By Natasha Gunaratne
The Ministry of Tourism is embarking on an ambitious project to attract 'ultra-rich' tourists to the luxury accommodations on 14 islands in the Kalpitiya Dutch Bay Region with golf courses, amusement parks, observation towers and even a full-fledged international airport for which an airstrip has already been earmarked in Pallavi close to the naval base.
The total investment is expected to be US$4 billion. According to the Ministry which held a press conference this past week to explain the 'Kalpitiya Integrated Tourism Development Project', Sri Lanka will stand to benefit significantly in terms of employment, infrastructure development and to make tourism the number one foreign exchange earner in the country.
The Ministry is seeking cabinet approval for a business model which will serve as an investor guide by mid-October. The Cabinet will also be responsible fore appointing a technical evaluation committee (TEC) and a cabinet appointed tender board (CATB). Requests for proposals (RFP's) should commence in mid-November. The project will be a public private partnership (PPP), expected to start in the early part of 2009 and will finish 5 years from the date of commencement. The islands are connected to the mainland by sand bars and the Ministry is planning on constructing bridges with a ferry service from Puttalam.
The Kalpitiya project is meant to create a new, exclusive tourism destination in South Asia and according to the Ministry, is probably the best opportunity for the future of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka and a solution for Kalpitiya regional development. Secretary to the Ministry Mr. George Michael said 12 of the 14 islands, surpassing 4000 acres of land have already been acquired. Mr. Michael said the process was fast tracked by Minister of Tourism Milinda Moragoda who got cabinet approval for a high powered steering committee which is headed by former diplomat Bernard Goonetilleke. A separate project office for Kalpitiya has also been set up and is headed by Prasad Galhena, project director.
Mr. Galhena said the Kalpitya project is completely eco-friendly with sustainable power generation and consumption, green technology, green building design. The islands will feature luxury accommodations and condominiums. He said the project will increase annual tourist arrivals by an additional 1 million and increase average spending by four fold. It will create 15,000 jobs through direct employment and 50,000 jobs through indirect employment.
Standards of living for the 1500 families in the area are expected to improve. The Ministry stressed that there will not be any displacement of communities and no resettlement. Road development, water and electricity, police stations and hospitals as well as the airport is aimed at boosting the infrastructure to create a mini city.
Mr. Goonetilleke said Sri Lanka has not exploited even one percent of its tourist potential. The stabilization of the eastern province has allowed for development of the eastern shores with planned projects such as Nilaveli and Arugam Bay. He said he expects the ultra-rich market in the Gulf to come to Kalpitiya as well as Indian tourists who have so far only come to Sri Lanka for shopping and very short stays.
Mr. Goonetilleke explained that there will be between 4,000 to 5,000 rooms in Kalpitiya with an average of 4, 5 or even 6 service personnel per room to guarantee luxury service. He also reassured other resort areas that their business will not be affected but that Kalpitya will serve as a magnet to pull in the tourists and disperse them to Colombo and other hot spots.
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) Renton de Alwis said the SLTB has several plans for the East and are encouraging private sector investments. Pasikudah is a high end eco-friendly development meant to attract surfers. He said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is assisting in the development of Kalkudah around the concept of 'rooms in homes' where the entire area would be identified as a resort with quality control assurances. This concept goes beyond the traditional resort definition of hotels but would still serve tourists who want to experience the local culture.
Mr. de Alwis said the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Sri Lanka Transport Board is painting two buses which travel from Colombo to Panama as a promotional campaign for Arugam Bay. The buses will be operational in three to four weeks.