After over a quarter century of civil war, Sri Lanka is finally witnessing an upswing in tourism. The island with abundant natural beauty is luring visitors, particularly from India, not just with sun, sand and sea but also with new attractions like ayurveda and adventure.
"The tourism figures in the first quarter have doubled in comparison to last year, with nearly 16 percent of it being tourist arrivals from India," Dileep Mudadeniya, managing director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, told IANS.
"After the historic defeat of terrorism, the tourism industry has been on the rise with increased interest from foreign tourists as well."
Since 1983, the threat of attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) loomed, as the separatist organisation fought for an independent Tamil state in the north and the east of the island nation.
The Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. The insurgency caused significant hardships for the people, environment and economy of the country, with over 80,000 people officially listed as killed during its course.
Now with things promising to come back to normal, the tourism industry is looking up.
"Tourism is finally seeing an upward trend. I've been working non-stop since December. Usually I used to work for just 18 days a month, but after the war ended there has been an upswing in tourists and thus more work for me," said Wije Manawadu, secretary general of the National Tourist Guides organisation.
"We are looking at 2011, which we call the year of Sri Lanka. We are focusing on bringing close to 1.5 million tourists to the country by that time. At the moment we have close to 14,500 hotel rooms in the country. The government is trying to bring it up to close to 50,000 by then," he added.
Developmental programmes and marketing strategies are being worked out to lure as many foreign visitors as possible.
"Vigorous promotions in terms of trade and consumer fairs will take place in our key markets; this includes Britain, the Middle East, India, France, Germany and China. The communications campaign will also be launched in these markets," said Mudadeniya.
"Traditionally the product offering has been restricted to sun, sand and sea. However, now, new product offerings are being developed to improve the experiential component of tourism. They include ayurveda, wildlife, eco-tourism and adventure tourism, to name a few," said Mudadeniya.
Even tourists are happy to be in the country that boasts of beautiful, clean beaches, tempting water sports, breathtaking mountains, bounteous rivers and waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife.
"I'm here for the first time and I have to say that it's one of the most beautiful places I've visited. It's hot here no doubt, but the scenic beauty is breathtaking. I'm enjoying my time here," Linda Christopher who is from London and staying at the Mount Lavinia hotel, almost 12 km from Colombo, told IANS.
Jasmine Shankar from India said: "I had planned to come to Sri Lanka with my husband four years ago, but everyone discouraged us because of the terrorist problem here. I'm glad that finally now, when it's over, we have got a chance to come here and see the place. It's beautiful."
In order to give a boost to tourism, the country is also pinning its hope on the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Award that will take place in Colombo from June 3-5. The number of visitors is expected to increase manifold during the event.
"This event will help us change our image internationally and will confirm that we can host an event of a big magnitude," said George Michael, secretary, tourism ministry.