Sri Lanka has announced plans to attract tourists back to the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ with the launch of themed tourism development zones, a public-private sector initiative backed by the Ministry of Lands, the Ministry of Tourism and the Sri Lanka Tourism Club, a government-recognised group of industry leaders.
At least five and up to eight “Themed International Tourism and Family Entertainment Zones” are being designated in state-owned land, selected for their outstanding natural beauty. They include beaches, mountain and forest regions, extending over more than 1500 acres.
The full plans will be unveiled at the inaugural Asia Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference (AHTIC) in Colombo in November, organised by Bench Events.
Sri Lanka Tourism Club Chairman, Dr Prabath C. Ukwatte, a founding sponsor and co-organiser of AHTIC, said: “We will be working with government ministries to deliver themed international tourism and family entertainment zones, and to open them up for foreign investment. The conference will be an ideal opportunity to explain what we will be doing and to attract international finance.”
One of the attractions of the project for investors is that the ownership of the land is transparent – not always the case in Sri Lanka. The developments will include luxury tourism, eco-tourism, wellness and yoga, as well as adventure and family activities.
They take in some of Sri Lanka’s finest scenery – mountain tops, dramatic beaches, waterfalls and forest views. The Sri Lanka Tourism Club will develop the infrastructure – access roads, electricity, water and sewerage – but the major financial input will come from outside investors.
Tourism minister, John Amaratunga, said: “Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is very much private-sector driven. The government role is restricted to that of regulator, monitor and facilitator.
“I have formed an advisory committee of leaders of the travel, tourism and hospitality industries whose input is sought on a regular basis on all matters of national interest in the tourism sector. They are the driving force that guides the industry.
“We are giving the Tourism Club’s plans our full backing. More zones for development will be announced in the future. We are accelerating and widening the scope for investors by actively making reforms to reduce bureaucracy. We want to speed up decision-making.” He said there would be new concessions and investment opportunities announced at AHTIC.”
The first zone in a five-year plan – Lanka Patuna – is already under initial construction – over 450 acres of beautiful beach land. It will have capacity for 25 – 30 luxury hotels.
Minister Amaratunga says Sri Lanka wants to generate up to five million tourists by 2020 and increase tourism revenue to 10 billion dollars. That includes doubling the current number of rooms available and creating direct employment for 300,000.
AHTIC will bring international leaders of the hospitality industry to Sri Lanka. It will be a forum for three days of high-level discussion from across the region – speeches by prominent insiders, a unique chance to hear political leaders’ views first-hand, and opportunities to network with entrepreneurs and other successful individuals.
A demonstration of the growing co-operation between the public and private sectors is the opening AHTIC networking reception in Colombo hosted by the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, the conference patron. His Prime Minister, as well as the tourism minister, will give the opening speeches as the conference gets under way the following day.
Sri Lankan ministers, including the finance minister, as well as government officials will provide the latest thinking on official policy on infrastructure and creating an investment-friendly environment.