A SRI LANKAN sunset moves lazily behind a cloud as you sip on a martini.
But looking down from the luxury of The Kingsbury’s Sky Lounge, you’re greeted with the whirs of churning sand and bulldozers, a reminder that Colombo is on its way to fully capitalizing its tourism offerings.
The city’s once-redundant port project has been resuscitated, there are five-star hotels springing up on the shoreline, and colonial buildings are being reborn as restaurants. This is what a city on the up looks like.
Sri Lanka Tourism is well on its way to achieving a target of 2.2 million visitors for 2016 which would be a 26 percent increase on the previous year.
Most people will pass through Colombo on the way to the country’s beaches, wildlife parks, cultural hotspots, and tea towns; yet those is search of luxury without the price tag would do well to linger in the capital now while it’s relatively inexpensive.
The imminent openings of renowned brands like Grand Hyatt and Shangri-La may see already increasing daily room rates climb higher.
Things are moving quickly as one regular visitor from the UK, Mike, pointed out: “ I come here for work and stay in hotels all the time. It’s harder now to get cheaper deals.
“I look forward to the new developments, particularly the new posh apartment buildings on Galle Face Rd where hopefully there’ll be cheaper short term rentals.”
Whilst there have been concerns over massive Chinese investment in the city, you need only look at the burgeoning number of upscale restaurants and designer stores geared towards this growing demographic of both workers and tourists to realize the city knows it’s onto a winner.
A recent study showed the Chinese to have the highest tourist dollar spend in Sri Lanka ahead of its traditionally European visitors. Political disputes saw the halting of the Chinese backed billion dollar Port City Project in 2015 now resurrected as the International Financial City project.
Rather than just being a tourist playground, this massive development is set to position Colombo as a lucrative financial hub between Singapore and Dubai.
Locals welcome the change as manager of Taru Villas – Lake Lodge, Raja, explained: “It looks like an eyesore but I’m glad the work has started again.
“We didn’t want just the race track, the casinos, and the shopping malls open all night. The financial center will bring business people and tourists who spend money in our hotels and restaurants. Colombo can become a real player in Asia in the future.”
That future may not be too far away. Already there are chic developments such as The Old Dutch Hospital where upmarket jewelry and textile shops rub shoulders with funky restaurants such as the popular Ministry of Crab often on global best-of lists.
Meanwhile, sentimentalists can wander the nearby bazaars of Pettah and delight in the colonial charm of Slavers Island before they disappear in a flurry of fortune.