka is different from other countries in its rich authenticity and the country is a paradise, which its people don’t understand properly. While Sri Lankans yearn to visit New York and Paris, people in those cities want to come here to experience rich authenticity in this paradise,” he said. He also said Shangri-la has already invested in recruits from the area and that they would recruit more 100 people from Hambantota and many others from other areas such as Mattala as well as Colombo.

“We will make sure the recruits of 100 have a ratio of 50 percent male and female. Though usually it is male who represent the majority in the tourist sector and especially hotels and resorts, we believe that female are more natural when ensuring a hotel feel like a home. They have the natural ability to perform the duties which needed to be done,” Serrour stressed.

He went on to note that Shangri-la Hambantota Resort and Spa would promote the city luring visitors from UK, Germany, India and also China and added there are much needed to be done to develop the infrastructure of the area in order to promote tourism.

“Mattala has a brand new airport which would come in handy when promoting tourism and also the Southern Expressway should be extended to Mattala or at least to Tangalle at this point to reduce the exhausting journey from Matara to Hambantota,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shangri-la Hotel and Resorts Sri Lanka’s Sales and Marketing Director Marcel Kromhout said Sri Lanka has a large economic potential in a strategically located sea route and measures are yet to be taken to fullest potential. He said though Sri Lanka is renowned for its tea, not enough marketing had been done to promote Sri Lanka tea or tea culture. “We would like to bring back that tea culture,” he said. Kromhout said the government’s target of 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2016 could be reached in no time.

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Revelling in the Aura Cafe


By Madushka Balasuriya 
If you were to walk around the coastal residential area of Jumeirah in Dubai, you would quickly come across BOXPARK, a stretch of trendy shops housed in shipping containers. This itself is based on a similar container-laden indie shopping district in Shoreditch, East London. While the trend has yet to catch on in the same vein in Sri Lanka, it hasn’t dissuaded Aura Café from attempting to fill the container-shaped hole in Colombo’s increasingly-competitive restaurant industry.

As you enter Bullers Lane in Colombo 7, the container-housed café, at first glance, does indeed look more storage space than eatery with only a bright yellow sign with ‘Aura’ sprawled on it in blue offering any clue as to its true nature. Closer inspection, however, reveals a picture book garden seating area with teak tables and benches in front of a moss-strewn pond and a pebbled pathway which leads up to glass front doors.

During the day the glass walls on either side of the doors give an open feel to the otherwise modestly-sized establishment, with only a handful of tables on offer so as to ensure it does not get too cramped.
The tables, which occupy about half the space available, are neatly lined along the walls; a little over quarter of the container is used up by the kitchen, while the rest is reserved for the cashier’s counter and a fridge displaying some fresh produce, juices and desserts. Extra seating and a (non-alcoholic) bar will also be introduced in the near future utilising the space upstairs, where a roof has already been put in place.

Regardless of what side of the shipping container love/hate spectrum you fall on, Aura Café is most definitely unique – what would be infinitely more helpful of course is if it were lined up next to a few more container cum shops ala Dubai/Shoreditch – but that’s only half the battle; a brief perusal through the menu revealed it was definitely on the smaller side even by most cafe, let alone restaurant, standards.

As at publication time, 28 items were on offer, though that will change by 1 December; the owner was in touch after our mid-November visit and informed me they would now be serving made-to-order breakfast over the weekend and savoury breakfast muffins over the week along with a new range of sandwiches and burgers.

Be that as it may, we were assured that the dishes served to us would be on the menu going forward, with additions being made based on customer feedback of daily specials. It was fitting then that we started off with a daily special vying for a main menu spot: the Caprese Salad (Rs. 900). Comprising of tomato, arugula, kalamata olives and buffalo mozzarella, the flavours combined supremely well, as the acidity of the tomato was expertly counterbalanced by the sourness of the buffalo cheese.
But where the Caprese Salad triumphed, the Semolina Crusted Calamari – a Rs. 850 appetiser – wilted; the cuttlefish dish served with lettuce, tartar sauce and tomato sauce disappointed nearly on all counts, with the calamari lacking in crispiness and the choice of (homemade) tomato sauce baffling. The tartar sauce – again homemade – worked better, yet was let down by the sogginess of the cuttlefish batter.
Next we had another dish in the experimental phase: the Prawn and Mango Salad (Rs. 1,100). One bite and the anti-climax that was the calamari was soon forgotten; the chef makes his way personally to shop for produce every morning and the mango on offer was all the proof we needed of his dedication to quality.  The blend of sweet and sour in the fruit was music to the palate, while the mango dressing, assorted salad leaves and prawn which accompanied it made the dish sing. The only oddity was the poached egg on top; while not taking anything away from the flavour, it certainly didn’t seem to add any either, instead trying in vain to compete with the zest of the mango.
Moving on to the mains, we tried the Seafood Marinara (Rs. 1,200) and the Jamaican Style Jerk Chicken (Rs. 950). The marinara held no surprises; a straightforward dish with a generous assortment of fish, prawns and cuttlefish. Also this time around the homemade tomato sauce was rather more welcome. The only gripe was that there was no parmesan served at the outset; we received it upon request and that addition was what transformed the dish from good to great. Finally we had the jerk chicken, which was easily my dish of the day. It comprised a crispy chicken leg served with a sweet potato mash and a green apple/roasted onion/red pepper salsa. The flavours were on point, as my predilection towards the sweeter side came to the fore; the chicken skin was a beautiful golden brown with an audible crisp resonating every time it was prodded with a fork, while the salsa and the sweet potato mash offered great texture and balance to the juiciness of the chicken. Highly recommended. All in all, barring the calamari, every dish we tried was full of flavour with the presentation well beyond what one would expect from a ‘café’. This though brings me to the one area in which Aura Café seems to be having somewhat of an identity crisis: the pricing.

