19th August 2001
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Discovering the magic of white-water

Sri Lanka compares well with the other alternative white-water rafting locations in Europe and USA due to lower costs and challenging river conditions. Sri Lankan rivers offer faster rapids than in some other countries. Experienced white-water rafters find Sri Lanka more exciting than other competing locations in Europe

Recent events are making Sri Lanka a destination only for the adventurous, and adventure tourism may be the only way to exploit the situation. Local tourists in a bid to escape the depression and feeling of doom of the city are rushing to raft down the Kelani river. The Sunday Times Business reporters, Chanayka Dissanayake and Dinali Goonewardene, carried out a research on eco-tourism to ascertain what keeps this seemingly resilient industry ticking.

Daylight is just seeping into the sleepy city as we rush pell-mell in search of a Russian. Andrey Fonin will be our group leader on an exciting mission. We find him sitting cross-legged on a mound of grass at the Pamankada bridge watching the morning traffic, much to the bemusement of the army personnel manning the barracks nearby.

It's Tuesday morning and the business reporters of the Sunday Times are partners in crime, taking the day off to discover the magic of white-water. 

As the vehicle speeds on, the bustle of the city gives way to sleepy towns. Lazy bulls stare bleary-eyed at us and old men sit out on sprawling verandahs to bask in the sunshine and watch the world go by.

Andrey tells us his father is a planter in Kandy and his mother an artist. He also tells us eco- tourism is booming. Andrey is a team leader for Adventure Sports Lanka Ltd, a company started in 1994 by a Britisher, to promote eco-tourism in Sri Lanka.

The company offers a choice of three locations for white-water rafting. Kitulgala, the least difficult location, is meant for beginners without any previous rafting experience. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 5, Kitulgala ranks 3rd, said Andrey.

The Kelani river and the Kaluganga offer a more challenging rafting experience, but previous rafting experience is necessary. 

The primary investment required for white-water rafting is a raft, which could cost up to US$ 6,000. "We started with just one raft but now we own five rafts that have self-draining mechanisms," said Andrey. He further explained that the self-draining raft is especially suitable for white-water rafting since it doesn't get flooded, making it easier for manoeuvering through the rocks.

After an initiation into rafting terminology, where Andrey insists we follow orders barked out, such as, 'right side paddle' and 'left side back paddle', we launch our rafts at 'put-in' the first of the rapids. 

The excitement is contagious as the entire team prepares to battle what seems to be a baby rapid. But suddenly the raft is hurtling through and a blind of water hits us head on. 

I cling on to the raft for dear life, and vaguely hear Andrey yelling, 'right side back paddle'. Is this man all there? But suddenly it's over and we are through. I grin jubilantly. We are still on board and it feels great!

Ribcage is a double rapid to be reckoned with. Falling out at the first rapid would feed you to a second rapid. Rafting is about adrenaline. We paddle furiously and navigate like never before. A spine-tingling ride at the ribcage has us all on a high. A sense of camaraderie pervades a group of strangers who have battled the wilds.

The water quietens, serenity seeps in as we paddle into a tranquil pool. The beauty and wildness of nature make time stand still.

But not for long. I find a solitary leech attached to my arm. This calls for some serious vocal exercise. Andrey is disdainful. "What is it with you Sri Lankans. This leech phobia," he says disdainfully. "They suck blood," I explain fearfully. "So do mosquitoes. You scared of them too?" he questions, intrigued.

The local demand for white-water rafting is picking up, mainly led by the young corporate executives and the expatriate students from international schools. "At Rs. 2,000 per person we are not attracting large local crowds. But the demand is on an upward trend," Andrey said. The demand peaks in December due to the tourist season and local holidays. We usually get 20-30 tourists per week during June to November and 50 per week in January, he said.

The white-water rafting clientele is mainly made up of foreign eco-tourists who come through the leading tour operators. The company is also promoting its own tours through Exodus - a leading tour operator in Europe specialising in adventure tourism.

The large groups that come through Exodus usually stay for two weeks, rafting, hiking and mountain biking. Financially, those groups are the most profitable, he said.

Sri Lanka compares well with the other alternative white-water rafting locations in Europe and USA due to lower costs and good river conditions. 

