Sri Lanka prepares for rebirth of tourism industry

Post-war Sri Lanka is preparing for a rapid growth in tourism numbers over the coming five years as the local industry gets back on its feet - and international visitors once again have faith in the security situation in the island nation.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association this week predicted around 500,000 tourists would have headed to Sri Lanka by the end of this year while the Sri Lankan government has announced plans to welcome 2.5 million visitors a year and add a further 25,000 hotel rooms nation wide by 2016.

"With an end to its civil war, Sri Lanka has now entered a period of relative peace and political stability and international visitors are responding with strong demand. Actual arrivals are well above the forecast for 2010 as at August,'' PATA said on its website this week.

The official site of the Sri Lanka Tourism is currently heralding the fact that The New York Times listed the country as number one in the "31 places to visit in 2010" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/travel/10places.html?_r=2) while National Geograhpic this year rated the destination as the second best island to visit in the world, behind Cuba.

And this week Sri Lanka's Minister for Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa said the country was expecting new highs for its tourism industry.

He said he hoped also the expat Sri Lankans the world over would help spread the good news.

"This is an opportunity for expatriate Sri Lankans holding other citizenships, living overseas, to visit the island and bring along their friends from those countries. They will appreciate that they can visit the country without any fear for their safety and I invite them all to enjoy what Sri Lanka can offer,'' he told the Colombo Page internet news service.

The country is currently upgrading its famous wildlife parks and zoos while building new hotels and recreation facilities, according to Rajapaksa.

As well as more than 100 kilometers of coastline, rainforest and wildlife parks, Sri Lanka currently has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, some of which were off-limits during its civil war, which lasted from 1983 until May last year.

Visitors to Sri Lanka in 2009 (by region):

Western Europe 170,123
South Asia 126,205
North East Asia 31,439
Eastern Europe 26,310
Australasia 26,068
North America 24,948
Middle East 23,741
South East Asia 16,890
Others 2,166
Total: 447,890

Sri Lanka Tourism ( http://www.srilanka.travel)

PATA ( http://www.pata.org)

The New York Times' "31 places to visit in 2010" ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/travel/10places.html?_r=2)

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