The juices and desserts are provided from Coco Ceylon and Bakes by Bella respectively (both at marked up prices), so the only beverages made in-house, for now, are the teas and milkshakes. Meanwhile, the mains range from Rs. 700 to Rs. 2,950 – premium prices even though they are inclusive of tax. Moreover, proprietor Malisha Kumaratunge when asked as to how the initial response had been to the café said: “Some people come in here and are really impressed with the look and think it’s cool and different. But then others come in and are like, ‘what is this?’ Because they feel the decor was done haphazardly.”

This leads me to the conclusion that there is a disconnect between the pricing and the type of casual clientele Aura Café’s look and vibe is geared towards attracting. The question must be asked – how many customers in the long run, willing to spend premium amounts on food, would choose a café atmosphere over a fine-dining option? The answer to this question will determine Aura Café’s ultimate fate in the long run, but until then there are several positives to get them by: the management seem to have hired a talented chef who looks to ensure high calibre food is presented beautifully on a regular basis; and despite an ostensible lack of cohesion with regard to its overall vision, Aura Café’s move towards longer serving hours, the addition of burgers and sandwiches to their menu, its dedication towards constant menu updates through customer feedback, and its savvy self-promotion on Instagram (@Auracafecolombo) and Facebook (Aura Café Colombo) mean it is on its way to building a healthy customer base and looks well poised to navigate the many pitfalls present in Colombo’s challenging restaurant circuit.
Pix by Malik Gunatilleke

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More Chinese airlines planning flights to Colombo


By Charumini de Silva in Kunming, China
Capitalising on the booming tourism industry, several more Chinese airlines are planning to start services to Colombo. “With growing interest in travel between the two countries and the number of tourists arrivals increasing at a significant pace, several airline companies have now expressed their interest in commencing flights between Colombo and Kunming,” the People’s Government of Yunnan Province Foreign Affairs Office Chief Counsel Jin Cheng said.

Tourist arrivals from China have increased by 70% to an all-time high of 182,110 in the first 10 months of this year. Estimates are that the full-year arrival figure would be around 200,000 or more. Kunming is the capital of the expansive Yunnan province, a hub for tourism and a key gateway for South and Southeast Asia.

Speaking to a group of visiting Sri Lankan journalists, Cheng said China Eastern had already begun flights to Colombo from Kunming and a few other airline companies had expressed interest in commencing daily flights. “At the moment it is still at discussion level,” he added. Apart from China Eastern, Air China also operates flights to Colombo from Chengdu.

Kunming has organic overseas and domestic traffic flows but also great potential to be a hub for passengers going to Southeast Asia from either China or on long-haul sixth freedom flows Chinese carriers are increasingly targeting.  China Eastern, which has a base in Kunming and is the largest carrier there, is mounting an aggressive expansion plan after primarily focusing on its merger and enhanced position in Shanghai.

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Attract 1% annual Chinese tourism, FDIS for Lanka’s rapid growth: envoy

 Sri Lanka should strive to attract one percent of the annual Chinese tourism and foreign direct investment (FDI) outflows for rapid development of the country, Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang said.

“If Sri Lanka can get just one percent of the tourists and FDIS, then it is good for the country’s development. China is ready. Is Sri Lanka ready?” he posed the challenge to the Sri Lankan government and private sector.

He was speaking at China (Zhejiang) Investment and Trade Symposium 2015 organised by the China Council for Promotion of International Trade Zhejiang Provincial Committee and Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), in the presence of Industry and Commerce Minister Rishard Bathiudeen.

“In 2014, 128 million Chinese travelled abroad, and China invested US $ 123 billion in other countries,” Li added.

From January to October 2015, 182,110 Chinese tourists arrived in Sri Lanka, compared to 106,888 tourists for the same period in 2014.

The largest Chinese FDI of US $ 1.4 billion for the Colombo Port City in 2014 ran into some hot waters this year, but the new Sri Lankan government has said that it will be continued, while Chinese companies are now interested in investing in port services in the Hambantota Harbour, according to the Board of Investment.

While the previous regime had alienated the Western world in favour of a closer relationship with China, the new government recently said that it would pursue a Western-aligned foreign policy, since most of Sri Lanka’s exports are to the US and the European Union.

However, Li said that there have only been improvements in the bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and China.

“We have seen no change in co-operation with Sri Lanka since the elections in January. Actually the relationship has strengthened both politically and economically,” he said.

