First DoubleTree by Hilton upscale resort to open in Weerawila next year

  • KDU Adventures invests over Rs. 6 b to build 140-room resort Firm bullish on tourism, eyes three more hotel projects

  • KDU Group keen to list on CSE in the next five years Hilton says committed to contribute to SL’s travel and tourism

By Charumini de Silva

Global hospitality giant Hilton yesterday sealed a historic management agreement with KDU Adventures Ltd. to open its first iconic upscale 140-room DoubleTree by Hilton Weerawila Rajawarana Resort next year, with an investment of Rs. 6 billion.

The latest signing brings the current tally of Hilton pipeline hotels in Sri Lanka to seven properties, while this will be the first operating DoubleTree by Hilton property in the country.

The family-owned KDU Adventures Ltd. is a subsidiary of the KDU Group, which is the country’s largest tea producer with interests in hydropower, is now taking a bullish view on tourism and diversifying into it.

In a statement issued to mark the signing of the landmark agreement, Hilton Asia and Australia Senior Vice President Development Guy Phillips said: “As tourism in Sri Lanka continues to grow, expanding our footprint in developing towns, including Tissamaharama, supports our mission to be the world’s most hospitable company by being in destinations where our guests want to travel. The signing of DoubleTree by Hilton Weerawila demonstrates our commitment to fill the existing gap of an international accommodation in the area, giving a clear first-mover advantage in offering our award-winning hospitality to both international and domestic tourists.”

KDU Group Chairman Saman Upasena said it was a mere idea of his to diversify into the tourism industry considering its growth potential in the country.

“We are privileged that a global leader like Hilton has agreed to manage Rajawarana Resort, which will be ready for operations early next year,” he added.

DFT-19-1KDU Group Chairman Saman Upasena (center left) and SEA and India Hilton Operations Vice President William Costley exchange the Agreement. Also present from left: KDU Group Deputy Chairman Thushan Upasena, KDU Group, Group Chief Executive Officer Susantha Pinto, Hilton Development Asia Director Kieran Bestall and KDU Group Director Deelaka Upasena – Pic by Ruwan Walpola

He was also upbeat about the developments taking place in Hambantota within the next few years as the Government has plans to build an industrial zone, where many foreign companies will set up their manufacturing bases.

Upasena also hinted that they aim to diversify into more sectors in the future and become more proactive in the corporate arena.

“Sri Lanka has always been an important market for us,” said Hilton’s Vice President of Operations, South East Asia and India William Costley, adding: “ We are grateful and humbled by the confidence and strength of our brands and really excited to work together and combine our expertise into the development of hospitality in Sri Lanka.”

He said the inking of this management agreement was another example of Hilton’s latest focus in finding the right strategic partners to do business with and expand their portfolio, in the right locations with the right brand.

“I am confident that this relationship will further develop as we identify other strategic locations in the country to expand Hilton and KDU’s portfolio of hotels,” he added.

Furthermore, he pointed out that DoubleTree by Hilton Rajawarana Resort is ideally placed for both domestic and international travellers and will be ready for operation in Q1 of next year.

Costley said Sri Lanka was an amazing country of diversity which was unique in Asia and globally and commended the country for attracting two million tourists last year and earning over $ 2 billion.

“Tourism will be an important, if not the most important, industry of Sri Lanka,” Costley said and expressed confidence in the country achieving the target of four million tourists by 2020.

Noting that all of Hilton’s brands are leaders in their respective segments, he said: “Today Hilton is among four of the top five global brands under development. More than one in five hotel rooms under construction globally is a Hilton branded hotel. Hilton wants to be the most hospitable company in the world by creating experiences for our guests, meaningful opportunities for team members, high values for owners and most importantly we want to give a positive impact to every community.”

Hilton was one of the first international hotel brands to enter Sri Lanka in 1987 and Costley reiterated that it was committed to contributing to the country’s growing travel and tourism sector as well as its social and economic progress.

KDU Group CEO Susantha Pinto told Daily FT that the firm has thus far invested around Rs. 4 billion and with the completion of the second phase total investment will be over Rs. 6 billion, which is funded internally by the company.

In addition to the property in Weerawila, he said the firm is now looking at three more hotel projects — a city hotel in Colombo and a lake front property in Dambulla, which they expect to brand under the umbrella of Rajawarana.

“In another five years’ time we are planning to list the company on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) to raise additional funds and to further expand the company,” Pinto added.

DoubleTree by Hilton Senior Vice President and Global Head Dianna Vaughan, in a statement, said: “With a fast growing, global portfolio of more than 500 upscale properties, they were delighted to award their award-winning DoubleTree by Hilton brand as it is gaining traction in Sri Lanka. The DoubleTree by Hilton Weerawila will mark the fourth upcoming DoubleTree by Hilton property in this emerging market. As the first upscale hotel in Weerawila, we look forward to delivering exceptional experiences to guests beginning with our signature, warm DoubleTree Cookie welcome.”

Located in the town of Tissamaharama, the resort currently consists of 80 rooms, including three suites and a Presidential Suite, with plans to expand to 140 rooms in the near future. The spacious and elegant banquet hall is ideal for the perfect celebration, be it a wedding, family gathering or corporate event. Located in close proximity to the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, DoubleTree by Hilton Rajawarana Resort is centrally located within the reach of prominent tourist attractions in the vicinity, including the Sooriyawewa International Cricket Stadium, Udawalawe, Yala and Bundala National Parks, the Kataragama Temple, Kirinda and Wedihitikanda.

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