Heaven on earth

Sri Lanka is fast gain­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of a much sought-af­ter tourist des­ti­na­tion where sight­see­ing is con­tribut­ing sub­stan­tially to the national ex­che­quer.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Zu­fah An­sari

With beaches shrouded in palm trees and breath­tak­ing scenery stretch­ing from one is­land to the other, Sri Lanka is with­out doubt beau­ti­ful and stun­ning. The is­land has sev­eral mes­mer­iz­ing land­scapes and an­cient sites. It is hardly sur­pris­ing that Marco Polo deemed Sri Lanka as “the finest jewel of its size in the en­tire world.”

Each year, it at­tracts a grow­ing num­ber of tourists who are tempted to ex­plore the is­land.

From tem­ples to tea plan­ta­tions to nat­u­ral won­ders such as Adam’s Peak – the place where Adam was be­lieved to have first stepped on Earth af­ter be­ing ousted from the Gar­den of Eden - Sri Lanka has of­ten been called ‘heaven on earth’.

There are sev­eral fac­tors that make Sri Lanka a spec­tac­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion. For ex­am­ple, there is Si­giriya ( the Lion Rock), a gi­gan­tic rock fortress lo­cated in cen­tral Matale. This fort is guarded by a lion’s statue that is 600 feet high and is sym­bolic to the ex­is­tence of the Sin­hala King­dom. Si­giriya has been marked by UNESCO as a world her­itage site as it is also fa­mous for its an­cient paint­ings re­flect­ing the Ajanta caves in In­dia.

The sec­ond most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion on the is­land af­ter Colombo is Kandy. This is the sec­ond largest city of the coun­try and is known for host­ing the Per­a­hera Cer­e­mony each year – a prayer to the gods for rain. Kandy is also fa­mous for the Tem­ple of the Sa­cred Tooth that was cre­ated in the fourth cen­tury to place Bud­dha’s tooth in. Then there is the Yala National Park and Ben­tota Tur­tle Sanc­tu­ary as well as Mirissa, which is pop­u­lar for whale watch­ing.

As much as there is to see and rel­ish in Sri Lanka, for a long time tourism was non-ex­is­tent here ow­ing to the civil war. Ar­eas that were mainly af­fected were the north and north eastern re­gions which never re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced tourism till 2009 when, af­ter 26 years of con­stant strug­gle, the civil war fi­nally ended.

Places such as Kal­pi­tiya, with its white sand beaches, coral reefs and beau­ti­ful wa­ters in­hab­ited by dol­phins, are now open for tourists to en­joy. Sim­i­larly, Jaf­fina and its ad­join­ing ar­eas, known for their an­cient sites and tem­ples and for be­ing one of the few most cul­tur­ally di­verse towns, are con­sid­ered to be a favourite among tourists.

Even though Sri Lanka is neigh­bor to Mal­dives, a coun­try that tops the list of must-see places, Sri Lanka has ex­pe­ri­enced a tourism growth rate of 12.8 per cent in 2013 as com­pared to the year be­fore. This surge in num­bers earned the coun­try ap­prox­i­mately $500 mil­lion.

Ev­ery year, the is­land ex­pe­ri­ences an in­flux of tourists from Europe, UK, Ger­many, France, Nor­way and the Nether­lands (the largest con­trib­u­tor at 19.6 per cent). Mean­while, the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists rose by 72.3 per cent in June 2013 and has alerted the tourism au­thor­i­ties to re­group their mar­ket­ing strate­gies.

Given th­ese chang­ing pat­terns in the tourist makeup, the Sri Lankan tourism board is now mak­ing an ef­fort to at­tract more Chi­nese vis­i­tors by adopt­ing joint pro­mo­tion cam­paigns. A part of this strate­gic ef­fort also in­cludes im­prove­ments be­ing made to en­hance the ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Some key projects are the Kal­pi­tiya In­te­grated Tourism Re­sorts Pro­ject, which will un­der­take de­vel­op­ment of re­sorts and ho­tels on more than 14 is­lands in the area. Other ini­tia­tives in­clude the Pasiku­dah Re­sorts, Shangrila Pro­ject in Colombo and Ham­ban­tota, and Kuchchaveli Tourism De­vel­op­ment Pro­ject.

It is worth men­tion­ing here that as much as the civil war had af­fected tourism, it is now emerg­ing as a ma­jor source of rev­enue for the coun­try. Also, there is a phe­nom­e­non known as war tourism where Sri Lanka is fac­ing in­stances of tourists flock­ing to ar­eas that were pre­vi­ously war-stricken to see what is left.

Ar­eas in the north and east are where this is be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced more ex­plic­itly. Each month ap­prox­i­mately 500,000 tourists visit places like the Ele­phant Pass, where the Ee­lam Wars took place and tun­nels dug by the Tamil Tigers. The head­less gi­ant stat­ues of Tamil war heroes at Kilinochchi are also a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion..

With the pas­sage of time, Sri Lanka is emerg­ing as an iconic des­ti­na­tion in Asia. There is prom­ise of a bet­ter out­look thanks to the coun­try’s sev­eral yet-to-be ex­plored sites, rich cul­ture and the in­ter­est shown by govern­ment au­thor­i­ties. If this con­tin­ues, it won’t be long be­fore Sri Lanka be­comes the top tourist des­ti­na­tion in the world. Zu­fah An­sari is an un­der­grad­u­ate mar­ket­ing stu­dent with a strong in­ter­est in cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

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