The bilateral trade between the two countries are in favour of China, with US $ 3.42 billion imports to Sri Lanka, which exported US $ 174 million in 2014, compared to US $ 2.96 billion and US $ 122 million, respectively in 2013, CCC Ceo/secretary General Mangala Yapa said.

“We need both the government and the private sector to co-operate to increase bilateral trade and tourism between the two countries,” he said.

He added that Sri Lanka can take lessons from Chinese global giants such as Alibaba and Tencent to improve the country’s e-commerce industry.

Meanwhile, Li said that the biggest impediment seen by Chinese companies seeking to invest in Sri Lanka is that a large portion of Sri Lanka’s labour force travels abroad in search of employment, depriving the investors of a sufficiently qualified labour pool.

Sri Lanka is now a location for neither cheap labour similar to Bangladesh or Myanmar, nor hightech labour similar to Malaysia and Singapore, in the immediate geographical region.

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The country club that redefines prestige

 The Regent unveils remarkable Gym at Membership Launch It gets better; The Regent is a key property under the LAHRC Management Services group and will be offering exclusive membership for Corporates, Families, Couples and Individuals. The membership entai

The Regent Country Club officially unveiled their State of the Art Gym on the 6th of November 2015 at the LAHRC Membership Launch. The gym was declared ceremonially open by the first official Member of the Regent Country Club, Mr. Rajiv Malalasekera, CEO of Brandix Apparel Solutions – Lingerie Cluster, where their Headquarters are located in the Biyagama Export Processing Zone, just a stone’s throw away from The Regent.

The Large open plan gym comes stocked with State of the Art Equipment from international brands worldwide. The tranquil view overlooking the pool and gardens makes for an enjoyable training session. Members will also enjoy a variety of lifestyle classes on offer such as Yoga, Kick Boxing and Swimming Lessons.

At the Launch visuals of the exciting plans for the Phase II Development were revealed, comprising of a Luxury Spa, 3 Badminton Courts, an Exclusive Members Lounge and a Grandiose Ball Room that will be able to host up to 400 guests.

If you crave a stay of exclusivity, The member’s lounge is the place to be, as it was created with the sole purpose of letting members relax and enjoy their stay while at The Regent and has an aura of bliss. Members will have access to a high-class Restaurant with meticulously prepared dishes in the 4,500 sqft kitchen by chefs with International qualifications.

In addition to membership facilities, The Regent serves as a beautiful and prestigious venue for meetings, conferences, corporate functions, religious seminars, family outings, weddings and parties at the picturesque banquet hall that will be able to host up to 400 guests. There are 3 beautifully furnished bedrooms that overlook the pool and garden area, perfect for any guest who requires a room for a quick change during a function. The stateof-the-art 4,500 sqft kitchen caters to all functions held at The Regent, and is the area responsible for the delicious dishes serves at events and the restaurant. Last but not least, The Regent offers valet parking and has space to park approximately 150 vehicles as well as a sitting room for drivers.

It gets better; The Regent is a key property under the LAHRC Management Services group and will be offering exclusive membership for Corporates, Families, Couples and Individuals. The membership entails a range of facilities across all 6 properties of LAHRC that depending on the type of membership includes a number of free room nights at Reefs Edge Resort in Uswetakeiyawa or St. Lachlan Hotel and Suites in Negombo. Other inclusions are discounts on events held at The Hamilton Deck or The Grand Ark Ballroom in Uswetakeiyawa. Members will also receive Outdoor catering discounts with The Chariot. All this along with the exclusive use of the Regent Country Club along with all its state of the art facilities.

The Night kicked off wonderfully with entertainment from the famous Lanerolle Brothers and an amazing spread by the Regent Chefs.

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Ratmalana airport to be closed under megapolis programme

Minister of megapolis and Western Province Development, Patalee Champika Ranawaka said the Katunayake airport will be expanded from the 18th km post up to Minuwangoda for all aviation purposes and that the Ratmalana airport, used at present for internal aviation is to be closed under the proposed megapolis development programme.Addressing a meeting to create awareness on development projects for the Gampaha district under the 15-year megapolis plan, he said 19 local authorities in 13 divisions in the district would be developed from the grassroots level. He said the Urban Development Authority had already drawn up the preliminary plans for the proposed projects.“Ratmalana airport will be closed and the Katunayake airport will be used for both international and internal aviation. With this in view, the Katunayake airport will be given two runways. Gampaha and Kadawatha will be developed as Administrative Centres in the district and Meerigama town for export infrastructure facilities. The Tourism industry in Negombo will be improved with enhanced infrastructure and Jaela and Kiribathgoda as residential areas with schools and hospitals complete with modern facilities” he said.Minster Ranawaka further pointed out that the megapolis programme would be the largest ever development programme undertaken after the Mahaweli project. He added that the views of the public and public representatives would be taken into consideration for this massive programme which will be inaugurated next year.

State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene, Deputy Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Gampaha district parliamentarians and Senior officials including Government Agent Sunil Jayalath and District Planning Director Gamini Wickremapala were present at the occasion.

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