By Susan Cunningham
REPORT FROM SRI LANKA—For tourism appeal, Sir Lanka boasts considerable natural and cultural assets. With 1,340 kilometers of coastline, the island country is dotted with beaches with potential for scuba diving, surfing and whale-watching. It has nine well-protected national parks and seven bird sanctuaries.
Running up from the center-south to the center of the nation is a series of pilgrimage sites for Buddhists and Hindus. The trail culminates north of the city Kandy in the “cultural triangle” containing extensive remains of the three ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. Founded as the capital in the fourth century B.C., Anuradhapura was the capital for nearly 15 centuries. East of here was the site of most battles with the Tamils.
Yet accommodation is overwhelmingly concentrated in Colombo, the country’s largest city, and along the 125 kilometers of southwestern coastline that runs from Colombo to the old Dutch colonial outpost of Galle. In between are the beaches of Kalutara, Beruwala, Bentota, Ahungalla and Hikkaduwa. Almost 35% of the registered rooms in 2010 were along the southern coast and almost 40% were in Colombo or the surrounding area, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. It is these areas where most renovations and new hotels are planned.
To encourage renovation and refurbishment, in 2010 the government set minimum rates for the classified hotels in Colombo. A room at a 5-star hotel that in 2008 was charging between $35 and $50 per night was required to charge at least $75 in 2010. The minimum rate is now $125 gross, but rates of $200 per night are becoming common in Colombo.
Although the higher rates are only required in the capital area, many of the large hotels in resort areas have followed suit—regardless of whether the product has been renovated. Many online guest reviews, as a result, cite a disparity between star rating and quality of service and facility.
“It’s a rough period,” said HVS’s Kaushik Vardharajan. “Hotels are having a hard time, but it’s having an impact. The crappy hotels are trying to renovate to keep up. Every hotel is trying to renovate. The profile of guests is changing. It has raised the profile of Sri Lanka.”
Most of the new hotels and relaunches are in the 4- and 5-star range. Often they intend to appeal to European or Australian tourists, even though the share of these traditional source markets is shrinking. The share of visitors from Germany, Australia and France continued to be in the single digits in 2010, according to the SLTDA.