Archive | March, 2010

Sri Lanka, the 2nd best tourist destination – National Geographic Channel

22 Mar

“Sri Lanka has absolutely everything”
18 March 2010

The National Geographic Channel in an exclusive report has categorized Sri Lanka as the second best place to visit.

The commentators, Times Travel Writer Jil Crawshow and Editor of Wandertrust Magazine describe Sri Lanka as ‘definitely a best place to visit’.

Referring to the first world traveller Marco Polo’s description of his ‘favourite island’, as the ‘Jade Pendant in the Indian Ocean’, the commentators state that Sri Lanka is exactly what it is and that it has got ‘basically everything for a tourist’.

Observing that in Sri Lanka a tourist may have a ‘beach to yourself’, they add that the country has hundreds of miles of ‘amazingly undiscovered beaches and coral marine life’. ‘It is arguably one of the greatest islands for beaches’, they add.

They report that Sri Lanka has a wonderful history and culture in a really small space and state that Sigiriya is a place not to be missed because of its scenic beauty.

‘You don’t get to number two without some must-see sights’, they add.

Stating that Sri Lankan wildlife is a ‘major highlight’, they refer to the availability of elephants and leopards, making a special reference to the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary. Pinnawala is now the largest herd in captivity with 65 elephants. It opened with seven elephants in 1975.

They also comment on the ‘lovely food’ and point out, ‘if anyone wants to taste spicy curry then, definitely, Sri Lanka is the place to go’.

As seen on Policy Research & Information Unit of the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka on

Watch the report on:

Media Release – 22 March 2010


22 Mar


Next Stop Sri Lanka: Checkpoints in Paradise

16 Mar
14  March 2010

EVERYBODY out, the military officer ordered us, as we pulled off the bumpy road linking the Tamil-dominated eastern province to Sri Lanka’s hill country. My driver motioned to the back seat, where a police officer we picked up a few miles back was sitting. His presence lent an air of authority, and we were promptly waved through. But the busload of European shutterbugs in front of us — unloading their suitcases and filing out in a single column — was not so lucky.

Such are the inconveniences of visiting a postwar country like Sri Lanka. I traveled there last October with fresh memories of what had befallen this teardrop-shaped island off India: a brutal decades-long conflict between the Sinhalese majority government and a band of separatist rebels called the Tamil Tigers.

Postwar societies, no matter how peaceful or picturesque on the surface, are inevitably complex places that still bear the scars of war, though some less overtly than others. Sri Lanka is no different. Visitors will discover a tropical island teeming with exotic wildlife, white beaches and stylish boutique hotels. Yet they will also find internment camps, military checkpoints and a government accused by watchdog groups of undermining democratic principles as it tightens its grip on power.

Remnants of the war can be found practically around every corner. As our van sped along, I spotted rows of abandoned huts lining the road, which my Tamil driver said were used by snipers. In Trincomalee, a busy port in the northeast, fishermen with missing appendages hawked the day’s catch. Conversations with locals almost inevitably drift back to war.

The wounds are still fresh, as The New York Times found out after listing Sri Lanka as its top travel destination for 2010 (as the author of the entry, my e-mail in-box was bombarded with angry letters). The anger stemmed from the brutal way in which the Sri Lankan military ended the war last May. By some estimates, about 7,000 civilians, and possibly thousands more, were killed during the final battle. Hundreds of thousands were put in camps. The government remains in the awkward position of defending itself against accusations of war crimes while also trying to open up the country to foreign investors and vacationers.

Because of the war’s tense aftermath, the State Department has issued a travel warning on Sri Lanka ( But to date, I have heard no reports of Western tourists killed or kidnapped in Sri Lanka. In recent months, tourism has steadily inched upward from past years, thanks to efforts by the government and local entrepreneurs to redevelop the eastern coast and to build an airport down south near Hambantota. The tourism ministry has also begun a “Visit Sri Lanka 2011” public relations blitz to rebrand itself after the war.

Sri Lanka has always held a fascination among wayward foreigners. Long after Marco Polo stumbled onto its palm-fringed shores, the British futurist Arthur C. Clarke made Sri Lanka his adopted home to gaze up at the universe. Some literary historians suspect “Robinson Crusoe” was inspired by the island’s remoteness. Real-life castaways — Aussie filmmakers, German graphic designers — are relocating here to snap up centuries-old homes and convert them into attractive spaces that blur the line between modern art gallery and Moorish guesthouse, fusing colonial décor with Asian motifs.

But it is the country’s tranquil beauty that draws most visitors. “You don’t need to do a great deal to have the good life here,” said Ivan Robinson, a British real estate developer who refurbished a colonial manor in the south. “The rivers are full of fish. Fruit falls off trees.” Water buffalo graze beside Buddhist stupas. Elephants roam freely. And innkeepers warn guests to keep their windows closed to avoid pickpockets — not people, but monkeys swinging from the trees.

