Pearl of the Orient – Sri Lankan tourism’s success

Peering at a world map, you would barely see it. Perched in the shadow of Southern India is the ‘Island of Dharma’, or as most recognise it – Sri Lanka. Do not be fooled by its size. This is a country enriched with culture, beauty and history to rival anywhere on the planet.

Twelve years have passed since the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 that disseminated across the Indian Ocean, culminating in a deadly wave of mass destruction. 35,000 people lost their lives in Sri Lanka that day, yet the country has rebuilt itself into what is now fast becoming a thriving place for visitors from across the globe.

The capital, Colombo tends to be low on people’s list of priorities, perhaps for its unprepossessing surface, but it is actually an ideal first stop before traversing through the rest of the country. It lies in close proximity to Bandaranaike International Airport and is home to Colombo Fort Railway station, the hub that connects most of the country. It is the only place in Sri Lanka that has a Western resemblance, with high buildings and a stretch of swanky bars and restaurants.

Due to Sri Lanka’s compact size, it’s easy to travel to an assortment of captivating locations. A journey on one of the most charmingly decrepit railway systems in the world reinforces the maxim that all great travel involves a modicum of discomfort.  Despite the slow speeds, a trip aboard one of these chuntering old relics (especially on the marvellous scenic hill country line) is a highlight of a trip to Sri Lanka. One of the more memorable routes is between Kandy and Ella. The six-hour long trip covers some of the most spectacular mountainous scenery. The surrounding tea plantations give off a lucid green shine that spans for miles.

Sri Lanka is a multi-religious country with Buddhists comprising 70% of the population. Ancient temples and enigmatic dagobas (stupas) enshrine artefacts of Buddha, shaded by saplings taken from the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth is one of the more esteemed places to visit; infamous for it’s impressive architecture and for being the sacred home to a tooth relic of Buddha.

As for the beaches – there are long golden ones, there are dainty ones with soft white sand, there are wind and wave-battered ones and ones without a footstep for miles. Some have a slowly, slowly vibe and some have a lively party vibe, but whichever you choose, the beaches of Sri Lanka really are as gorgeous as you might have heard. And one of the best things about said beaches is that no matter what time of year you go, if it’s raining on one coast then chances are it’ll be sun hat and swimmers weather on the other.

With Sri Lanka’s size, it makes the perfect destination for backpacking. The attractions mentioned above only cover a small portion of what the country has to offer. If you include the exquisite cuisine and its concoction of wildlife then it would be hard not to understand the rise in tourism. Benjamin Assen, who works for Sri Lanka Tourism explains the sudden rise in visitors and the problems Sri Lanka still faces.

“We [Sri Lanka] are currently in the midst of a tourism growth spurt. In 2015, 1.8 million people visited the island which was up 18% on last year. The country has an extraordinary amount of assets to boast. We have eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, plus many natural, cultural and religious attractions. The country has recently come out of a civil war and the spurge in tourism has not looked back since. I believe people are starting to feel safe again to travel to our island to experience the finer things it has to offer. One of the main fundamental issues we face is our low-quality infrastructure – particularly in the central and eastern parts of the island – and it is an ongoing challenge for tour operators and other market participants.”

Sri Lanka is looking to improve its infrastructure. Plans are in place in many areas across the country to build luxury hotels to capitalise on the growth in tourism. This small island looks set for a period of change that could see it transformed into a new nation. One thing is for sure – it will be intriguing to see what Sri Lanka has to offer in ten years time.