At the ILTM exhibition in Cannes, Sri Lanka had gathered several receptive and hotel operators on its stand under the aegis of the SLTPB, the Sri Lanka Tourist Office and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. During the exhibition, His Excellency Mr. B.K. Athauda, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to France, came to give his full support to the promotion of tourism on the island, an activity that represents an essential asset for his country. And it was in the Majestic salons in the heart of the Cannes Croisette that the Ambassador came for an exclusive interview.
How is the political situation in Sri Lanka evolving?
The first question obviously concerned the political situation in Sri Lanka, which could affect the country’s tourist image. Before replying in substance, Mr Arthauda recalled that his country was the first country in this region of South Asia to have a Western European-style market economy combined with a true democracy and that Ceylon was an innovative country in many respects.
« Ceylan had a radio service, a telephone network and later a mobile telephone network well before India, Pakistan, Nepal or Bangladesh. For the first time, the country’s two main political parties had found themselves in a project for an alliance government. And there, they encountered a problem of interpretation of the country’s constitution which indicates that the choice of Prime Minister is made by the President of the Republic. But should he name the one he thinks is best suited to lead the government, or should he choose him necessarily from the majority party?
So to interpret the Constitution, the terms of which are not very clear on this subject, both parties have given due consideration in a democracy to the Supreme Court, which will very soon give its verdict ».
And it is with pride that Mr Arthauda pays tribute to this « very beautiful democratic dialogue« , adding that political meetings are not accompanied by any violence, « no assassinations, no burned houses… » and that under no circumstances are tourists likely to be worried.
On this subject, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminds us, what seems to be common sense, to avoid approaching any demonstration or political gathering.
The last point of clarification from the Ambassador of Sri Lanka, « as soon as the Supreme Court has delivered its opinion, the President will call for new parliamentary elections, probably next January, so that it is the people who ultimately choose their future government« .
What about tourism in Sri Lanka ?
« Historically, Sri Lanka is an island famous for its great sense of hospitality, culture and the variety of its superb local products, for example there are at least 236 kinds of tropical fruits, well-known teas and many spices« .
Then Mr Athauda, after having pointed out that in 2009 (the year the civil war ended) his country had barely attracted 400,000 tourists, announced to us this year the arrival of more than 2,300,000 foreign visitors, an enormous growth in 9 years and an annual increase of more than 10% for 2018.
« Since 2009, more than 30,000 hotel rooms have been created, all the major international luxury hotel brands have established themselves on the island. And no less than 60,000 private rooms have opened, allowing all these families to add a little more to their income. This massive development of the hotel industry could make it possible to plan to eventually welcome no less than 2 million additional tourists ».
And French tourism?
As Ambassador to France, Mr. Athauda is very proud of the results of French tourism: « This year with more than 110,000 travellers, France passed Germany (100,000 visitors) and in 2 or 3 years time why not the United Kingdom (150,000)« .
It is at this moment that Mr Athauda reveals for the very first time to a media that soon direct flights will connect Paris to Colombo on a basis of 2 to 3 flights per week during the high tourist season. But don’t mention the name of the company! It is impossible to know whether these are charter or scheduled flights.
« The agreement is 99.99% secure, but the airline wants to keep it secret until the official announcement is scheduled very soon, at the end of the year or early 2019« . The arrival of these direct flights will only boost French tourism to Sri Lanka.
For our readers, we would like to remind you that for a little over a month now three new charter lines have been connecting Europe to Colombo, following the example of the United Kingdom which already operates 4 charter flights per month (TUI UK flights from November to March).
The new entrants are Aeroflot, which reopens the Moscow route with 5 weekly flights with Airbus A 330s, Edelweiss, which connects Zurich to Colombo with 2 flights per week with 314 passengers on Airbus A340-300s and finally TUI Poland, which operates 3 flights per month from Poland.
New tourist spots on the island
Central and southwestern Ceylon, from the Cultural Triangle to Kandy and Galle, tea plantations, beaches to Colombo, are particularly popular and known places for tourists from all over the world.
The hotel equipment is of high quality and the infrastructures are very strongly developed.
« In contrast, in the North and East of the island, there are many secret gems waiting to be discovered for which there is a pressing need for tourist settlements, a development that will have to be done taking into account the protection of nature, an essential idea in Sri Lanka. Several centuries ago, a King of Ceylon issued an edict to protect the country’s nature, which he considered to be a vital heritage to bequeath to future generations« .
For Mr Athauda, his wonders to discover include magnificent beaches, dream spots for water sports, kite-surfing or scuba diving among others, as well as superb forts and historic buildings dating from the Portuguese and Dutch colonial periods that await quality restoration and which could become very elegant boutique hotels.
Respectful development should make it possible to open up these largely unknown regions to tourism and offer good prospects for the future for local populations.
And to conclude this long conversation, Mr. Athauda believes that with the significant increase in the standard of living of the inhabitants, new needs are emerging. « And as Sri Lankans love fine cuisine, the arrival on the island of some very fine tables serving high quality French cuisine seems to me to be synonymous with rapid success« . Notice to those who would like to try the adventure!
Interview by Frédéric de Poligny