Then there are Sri Lanka’s famed beaches, crescent-shaped coves of white sand framed by colorful bungalows and bamboo groves. An unintended consequence of the war is the coastline’s lack of development. You can stroll past beat-up outrigger boats, which look like showpieces from a maritime museum, and past fishermen on wooden stilts. Or hike inland to discover hideaway guesthouses carved from old gem merchants’ homes, with mango gardens and infinity pools tucked into their courtyards.

In Trincomalee, make your way to the Hindu temple atop Swami Rock, perched over one of the world’s deepest harbors (it’s called Lover’s Leap; legend has it a lovelorn Dutch girl once flung herself off the ledge). Or head just north of town to Nilaveli Beach, a deserted stretch of sand that calls to mind the TV show “Lost.”

But it is the southern town of Galle that is the coast’s biggest draw. The city feels more European than South Asian, owing to the fact that its center — a jumble of quaint gem shops, cafes and guesthouses — sits within the weather-beaten walls of a Dutch-built fort.

After dining on crab cakes in the colonial Galle Fort Hotel, stop by the ramparts to watch kids dive Acapulco-style into the Indian Ocean. Cap it off with a cocktail at Dick’s Bar, found within the Sun House, the former digs of a Scottish spice merchant that now caters to artists and architects.

High up in Sri Lanka’s hill country, the feeling is more authentic, less touristy. To get there, hop on the train that rattles past rain forests, tea plantations and elephant orphanages. The final stop is Kandy, famous for its lakeside shrine called the Temple of the Tooth.

Swing by Kandy’s botanical gardens before checking out the Heritance Kandalama Hotel, about 90 minutes north of town. Designed by Geoffrey Bawa, a native son, the hotel sits on the edge of a cliff, camouflaged in a thick coat of jungle foliage. Another showcase of the island’s architectural renaissance is Kandy House, a 400-year-old manor converted into a boutique hotel furnished with antiques and arched verandas.

But it is Kandy’s Buddhist roots that entice most visitors. Head to the Y.M.B.A. (Young Men’s Buddhist Association) around sundown to witness a pooja dance. Dancers twirl about in red and gold sarongs, clink brass rings and bang on drums before staging a fire-eating ritual. Or hop on a tuk-tuk, the motorized rickshaw taxis all over Sri Lanka, to make the drive to Dambulla, an ancient complex of cave temples stuffed with reclining Buddha statues.

Even Colombo, the gritty capital, is getting a makeover, with Bohemian cafes and flamboyant nightclubs now tucked within its high-rise hotels. Aid workers and diplomats converge at the Gallery Café, a chic fusion restaurant that doubles as an art gallery. But the best place to soak up the colonial-meets-tropical vibe of Colombo is from the ocean-facing garden of the stately Galle Face Hotel.

As the well-heeled brunch crowd filed into the hotel, Waruna Jayasinghe, a bushy-haired artist who recently opened a Buddhist meditation center near Kandy, was with a gaggle of European real estate developers, discussing Sri Lanka’s prospects for peace.

“With the war going on, nobody felt safe,” Mr. Jayasinghe said as he rubbed the tiger’s claw that hung around his neck, a talisman he said brings good luck. “But for the first time, things are different. Now, anything is possible.”

As seen on The New York Times on 14 March 2010

Media Release – 16 March 2010

Fitch affirms Aitken Spence’s senior unsecured notes as ‘AA’

16 Mar

FITCH Ratings said yesterday it has affirmed Sri Lanka’s Aitken Spence PLC’s (ASP) senior unsecured notes as National Long-term ‘AA (lka)’. The Outlook is Stable.

The rating reflects the strong operating cash generational ability of ASP’s core business segments, the geographical diversification of its revenue and profit streams, and the low leverage in two of its business segments.

Media Release – Daily FT – 16 March 2010

Aitken Spence Group of Hotels: Best Sri Lankan resort culinary team

9 Mar

by Jayanthi Liyanage

Aitken Spence Group of Hotels emerged as the Best Sri Lankan Resort Culinary Team at Culinary Art 2010, the 13th Food and Hotel Exhibition presented by Chefs Guild of Lanka at the BMICH in early February.

The group of eight hotels and tower restaurant in Colombo had fielded 219 entries and clinched a medal tally of 138. “Our success rate was 63 percent,” Assistant General Manager – Training, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements, Susantha Gunawardana said, explaining that the win had been obtained from a total of 1,600 entries presented by 121 hotels. Aitken Spence Hotels hauled a massive medal count of 43 Golds, 44 Silvers and 51 Bronzes.

From the group’s hotels, Kandalama and Ahungalla had succeeded in obtaining 42 and 48 medals respectively, as against more modest winners of Earls, Browns, Ramada, Tower, Tea Factory, Hill Top and Beruwala hotels. Kandalama won 17 Golds, eight Silvers and 17 Bronzes while Ahungalle won 16 Golds, 19 Silvers and 13 Bronzes. Earls received a medal tally of 15.

