Ratneswara Sivaratnam

16 Nov

AIT_BOD_5Economic and socio-cultural coexistence in the hospitality sector

The growth of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry bears the indelible stamp of Mr Ratneswara, Director, Aitken Spence & Co Plc, a pioneer and legend in the industry who acted as a catalyst and facilitator to raise Sri Lanka’s tourism profile internationally.

Mr Sivaratnam, Chairman of Aitken Spence from 1997-2001, pioneered the first five-star beach hotel in Sri Lanka—the Triton—as well Sri Lanka’s first eco-friendly five-star hotel—Kandalama. Throughout his 32 years of service, he identified and prioritized areas with the greatest potential for enhancing Sri Lanka’s tourism product, and planned, developed, and implemented initiatives to improve Sri Lanka’s competitiveness as a preferred tourism destination in Asia, including the maintenance of standards and human resources development and training. Mr Sivaratnam also established Aitken Spence Travels, today Sri Lanka’s leading destination management company which received national recognition as the Best Destination Management Company at the recently held Presidential Awards for Travel & Tourism Excellence 2007.

Mr Sivaratnam’s greatest challenge was to overcome opposition to the Kandalama Hotel project, initially from the monastery at Dambulla, which objected to the bedroom wing’s encroachment onto an old monastic precinct (the design was changed and half the rooms were relocated in a new wing to the west of the ridge above the approach road), and, later, from environmentalists, who protested that the buildings would threaten the catchment area of the tank. The campaign against the construction of Kandalama Hotel was waged on environmental and sociological arguments, including the preservation jungle areas and conservation of wildlife, the danger of polluting the waters of the tank, the risk of depriving farmers of water needed for irrigation purposes, and corrupting the life styles of the rural peasantry. Although renowned Architect late Mr Geoffrey Bawa was saddened by the changes to his original vision, much of the concept has survived. The new “Dambulla Wing” is screened by vegetation and the ramped ascent to the cake-like entrance through the rock to the first lounge is still full of drama.

Mr Sivaratnam’s role throughout this episode was to facilitate the best practical reconciliation of aesthetic, cultural, architectural, economic, social, and environmental considerations, all of which had to be taken into account in securing cooperation from all the parties concerned.

Well before the concept of sustainability as a resource development and management philosophy permeated all levels of policy and practice relating to tourism, Mr Sivaratnam was practicing the sustainable management of Sri Lanka’s natural and physical environment, and spreading his philosophy of the need to coexist with the economic, socio-cultural, and health objectives of localities. Within each of his pioneering initiatives, we find a strong pattern of conservation, which together with his belief in the organic growth of the tourism sector, has led to higher quality tourism product in as much as Mr Sivaratnam set the trend, he also showed the way by building harmonious relationships between local communities, the private sector, the public sector and the government in development of the country and its population at large.

Mr Sivaratnam is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the tourism industry both locally and internationally. He was also the first Sri Lankan to be invited to join the World Travel & Tourism Council.

He continues to serve on various Government Advisory Committees and sits on the Board of several companies. He is a past Chairman of the Export Development Board and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau.

2008 – Ace Magazine Issue 1

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