Number of tourist arrivals reaches 2m, but Colombo still falling behind in Overnight Stays
Sri Lanka has been breaking its tourism records since the end of the Civil War in 2009, with a 200%+ rise in Tourism since then, and it recently breaking the 2 million tourist arrival benchmark this December, a huge step towards the aim of 4 million arrivals by 2020. Whilst this is still an incredibly ambitious number in a short space of time, the momentum is certainly encouraging, and whilst it is easy to compare tourism numbers with neighbouring countries, according to tourist population density to the size of the Island, Sri Lanka actually proves to be one of the most effective in the SE Asia region beating Vietnam, Indonesia and India.
Now as the national figures are very impressive, the capital city, Colombo, still face the same dilemma from before - tourists only staying 1 or 2 nights before spending the majority of their trip around the country. Those who stay in the capital tend to be for business purposes, and the hotels targetting these visitors have seen a general upsurge in demand, and has therefore encouraged further development activity in this sector. The challenge for the Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority is that there are, in the opinion of the tourists themselves, not enough things to do in Colombo to warrant staying for longer. Most city destinations that have higher overnight stays tend to offer a greater diversity of activities and experiences, such as theatre, restaurants, shopping, gaming, landmarks, history and heritage, art and culture, and nightlife, where the diversity of visitor alone creates a buzz within the city that becomes its own sense of attraction (as seen through the many alfresco diners watching the crowds pass by). With upcoming mixed-development projects Cinnamon Life, Shangri-La, ITC one, and ANYA, Colombo will begin to offer a variety of international city-standard retail, leisure and entertainment facilities, whilst still lacking essential framing and recogniition of heritage, religious, and art and theatre culture that are also essential. This in our mind is a major gap that needs to be addressed as part of the greater Colombo Masterplan, and what we have addressed in our 'Colombo 30' project, to bring the level of diversity needed in Colombo to make it a competitive international city. This we believe will evolve over the next decade and a half through effective planning and an open international marketing of experts who have experience in cultivating these environments in the many historic cities of Europe for example.
In all, we see Colombo remaining a predominantly business orientated and minimal tourist-centric space for the near future, but there is a serious need for that social infrastructure to be built up, where a cultural diversity can begin enriching the largely impersonal nature of the city. This is an opportunity that must be explored.