Reuniting with Sri Lanka

With FCDO travel restrictions lifted and local tourism businesses open and eager to welcome Brits back, now is the time to recommend Sri Lanka, says Lauren Jarvis

After some very challenging recent times Sri Lanka is hoping for an influx of international visitors  after the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) last month lifted a travel advisory warning which had been imposed in July.

Now, tour operators and the island’s accommodation and experiences suppliers are ready to welcome travellers back to the Indian Ocean isle. 

Sri Lanka emerged from the shadow of Covid-19 and reopened its borders in January 2021. It quickly zoomed straight to the top of travellers’ bucket lists, repeatedly named the post-pandemic ‘must-see’ by industry giants such as Conde Nast Traveller, CNN and Travel + Leisure

As with many nations around the world, the war in Ukraine and economic difficulties have seen these early recovery signs stutter, but the resilient and resourceful country remains determined to seize the spotlight, and tourism is key, if not vital, in helping to secure a bold and bright future. 

Madubhani Perera, Director of Public Relations at the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), said: “With the Covid pandemic well behind us, our focus is now firmly on a tourism-driven economic recovery. We are fully open for business and serving our international tourists as usual. With the relaxation of the UK travel advisories, we’re ready to welcome British travellers for the upcoming winter season. 

“To support this, our national flagship carrier, SriLankan Airlines, will increase the frequency of its direct London-Colombo flights from seven to nine per week. 

“We’re extremely confident about the future, and the full recovery of our tourism industry.”

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Why sell it

“While Sri Lanka was quickly out of the blocks post-Covid, fuel shortages and political protests curtailed the tourism boom. However, tourists travelled safely in Sri Lanka throughout this period, and now the country is ready to lift off again,” said Sam Clark, Co-Founder and Director of specialist Asia tour operator, Experience Travel Group. 

Once predominantly promoted for its sunshine and beaches, the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ now offers a diverse range of experiences for travellers, with fascinating cultural heritage sites, wildlife-rich national parks, luxurious wellness centres, culinary workshops, and thrilling water-based adventures – and all are easily accessible on one unique, compact island. 

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Who to sell to

“The post-Covid traveller seeks experiences that will make them feel alive again, and we’re focusing on highlighting Sri Lanka as the destination to do this,” says Perera. “It truly is a destination with a treasure trove of possibilities. Wellness tourism is a growing market, and we are working to position the island to meet the demand of this high-yielding segment. Sri Lanka can cater for large outdoor weddings, but it’s also the perfect destination for a smaller, intimate ceremony, with boutique and luxury hotels offering a highly personalised service. 

“We’ve also seen an influx of ‘digital nomads’, who are combining travel with work, and have introduced long-stay visas and other benefits to attract them.” 

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What to sell

Most travellers explore the capital city of Colombo before heading out to see the sights such as the country’s largest temple complex, Dambulla; the 16th-century Galle Fort; Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth, which houses a sacred tooth relic of Buddha; the leopard enclave of Yala National Park; the tea plantations on the hills around Ella; and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Then it’s off to enjoy some beach time in Bentota, Tangalle, Mirissa, Weligama or Passikudah.    

“Although tourist numbers are growing again, the main national parks and historic attractions, like the rock fortress of Sigiriya, remain quieter than usual, which makes for a more enjoyable visit. Most importantly, with the local economy suffering, your tourist pounds will do a great deal of good,” advises Clark.  “We recommend venturing off the beaten track too, perhaps incorporating into an itinerary Arugam Bay on the southeast coast, the temples and fort at Jaffna, or Gal Oya National Park for a truly immersive experience.”

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When to sell 

Sri Lanka is a year-round destination, but the high season runs from December to April, when the weather is warm with minimal rainfall. The island is at its wettest in October and November, while September is a great time to travel, with good weather and fewer tourists. The Sinhalese and Tamil New Year coincides with the UK’s Easter holiday, and is celebrated island wide. 

Kandy’s spectacular Esala Perahera, also known as The Festival of the Tooth, sees elaborate torchlight processions in July and August, and Jaffna’s Nallur Festival, which runs for 25 days in August or September, has chariot processions, dancing and religious devotees performing acts of self-mortification. Shops are closed and alcohol on each month’s full moon day – a bank holiday known locally as Poya Day.

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How to sell

SriLankan Airlines will offer nine direct flights per week from London Heathrow to Colombo this winter; the island’s 16 domestic airports allow travellers to easily hop between destinations. 

It’s possible to travel independently in Sri Lanka, by bus and train, but most visitors join a small group tour, or travel with an operator on a bespoke itinerary with a chauffeur/guide.

Vibrant Sri Lanka combines well with tranquil Maldives, which is just a short flight away. For customers who prefer a cruise, companies including Celebrity, MSC, Crystal, Ponant and P&O Cruises make stops at the Sri Lankan ports of Colombo, Galle, Hambantota and Trincomalee.

Book it with… Experience Travel Group 

A bespoke 14-night trip in Sri Lanka starts from £4,500pp and includes international flights, an English-speaking chauffeur guide and vehicle at disposal, excursions, safaris, and tips. Most meals are also included and the accommodation is in quality boutique hotels and lodges.