Sri Lankan rivers offer faster rapids than in some other countries. Experienced white-water rafters find Sri Lanka more exciting than other competing locations in Europe, we are told. The most difficult location in Sri Lanka - Kaluganga offers six hours of fast, continuous rapids.

But the 'shoot' the wildest of rapids, on 'our favourite river', the Kelani, leaves everybody's heart pounding. A series of drops amounting to three metres is every rafter's dream. 

Dared and done, we dive into the river to drift along with the gentle current to bring us to the end of a ride of a lifetime.

On an economic perspective eco-tourism is more viable than other forms of tourism due to lower investment and a shorter pay-back period. 

Also an eco-tourist spends more foreign currency during his stay in Sri Lanka than an average tourist. Will this fledgling industry survive the ominous pall cast on a country by an airport attack?


  • Crisis talks on economic fate of the country
  • New accounting measures developed by Sri Lankan professor 
  • Multivision to offer wireless Internet
  • HSBC helps those in distress
  • Three more brands to boost your spirits
  • Small people with big ideas
  • Metropolitan helps man to conquer machines
  • Commercial Bank opens Nikaweratiya branch
  • Crisis talks on economic fate of the country

    By Sonali Siriwardena
    As darkness envelops the country with the imposition of power cuts, a glow of realisation of the ensuing economic crisis is gradually igniting a fiery response within the business community. With a war risk label being slapped on the Colombo Port in the wake of the Katunayake attack, the latest development following a spate of disastrous events, the sad fate of the economy is being discussed in a series of crisis talks initiated by the private sector.

    "It is now perfectly clear that the government is contemplating an extra-constitutional route in respect of the holding of a referendum," constitutional law expert Mr. Rohan Edrisingha said at a seminar on the theme, "The recent constitutional crisis and its impact on the economy" organised by the Joint Business Forum last week. He said that although the President, in calling a referendum, purported to act under Article 86 of the Constitution (which is also known as a non-binding referendum in that it merely entitles her to the 'opinion' of the people without any legal consequences), there was really no need for such a question to be asked at a colossal cost of Rs. 650 million because almost 99% of the political parties accept the need for a new constitution.

    He added that although the President has been repeatedly quoted as saying that she had a legal but unconstitutional way of getting about the situation, the government has failed to disclose what it plans to do thereafter. While this impinges the basic requirement of transparency, the later claim by the government that its objective in holding the referendum was to bypass the two-thirds majority requirement in parliament, clearly confirms the extra-constitutional route considered by the President, Mr. Edrisingha said. This attempt to manipulate the constitution raises serious concerns over the resulting effect on a number of key institutions and severely erodes the legitimacy of parliament he said.

    "The inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption within the government mechanism aptly illustrated by the airport attack is placing us in a most embarrassing position," said leading banker Mr. Rienzie T. Wijetilleke voicing a different tone of concern. "While a handful of people launch a systematic attack on the main airport in the country, we are left to save face with no answer to give foreign banks who are beginning to reduce credit lines, because there is no one to be held accountable." he said. "The business community has to find ways to re-establish the economy on a proper footing and demand that the government adopts a workable infrastructure plan to stimulate economic growth in the country, Mr. Wijetilleke said.

    "This country does not belong to the politicians and the business sector must ensure that they remain accountable." he said.

    Striking a somewhat different note at the seminar, academic Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said it's absurd to point fingers at politicians. "It is a fact that the business community has had very close links with politicians in the country, so why can they not hold the politicians accountable for not delivering the goods?" he queried. Dr. Saravanamuttu further said, "The business community needs to ask itself how pro-active a role it can or must play in resolving this crisis, and consider whether it has the maturity to commit itself to such an active role." He added that there is no need to be talking about consequences but it's time for introspection within the corporate sector as to whether they can break down the hierarchical structure that's intrinsically inherent to government and adopt a decisive stand against meandering politicians so as to restore to normalcy the social, political and economic climate in the country.

