Sri Lanka is still recovering after a long and brutal civil war that started in 1983 and only ended two years ago. The fight between Tamil separatists and the government left 100,000 people dead, many of them civilians, and there were accusations of war crimes on both sides. The government won and the island nation is now beginning to rebuild.
A sign of that rebuilding is the relaunching of passenger ferry service with India, which had been suspended for 30 years due to security concerns. The first boat left from Tuticorin in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu last night and arrived in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo this morning. The boat is called the Scotia Prince, can carry 1,000 passengers, and is fitted with a restaurant and casino. The Scotia Prince last hit the news when it rescued thousands of Indians and Sri Lankans from the war in Libya.
Flemingo International, the company running the India-Sri Lanka route, says their service will do two round-trip journeys a week and provides a cheaper alternative to flying. Travel to Sri Lanka has been increasing since the end of the civil war.
A second ferry will start soon, operated by the Ceylon Shipping Corporation.
[Image of Scotia Prince courtesy Rama]
Since the end of the Tamil Tiger confilct in May 2009, travel to Sri Lanka has been increasing, with the country celebrating their 600,000th foreign tourist last month. This year, 700,000 are expected with tourism growing to 2.5 million a year within 5 years, reports the BBC. “The nature has blessed us with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, exotic wildlife and historic places. We as a nation have a reputation for our hospitality,” says Basil Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka‘s Minister of Economic Development. While the increase in visitors is welcome, Sri Lanka is experiencing some growing pains and challenges as a tourist destination.
India and the United Kingdom are currently the largest sources of tourists, though now it is claimed that the Eastern European tourists who came during the confict are being ignored in favore of Western travelers. Russian-speaking tourists are being turned away in the tourist boom, hotel prices have soared, and Russian guides complain of lost income. A proposed change in the visa process could discourage more visitors, though the government claims the new system is designed to help travelers.The visa can currently be obtained for free on arrival for citizens of 78 countries including the United States. Similar to the Australia electronic visa, the new visa process would be done from your home country online. Approval would take 24-72 hours and “special facilities” would be provided on arrival for tourists with the online visa. An added fee could potentially dissuade visitors who could instead spend their vacation dollars at a free visa destination.
The government hopes to allow tourism to develop naturally without direct intervention, though some small businesses feel they are struggling while larger-scale projects are planned. In northwest Sri Lanka, an adventure tourism zone is being developed with whale watching, scuba daving, and an underwater vistor center. A similar Tourism Promotion Zone is in the works near the country’s international airport to capture a similar transit market as Dubai, and increasing Sri Lanka’s flights as a major Asian hub.
Have you been to Sri Lanka? Planning to travel there now that warnings have ceased? Leave us your experiences in the comments.
[Photo of Sri Lanka’s Pinewala Elephant Orphanage by Flickr user Adametrnal.]
Anthony Bourdain enjoys Sri Lankan street food in the below video.