Sri Lanka’s luxury sector is beginning to boom
When your brochure mates are customarily Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Maldives, you could feel like a poor relation.
Sri Lanka has traditionally been the value card in the Indian Ocean pack, fantastic for sunshine that won’t break the bank and cultural trips for experienced independent travellers relatively unfazed by time-consuming and somewhat unpredictable journeys.No longer.
If luxury tourism players in the rest of the Indian Ocean look in their rearview mirrors, they’ll see Sri Lanka accelerating towards them – fast.
The Journey Upmarket
Over the past six years, Sri Lanka has seen its tourist arrivals grow by an average of about 20%-25% each year. This has enabled both public and private investment in hotels, shops, restaurants and infrastructure to increase.
Now you can book a first-class train ticket online, use a variety of internal flight options or travel on new highways to tourist destinations such as Galle, making journeys quicker and less stressful, and multi-centre itineraries more appealing.
Kuoni’s product manager for Sri Lanka, Paul Ingram, says: “Over the past few years we have also seen some major steps forward in Sri Lanka, such as the introduction of Cinnamon Air – domestic flights that make areas such as the north and east coast of the island much more accessible by significantly cutting travel times. It can also be a highlight of a trip as you get a stunning bird’s-eye view of Sri Lanka in very comfortable surroundings.”
Gold Medal also puts the island’s success down to a growing thirst for adventure in the luxury market that Sri Lanka can satisfy – plus its high-end spa product. This can prove an attraction to honeymooners too, another growing segment.
New hotels are popping up like daisies in spring, most of them aimed at the top of the market. In addition to eco-boutiques with handfuls of rooms each, there are also larger properties from international brands, including Anantara and Shangri-La.
Henry Fitch, managing director of Teardrop Hotels, which owns and operates lavish colonial manor house boutique The Wallawwa in Colombo and is opening four hotels over the next year, says: “The properties being developed, both by Teardrop and other operators, tend to be relatively small and are extremely customer-focused, with an emphasis on delivering excellent food using local produce. In terms of UK clients specifically, there is basically no language barrier – everyone in a guest-facing role speaks good English. Individual and exclusive excursions and experiences have been developed to help high-end tourists get underneath the skin of the country and understand the different cultures and religions.”
Carrier, which saw its business to Sri Lanka rise 70% year on year in 2014, has included more hotel choice in touring destinations. Its properties include the intimate, three-suite Villa Mayurana in Galle; Living Heritage in Koslanda, in the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill country; and the quintessentially colonial Rosyth Estate House, set in a tea and rubber estate in Kegalle.
If the last time you looked at the luxury hotel landscapes in Sri Lanka was a couple of years ago, prepare to be stunned – and to study. There are so many more options that will suit your high-end clients to learn about.
February saw the launch of the 36-suite Sun Aqua Pasikudah, a boutique on the unspoilt east coast, where guests will have to share the beach with only a few fishing boats. There’s swank, despite the seclusion – think private dining and tastings with a sommelier in a glass-walled wine cellar.
Residence by Uga Escapes opened the same month. This 11-suite mansion was once a private townhouse frequented by maharajas, British governors and the cream of Ceylon society. Its leafy gardens, private courtyards and swimming pool make it an oasis of tranquillity in Colombo.
Sustainable design hotel Tri Lanka’s 11 green-roofed suites spiral around a hill on the shores of Koggala Lake. There’s a cantilevered pool, organic cuisine and a yoga focus. Official opening is November 1, but guests staying during the previous three month-long soft opening period save 30% on rates.
November is also launch month for Teardrop Hotel’s The Fort Bazaar. The 18-room boutique, set right in the centre of Unesco World Heritage site Galle Fort, aims to create a buzzy atmosphere and welcome not just overnight guests but also those stopping by for dinner and drinks while touring the fort.
In December, luxury property Tea Trails will open a fifth bungalow – a centuries-old, five-bedroom planter’s villa overlooking Castlereagh Lake in the heart of a tea plantation.
Also due to open in October is the 152-room Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven Resort & Spa, the brand’s first Sri Lankan property. Set in a 42-acre coconut plantation on the south coast, it’ll offer Sri Lankan cooking classes and an Ayurvedic spa, as well as not so-local delights including an Italian restaurant and high tea.
Next year promises a 326 unit Shangri-La property with a golf course at Hambantota, plus a raft of smaller openings, including three tea-bungalows from Teardrop Hotels.
Resplendent Ceylon – parent company of both Tea Trails and Cape Weligama, the glamorous 40-key beach resort perched on a cliff near Galle that opened in October last year – plans three new properties over the next three or four years.
Image credit: Tom Parker
First to open, next May, will be luxury tented camp Wild Coast Lodge, set on a beach a kilometre from Yala National Park.
These come on top of properties that have already made their mark. Carrier’s top performers are the two Aman properties: Amangalla, in Galle Fort, and Amanwella, in the seaside town of Tangalle.
On the east coast, Kuoni favours hotels with a focus on sustainability from Uga – Uga Bay in Passikudah and Uga Jungle Beach in Trincomalee.
Gold Medal highlights The Fortress, an established 53-room property outside Galle and styled after the Dutch fort. Travel 2 recommends both Cape Weligama and Aditya, a charming boutique on the coast road between Hikkaduwa and Galle.
In addition to the expertise of tour operator staff and the website of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, srilanka.travel, there is a new marketing company that can help agents learn more.
The Sri Lanka Collection represents 12 luxury properties in the destination. Agents can sign up for a monthly newsletter and product update, and to receive information about special offers, at srilankacollection.com.
5 of the best experiences
1. Have a relaxing Ayurvedic spa treatment. Herbal and medicinal oils traditionally play a part, particularly in massages.
2. Search for leopards, elephants, sloth bears and buffalo in Yala National Park.
3. Visit one of the eight World Heritage Sites, which include the Golden Temple at Dambulla and the ancient fortress at Sigiriya Rock.
4. Take a cooking class and learn to make coconut-laced curries, spicy sambal chutneys and pancake-like hoppers.
5. Spot blue whales off the coast on a boat trip – the season runs from December to April.
How to Sell
Sri Lanka may not have always been front-of-mind for families, but with better infrastructure and smart new hotels, don’t dismiss it.
Kids and parents alike will enjoy seeing turtles and elephants, exploring caves and temples, and playing or relaxing on the beach.
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