    New accounting measures developed by Sri Lankan professor 

    New accounting measures on the verge of being copyrighted were aired for the first time at the strategic management accounting faculty symposium in Colombo last week. The new measures which increase the reliability of intangible asset valuations have been developed by Prof. Janek Ratnatunga, the Chair of Business Accounting at Monash University. The formulae for EVITA (Economic Value of Tangible and Intangible Assets) and ELVIS (Enterprise Leveraging Value Indexes) were developed by Prof. Ratnatunga during a research assignment for the Australian defence department.

    The new measures will be presented to the Australian Accounting Standards Board and the Australian Audit Office and a copyright obtained prior to approaching the International Accounting Standards Board, Prof. Ratnatunga told the Sunday Times Business Desk.

    Prof. Ratnatunga's work is influenced by Swedish Insurance Company, Skandia's intellectual capital report, and research carried out by Leadbeater, Litman, Barsky and Marchant and Litman.

    Stressing the need for intangible assets to be valued Prof. Ratnatunga highlighted the yawning gap between market values and book values of companies. "But how do you value something that goes home at 5 p.m.?" he questioned, referring to the need to value human capital. EVITA capitalises on the strengths of a range of diverse valuation methods such as economic value added, market value added and shareholder value added while avoiding their weaknesses. Enterprise Leveraging Value Indexes based on key performance indicators lead to what Prof. Ratnatunga describes as a 'strategic balance sheet'.

    Presentations were also made at the symposium by David Cartney, an Australian chartered accountant, who works as a business mentor, Alan Fell, the principle consultant of Alan Fell Consultancy Ltd, UK, and Leon Duval, the president of the Institute of Certified Management Accountants of Australia.

    Multivision to offer wireless Internet

    By Akhry Ameer
    Ruhuna 2001 Multivision (Pvt) Ltd, the providers of Comet Cable, recently announced their plans to introduce high speed Internet services in the next six to eight months. The announcement was made by the new board of management at a relaunch media briefing held last week.

    The new management also announced their plans to introduce high-speed data transfer and Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and stressed their commitment to improve customer service. According to Shanaka Jude de Silva, a member of the new team, their first task once they took over was to restore the popular sports channels, ESPN and Star Sports, to their regular service. Currently Comet Cable offers up to ten channels, including movies, music, cartoons, news and documentaries on a basic and premium package basis.

    Emphasizing their focus on customer satisfaction and service he added that their website will play an important role in real-time customer service by providing opportunities for its customers to interact with the organisation on support services, sales and payments. As an initial step the organisation has expedited their response to inquiries with regard to troubleshooting and connections for new customers.

    On its regular programme line-up Multivision also has plans to introduce four new channels including a free to air channel before the end of the year. Comet Cable will also extend its service to the south in the near future. However, currently the focus will be on the greater Colombo area. The new management has also completed an update of its decoders supplied to clients after numerous complaints of defects.

    The new management team is supported by an additional group of investors consisting of Mr. Nihal Hettiarachchi and Ms. Sahida Hettiarachchi. The board also includes Alston Koch, a popular figure in the entertainment industry and a member of the previous board. While the previous investment was Rs. 350 million, the new management maintained confidentiality on the additional value of investment by the new team. However, the government still retains its 10% stake in the company.

    HSBC helps those in distress

    Life is so hectic that we often forget to consider those who can't move around as easily or as painlessly as we do. HSBC has made an effort to raise funds for those who are in need of that extra boost in life.

    HSBC regularly issues 'Sensational Savings' brochures to all its credit card holders informing them of super discounts and special benefits. These brochures feature a social organisation working for the benefit of disadvantaged individuals.

    The Sri Lanka Cancer Society works for the benefit of cancer patients throughout the country. Mr. K. Weeratunge, secretary - administration, said the society plays a leading role in "all activities connected with the prevention and control of cancer". He added, "We are very grateful to HSBC's Card Centre for giving us publicity in their 'Sensational Savings' brochures," They had benefited from HSBC's unique system of featuring a deserving cause in each of its quarterly brochures, he said.

    "The bank had included a return slip in these brochures through which credit card holders were able to make a donation," Mr. Weeratunge said, adding that the response from credit card holders had been overwhelming. "Thanks to HSBC we were able to collect over 4 lakhs of rupees. We felt we had to show our appreciation so in March this year we decided to award HSBC with a Certificate of Appreciation," he said.

