When it comes to tourism, there is little that Sri Lanka does not have. Hundreds of miles of beaches lined with coconut trees, shallow seas with crystal-clear, green waters, tropical climate, hill stations, ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, medieval forts, people naturally disposed towards hospitality — they are all there, within two hours of each other.
Now that the internal ethnic conflict is over, tourism is the island's pitch to the world. If it succeeds – there is no reason to suppose it will not – the number of tourists who visit the Pearl of the Orient will rise from close to 8,55,000 in 2011 to 2.5 million in 2016.
It is Sri Lanka's desire that the average stay of tourists will increase from 6 now to 10 by 2016, and the average spends will rise from $88 a day now to $150.
The country earned $550 m from tourism in 2010 – the year following the end of the internal conflict — may earn $2 billion by 2016.
Numerous global hotel brands such as Shangri-La, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Raffles, Taj, ITC – all investing over a billion dollars in doubling the number of rooms in Sri Lanka to 5,000 by 2016.
Demand for rooms
While resorts are coming up at Kalpatiya, which lies at the tip of a finger of land jutting into the sea, and Negombo a little North of the capital, a lot more action is expected to happen on the east coast, especially in the stretch between Trincomalee and Batticola.
This stretch has some of the best beaches in the world and can rival Miami or Copacabana in Brazil.
The main attraction of Miami and Copacabana is that they are shallow for about a kilometre into the sea, a kind of natural swimming pool that can accommodate thousands at a time.
The beaches between Trincomalee and Batticola are like that. Pasikudah, Kuchchaveli and Nilaveli are being developed as major tourist attractions. They have some way to go before acquiring the glitter and lure of a modern tourist centre, but the opportunity exists.
Opportunity for India
India being practically the only neighbour of Sri Lanka has a lot to gain from this tourist boom.
“Rather than compete, Sri Lanka complements India in tourism,” says Mr Somi Hazari, a former President of the Indo-Asean-Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce.
Tour operators can combine the two countries — hill, desert and culture tourism of India and the beach tourism of Sri Lanka together make for a nice multi-fare menu.
But even apart from cashing in on tourist inflows, Indian businessmen can avail themselves of immense opportunities to sell goods and services.
Look at the consumables that hotels need – soaps, shampoos etc, cutlery, linen, bottles – it would be a pity if India lets China walk away with the market for these, says Mr Hazari. Again, while there are scores of 5-star hotels, Sri Lanka will face a shortage of 3-star and 4-star rooms.
On the infrastructure side, this represents another opportunity to Indian businessmen.
There are opportunities in tourist transportation, entertainment and sporting activities.
Above all, Sri Lanka's tourism boom calls for huge pool of trained manpower. There is a big opportunity in providing training.