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.
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.