Kandalama and Ahungalla bagged three golds each in the competitive event ‘five course set dinner menu”. For Kandalama, another three golds came from the event ‘plated appetizer”, two golds each from ‘fruit and vegetable carving’ and ‘arrack cocktail.’ Ahungalla bagged three golds in ‘arrack cocktail’ and two golds in ‘plated appetizer.’

Seven hotel staff members excelled at the competition. H.E. Indika Danushka, Demi Chef De Patie, won two Golds, one Silver and Bronze each and a special award for Most Outstanding Pastry Show Piece, Dress the Cake, Petit Fours and Plated Dessert. Pradeep Fonseka, Pastry Chef, won one Gold, Silver and Bronze each for Most Outstanding Plated Dessert, Petit Fours and Dress the Cake.

Chathuri Jayasundara, Restaurant Receptionist, won a Gold and a special award for Most Outstanding Creative Coffee Competition. W. Dinesh Chaminda, 2nd Commis, won a Gold and a special award for Most Outstanding Bakery Show Piece. Sulari Thabrew, Restaurant Receptionist and a student of Aitken Spence School of Hospitality, won three Golds and two special awards for Most Outstanding Anchor Beer Cocktail, Most Outstanding Sunquick Mocktail and Arrack Cocktail.

These five staff members are from Heritance Ahungalla.

The other two winners are from Heritance Kandalama. S. Mahendra Samaratunga, Chef de Patie, who won three Golds and a special award for Plated Dessert, Dress the Cake, Petiti Fours and Most Outstanding Pastry Chef. Chamara Dilhan de Silva, Management Trainee, won two Golds and a Special Award for Most Outstanding Plated Appetizer and Five Course Set Menu.


Pradeep Deepal Gunaratne joined Aitken Spence Hotels four years ago. Today, he works at the Tower Restaurant in Colombo. At the recent Culinary Art 2010, he won a Gold in the ‘arrack cocktail’ event. Chandana Athukorale who works in the same venue, joined the company two-and-a-half years ago. He won a Bronze in ‘live hot cooking’.

Although training and development is costly, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (Pvt) Ltd has been very strong in that component, said General Manager-Training Amal Nanayakkara. “The staff is encouraged to make mistakes and experiment with dishes.” Aitken Spence Hotels encourages staff with an inspiring leadership from Director Gemunu Goonewardene and four Corporate Chefs Dimuthu Kumarasinghe, Lalith Gunasekera, Ramish Hassim and Ratnapala. Incidentally, Kumarasinghe won six Golds at IKA Culinary Olympics Erfurt in Germany in 2004. “Director Goonewardena’s conceptualization made it all possible,” said Nanayakkara. “He is responsible for pushing ahead with an extraordinary special kitchen for Kandalama in 1994. Fifteen years later, that investment paid dividends.”

Director Goonewardene spoke of the importance to transfer knowledge to the next generation.”From 14,000 rooms today, tomorrow we need to increase to 35,000 more rooms.

This means 70,000 more staff.” Explaining the heritance concept, he said that the idea has been to bring out the best in the young generation whose parents were attached to the company. “Children are given the opportunity to join the trade force and join our school. They are developed by us and heritance values encouraged. So, ownership is always there. That way, we develop our emotional capital.”

Heritance philosophy involves absorbing staff from the area the hotels are built in. Village youngsters who joined the company have come to the level of managers. “We also train employees to be sensitive to their environment and respect the people of the area.,” said Goonewardene.

“The village people are proud of the hotel as they feel they own it. These links can be developed only if you respect the place. You are not exploiting but utilizing the resources. Heritance cuisine is about enhancing the food ingredients of the area. A very integral part of culinary art is how we showcase the heritance philosophy and harness raw talent.”

Nanayakkara said that the company has taken in 24 students from the Eastern Province. “There is much potential in Eastern Province for tourism. Beaches and the archaeological sites there are fantastic. Places like Nilaveli and Kuchchaveli can easily be developed. Even though we have not built a hotel there, we thought ahead and took this batch who are now being trained at Kandalama.”

Tourism is a 100 percent Sri Lankan product, emphasised Nanayakkara. “We need to make tourism our number one foreign exchange earner. Tourism and development is connected in places like Habarana, Ahungalla and Kandalama. They are developed tremendously because one hotel came up. The trickle down effects to the economy and to the area has been tremendous.”

Tourism is also a fantastic opportunity for women’s development, he added. “Sri Lankan women are service-oriented, very friendly and exceptionally beautiful. They can make use of the hospitality industry not only as hostesses and receptionists but also in the wider sections of housekeeping and kitchen. Women should play a vital role in the tourism industry,” he concluded.

As seen on on 6 March 2010

Media Release – 09 March 2010