    Helpage Sri Lanka, the Colombo Friend-in-Need-Society, the SOS Children's Villages of Sri Lanka, and the Institute for the Hearing and Sight Impaired, are some of the many organisations that have been featured in HSBC's Sensational Savings brochures.

    A spokesman for HSBC also stated that there are other projects that the bank gets involved in directly.

    Access to education is a particular challenge for hearing impaired children. HSBC funds the salaries of 20 specially trained teachers who coach nearly 200 deaf children three times a week. These teachers are dedicated individuals who work to improve the vocabulary and communication skills of these differently-abled children.

    Three more brands to boost your spirits

    By Diana Mathews
    Cheers! A toast to health and steady demand! Randenigala Distilleries Ltd (RDL) recently launched three new brands of arrack, Extra Special, Extra Strong and Holland Black and announced that the demand for liquor continues to be steady.

    "With 85 percent of the Sri Lankan adult population still consuming liquor there is a high probability of demand increasing," Assistant General Manager, Randenigala Distilleries, Mahesh Weerasena said.

    Somewhat rare to the Sri Lankan business community in general but common among local brewers in particular are the two words, "steady demand". 

    A few large brewers dominate the Sri Lankan liquor market. Authorised brewers are restricted to less than 50 percent of the market share while the illicit brew or "kassipu" holds sway.

    Sarath Wijewickreme, Managing Director of RDL, speaking at the launch said that the distributors in rural areas have been threatened by anti-competitive practices of competitors and called for the authorities to take stern action.

    RDL's factory is equipped with the latest technology where the process of bottling, labelling and packing is automated and under direct supervision of the Sri Lanka Excise Department.

    The company commenced operations in 1994 with five employees but now employs 150 and has a fleet of forty vehicles. It has a market share of approximately two percent.

    Small people with big ideas

    Headed by the husband and wife creative duo - Kolitha and Rukshana Samaratunga - 'Big Ideas' primarily focuses on designing. A small but but very ambitious company, 'Big Ideas' proved their capability to handle giant tasks last year. Their success stems from their ability to think big. After all dreams and achievements do stem from big ideas.
    By Laila Nasry
    "Big Ideas" situated a stone's throw away from Colombo's commercial hub, Fort, is no multi-national. It is instead multi- faceted. Driven by six creative individuals whose aesthetic talents know no limits this relatively new name in Sri Lanka's corporate circle is a fast growing company selling solutions. "We offer our clients ideas," said Rukshana Samaratunga one of the Managing Directors of Big ideas, not concerned by their undefined work scope. Nevertheless it is this very fact that has led a small company, still in its infancy having turned a year on June 30, into the corporate limelight.

    Headed by the husband and wife creative duo - Kolitha and Rukshana Samaratunga - 'Big Ideas' primarily focuses on designing. "We do any type of designing," Rukshana Samaratunga said. Be it corporate logos, brochures, calendars, letter heads, business cards or packaging to greeting cards, interiors, gardens, dress designing or even paintings, their specialty varies.

    "We just don't do the designs. We look into facts like, for what is the design, to whom is it to be distributed, etc. and take it up from there," she said. A lot of emphasis is placed on client feedback and outsiders' views. "We show the design to the clients and sections of the public with the hope of extracting their ideas and opinions for a better final product." She reiterated, "there is no point in having a beautiful design on something which eventually cannot be sold."

    Their services also involves marketing. "Once a product has been designed and developed we offer to market it for them or in some instances we are roped into it." This task, she said, is facilitated by the research they have conducted and the information gathered for the initial purpose of designing.

    "We are not an ad agency but are capable of ad agency duties," she said, adding that a few of them have agency backgrounds and experience." We do everything from strategic planning to media buying to finally launching the product."

    Like in the case of the campaign for multinational 3M where 'Big Ideas' was involved in designing the direct marketing fliers, brochures for the product, organising the press conferences, the launch, etc. Their operations are not limited to Sri Lankan companies and multinationals but extend to an international clientele catering to markets in North America, Europe, Japan and East Asia.

