IAG December 2014 - page 8

inside
asiangaming
December2014
8
Cover Story
“China, clearly, was the decisive factor in ending the war,” as
Forbes
has noted, and has been a “key factor” five years on in the
government’sefforts todealwith theaftermath, “providingColombo
the diplomatic cover against the institution of a U.N. investigation
intopossiblewar crimes, or the appointment of aU.N. special envoy
on Sri Lanka. In return for such support, Beijing has been able to
make strategic inroads into a critically located country in India’s
backyard.”
Whatever injustices might have been perpetrated in the final
days of the civil war, there seems tobe a genuinedesire amongboth
Tamils and the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority to put
that longand regrettableepisodebehind themandbegin theprocess
of healing.
Inhis international bestseller “BreakoutNations— InPursuit of
the Next Economic Miracles,” Morgan Stanley’s head of emerging
markets, Ruchir Sharma, not only challenges the accepted wisdom
that China’s economy will motor on ad infinitum, but he picks 10
economies that lookpositioned tosignificantlyoutpace theirpeers in
economic growth and development over the next decade. Sri Lanka
ranks highly among them.
Mr Sharmapointsout that evenduring the civil war theeconomy
grew at an averagepaceof nearly 5%.
“With the nationwhole again, achieving a 7% to 8% growth rate
over thenext decade shouldbewell within reach,” he reckons.
“It would be a mistake to sugarcoat the post-war mood,” he
warns. “There is evidence that Tamils, embittered by the bloody end
game of the war and suspicious of Rajapaksa, continue to leave the
country. Butmany of thosewho remain seem determined to put the
warmemories behind them.”
Moreover, he says, “The reintegration of the marginalized
Tamils—with theirhigh levelsofeducationalachievementandEnglish
fluency—should provide a huge boost to a nation that multiple
ChinesePresident
Xi Jinping
visitedSri Lanka inSeptember and
inauguratedaChinese-backed$1.3billion coal powerplant that enabled
President
MahindaRajapaksa
to scorepopulist points aheadof provincial
andnational electionsby cutting citizens’ electricity tariffs.
consulting firms already rank highly as a potential destination for
multinationals looking to outsource customer service, IT and other
back-officeoperations.”
Tourism is playing an important role as well, and here, too, the
China factor is significant. In 2009, the year before the civil war
ended, visitor arrivals totaled around438,000. In 2013, they surged
tomore than 1.2million. And it’s the Chinesewho are contributing
most to the growth on a percentage basis, with the number of
arrivals from China approaching 95,000 through the first nine
months of 2014, a jump of 141% over the same period last year.
The government has set a target of 1.5 million tourist arrivals for
this year and hopes to attract 2.6million by 2016 and is counting
on a number of high-profilemarketing andpromotional campaigns
withinChina to helpmake it happen. The government expects that
before theendof this yearChinawill overtake theUK tobecome the
country’s second-largest tourist sourcemarket behind India, which
will likely retain the top spot, given its proximity and strong social
and economic ties.
PLUGGINGTHEHOTELGAP
Even before Sri Lanka achieved peace it was one of the world’s
leading travel destinations. The “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” as
the island is known, boasts hundreds of miles of beaches, tropical
forests, lush, unspoiled highland valleys, stunning waterfalls, 15
national parks, botanical gardens, sprawling plantations where
those legendary Ceylon teas are grown, centuries-old temples,
ornate colonial-era landmarks, eight UNESCO World Heritage
sites, evenwild elephants.
What’s lacking, however, are sufficient accommodations to cater
to the kindof big-spending tourists the government is after.
Oneman on amission to address this is Dhammika Perera, by
many accounts the country’s richest individual and also the biggest
casino operator in the country. He began investing in the tourism
sector as far back as 2000 andnowowns anumber of luxury resorts
andhotelswith700 rooms in total andanother 1,200 in thepipeline.
Of the rooms under development, around 500 will be within his
US$350 million Queensbury casino resort planned for Beira Lake
in Colombo’s tourism core, not far from the US$400million, 450-
Sri LankaTouristArrivals
top ten countries as at end of september 2014
180,000
160,000
140,000
120,000
100,000
80,000
60,000
40,000
20,000
0
China
Germany
France
Maldives
Russia
Australia
Japan
U.S.A.
U.K.
India
2013
2014
1,2,3,4,5,6,7 9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,...48
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