Island nation intends to have 46,000 rooms by 2016

Even as the Tamils continue to struggle to rebuild their lives after the decades-long conflict, which ended three years ago, Sri Lanka seems to be intensifying its efforts to sell itself as the ideal tourist destination to Indian companies looking to hold their meetings abroad.

Talking to Indian journalists, director general of the Tourism Development Authority and the General Manager of the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau Vipula Wanigasekara claimed, “Since the conflict ended, tourist arrivals to the country have doubled and tourism is playing an important role in the rehabilitation of those who have suffered. Normalcy has returned. At this stage, our strategy has changed from that of survival to development. We believe that anywhere between 5,00,000 to 8,00,000 Indians will be travelling abroad to attend their company meetings in the next three years and we will be happy if we have at least 10 per cent of that MICE segment visiting Sri Lanka.”

MICE, which stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions or events, is a particular type of tourism in which large groups come together for a particular purpose (generally an office meeting or a conference) and it is this segment that Sri Lanka is particularly interested in at the moment.

“We have 16,000 registered hotels and around 10,000 informal rooms in the country. In 2009, we had 4,90,000 tourists visiting Sri Lanka. Last year, that figure went up to 8,60,000. This year, we already have had a million people visiting us. Although we have tourists from other countries such as the U.K., Germany, France, Singapore and Malaysia, India still remains our number one source of tourists,” disclosed Mr. Wanigasekara.

The island nation intends to have 46,000 rooms by the year 2016. Work to reach this target is on in full swing. An international airport is also being constructed at Hambantota.

“We are looking at having convention centres as they attract high spenders like those from the MICE segment. Tourism has also been lending a big hand to those affected by the conflict in areas like Jaffna. Quite a number of homes in Jaffna have been changed into MICE guest houses. These families rent out rooms and make almost Rs. 4,500 a day. The best part is this is immediate income. Jaffna will be a big hit. Apart from the homes, three big hotels are to come up in areas surrounding Jaffna. Not just Jaffna, several hotels will be coming up in other parts of the country as well… There will be Shangri la and one by the Krish group from India, which will also be the tallest building on the island,” said Mr. Wanigasekara, who was quick to point out that although there will be several structures coming up, the government is intent on ensuring that the ecosystem isn’t disturbed.

Another segment that is bound to help tourism revenue inflow is the Ramayana tours. “We had at least 10,000 people coming here as part of the Ramayana tours and we expect those numbers to increase in the coming years,” he said.

( The writer was in Sri Lanka recently as part of a familiarisation tour organised jointly by Sri Lankan Airlines and the Sri Lankan Convention Bureau )

  • Quite a number of homes in Jaffna have been changed into guest houses

  • A hotel by the Krish group from India to be the tallest building