    Most of their international clients come by way of their Canada-based CEO Saman Kasthuriratne. "We have a lot of contracts coming in from the North American market." Ontario International a company marketing pure Ceylon tea for which 'Big Ideas' does its package designs is one such example.

    All aspects of background details to client feedback are exchanged via e-mail due to the inability to meet face to face. Most of the information regarding the product, market research, etc. is looked into by their very hands-on CEO. However, this is not the case when it comes to their clients from Japan and Taiwan who visit often.

    The needs of these clients vary. Clients in Japan and Thailand are very specific, Kolitha Samaratunga said. They prefer small packs which are very Sri Lankan in appearance with lettering both in Sinhala and English printed on them. Others opt for the natural look with recycled paper packaging. If the order is a small one the production is carried out by Big Ideas itself.

    "I always try to project the image of Sri Lanka in the designs and promote the country through it," said Kolitha Samaratunga, the creative mind behind the designing. A closer look at one of those tea packs reveals the green esplanade of Galle Face as it must have been during the time of the British with women in their gowns taking a walk in the evening, the Lanka Thilakaya, its grounds dotted with worshippers, a resplendent Dalada Maligawa of the pre-colonial era, etc.

    "Foreigners love those scenes of old time Ceylon. It is much favoured as it also increases the marketing aspect of Ceylon or the Sri Lankan identity," said Kolitha Samaratunga.

    When it comes to designing, he firmly believes in breaking all rules. His designs are a mix of fine art and hand drawn graphics with the inclusion of minute details. He believes in the mystique of the past and loves adopting age-old scenes for present day products.

    Though he dabbles with computer graphics he prefers its usage more for the mechanics of drawing and for communication purposes, adding "one should not be a slave to the computer."

    Big Ideas has been a part of international trade fairs in Germany and Australia and was involved in setting up stalls and promoting essentially Sri Lankan products like tea, herbs, spices etc. "The response was overwhelming. Our stalls were crowded with people."

    The only drawback in this sort of business is that the clients are not very forthright regarding the amount they intend investing in a particular venture. "Clients are not very open about the amount of money they are able to afford. We give them all sorts of ideas only to discover that they can't afford it. If they confide in us we could still provide the best possible solutions within their budgets," said Rukshana.

    Currently in the pipeline is a package design for tea bags packed in tin containers which include elephant collectibles within it. That too for an international market, with each sale involving a scheme of donations to a locally based elephant orphanage. "We hope it will promote Ceylon tea and better still, to ensure the conservation of one of our national treasures, elephants."

    Their major vision is to be well known internationally and be a forerunner in projecting a positive Sri Lankan image worldwide.

    Big Ideas is a small company but very ambitious and has during the past year proved their capability to handle giant tasks. Their success stems from their ability to think big. After all dreams and achievements do stem from big ideas.

    Metropolitan helps man to conquer machines

    Metropolitan, the information, communication and imaging solutions company, in order to keep pace with the rapid convergence of IT, communications and multi media technologies, has broadbased its activities in order to meet today's challenges.

    According to General Manager, Business Development, Metropolitan Communications, Anil Gunawardena, some of the benefits to be derived from the solutions provided by the Metropolitan Group are productivity enhancement by improved contactability, the personal number concept, computer telephone integration, mobility within the office and unified messaging.

    As the systems integrator and partner to most of the local blue chip companies, Metropolitan provides the solutions to enhance the operations of their clients' organisations.

    Commercial Bank opens Nikaweratiya branch

    The Commercial Bank of Ceylon recently opened its 87th branch in Nikaweratiya.

    The advent of Commercial Bank to Nikaweratiya provides residents with access to the largest computer-linked branch network in the country. This will enable customers using the new branch to connect to 87 computer-linked branches around the country as well as the bank's network of 88 automated teller machines, which provide a 24-hour service.

    Speaking on the occasion, the Chairman of the Bank, Mr. M. J. C. Amarasuriya said that Commercial Bank is committed to serve the people while maintaining its premier position in the banking sector. "Our staff is trained to serve in the best possible manner and we are committed to providing an exceptional personalised service," he said. "The full range of banking facilities including, leasing and credit facilities will be available through this branch."

    The new branch is located at 48, Heelogama Road, Nikaweratiya.

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