Sri Lanka is attempting to reposition itself and hone in on the luxury market as it aims to double UK visitor growth by 2020.

More than 750 five-star rooms are set to open in Colombo before the end of this year and more than 3,000 in the next three years – compared with 4,000 across the island as a whole – according to chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Udaya Nanyakkara.

The developments are part of a wider 2025 strategy implemented under the chairman, who joined in June, and targeted at the top end.“The world has changed and we haven’t – we have to align ourselves with the current trends,” Nanyakkara told Travel Weekly.

“It’s not that we’re blocking that market out, we’re just not concentrating on it,” he said. “We have airbnb and and so on to help support the middle area, but we’re pushing the higher end now.

“Our other product offerings are going to enhance on the island too, especially around the sea and waterways, which currently aren’t really made use of very much for tourism purposes. Visitors will be able to expect more in the way of watersports such as parasailing and kitesurfing.” He said submarine trips from the port at Batticaloa were also on the agenda for 2018, opening the deep waters up to non-divers wanting to glimpse the various naval shipwrecks scattered in the area.

Nanyakkara said accessibility was also to be a key focus under his strategy. Two former military airports at Batticaloa and Jaffna have already opened themselves up to commercial domestic flights, and five more are set to become civilian in the next year. “This will connect the south, east, north and west, enabling visitors to travel between key areas in a short amount of time,” he said.

A new express highway is also being built to connect the central province to the northern and eastern regions and is scheduled to be ready within the next two years.

Nanyakkara added that the tourist board would be targeting a 20% increase in UK visitors in 2018, with a targeted 500,000 UK arrivals by the end of 2020. That compares with 200,000 from October 2016 to 2017 – which marked a 7.5% increase year on year.

“The aim is for tourism to be our number one industry,” he said. “Currently it’s at number three, with foreign exchange number one, but we’re optimistic that will change very soon.”

Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo is opening on November 17, and Sheraton Colombo will follow hot on its heels.

Travel Weekly coverage of World Travel Market