Sri Lanka attracts health tourism


Aitken Spence Hotels, one of Sri Lanka's top hotel firms, has resumed talks with Six Senses Spas, an international spa chain, on building an up-market resort on the south-west coast. The firm, part of the Aitken Spence group, owns or manages nine hotels in Sri Lanka, five resorts in the Maldive Islands, five hotels in India and five hotels in Oman.

Aitken Spence Hotels managing director Malin Hapugoda says the project is near Ahungalla, in Beruwala, a prime beach resort where it has two properties, Heritance and Neptune, “ Six Senses are keen to re-look at it and now we're having talks to restart the project,"

The project had been mooted several years ago but shelved because of the island's ethnic conflict. But the 30-year war ended in May when government forces defeated the Tamil Tigers and there has been an immediate revival in tourist arrivals, with economic growth also expected to pick up.

Aitken Spence already has a tie-up with Six Senses that operates spas in the firm's Heritance Kandalama hotel in the north-central region and at the Tea Factory, a hill-country hotel. The new project with Six Senses, originally billed as Evason Hideaway, Ahungalla, is for a combination of beach villas and several villas on stilts on a private island in the nearby backwaters of the Madhu Ganga river. Sixth Senses is an international spa manager and developer.

Aitken Spence Hotels, one of the island's top hotel firms, is aiming at exploiting opportunities thrown up by the fast growth of the market of health/wellness, where rates are higher.

Neptune Hotel, a 500-roomed resort on the popular Beruwela beach on the south-west coast that is the oldest in the group's chain, is being turned into a health resort. The hotel has been closed and will be re-opened in November 2010 after a complete refurbishment and conversion.

Malin Hapugoda comments,” Health tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in the tourist trade. We decided to make Neptune Hotel exclusively a yoga, meditation and ayurveda hotel. We are drawing up plans at the moment for its conversion. We already have our ayurveda section in the present property that is operational. We’ve made a good name for authentic ayurveda. We want to expand to yoga and meditation which is a growing market, especially in Europe."

Rates at Neptune, when re-opened, will be "much, much higher" than what it would be able to derive if it remained in its present state, Hapugoda adds. This contrasts with recent price cuts across the country, as hotels struggle to regain visitors lost by the war and the recession.

In Sri Lanka, the health tourism sector is growing in popularity, especially with Western tourists, who look to treatments, such as the ancient Ayurveda methods of herbal medicines and massage, as a way to recover from their fast paced life back home.

To put the potential into perspective, Sri Lanka currently receives only 440,000 tourists a year, and a small proportion are health tourists. President Mahinda Rajapaksa wants more hotels and increased room capacity in order to attract 2.5 million tourists annually by the year 2016, with a focus on China. Most tourism investment is from overseas companies, with the Japanese, having already invested in two hospitals, sending a large investment delegation in November to assess potential.



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