Sri Lanka invites tenders to develop potential ‘Rio of South Asia’

A BIODIVERSITY-RICH strip of islands in the coastal town of Kalpitiya might be Sri Lanka’s next big tourism hotspot, as the government plans to call for fresh tenders for tourism development on these islands.

According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority director general Malraj Kiriella, 11 of 14 islands, measuring about 1670ha altogether, will be offered for 20- to 99-year leases, though no time frame for the launch of the call for tenders was given.

The owner of Dutch Bay Resorts which is located in Kalpitiya, Neil de Silva, said the region is known as the ‘Rio of South Asia’ for its attractions such as kite-surfing, whale- and dolphin-watching, live corals and mangroves.

“It is probably one of the best locations in Sri Lanka for tourism,” said de Silva, who set up the resort two years ago.

Kalpitiya, 170km from Colombo, is an hour’s drive to the Wilpattu Wildlife Park, inhabited by elephants, sloth bears, leopards and spotted deer; Kalpitiya’s Bar Reef is the country’s largest coral reef at 307km2.

An earlier effort to lease the islands failed due to lack of infrastructure and other issues.

Srilal Miththapala, former president of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, said: “There is a lot of promise for this region but the mistake the authorities made at the time (four to five years ago) was to copy the Maldives experience with water bungalows, etc.

“We can’t replicate that experience but there is potential for island tourism with beaches, dolphins and whales. We need to create our own model,” Miththapalas said.

Sri Lanka aims to attract 2.5 million visitors next year, up from this year’s targeted two million arrivals.

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