Pristine coastlines with miles of sugary white sand flanked by bamboo groves is how Sri Lanka was described by the New York Times (NYT), one of the leading publications in the world, as it declared Sri Lanka the number one place to go to in 2010. In the NYT's travel section, Sri Lanka tops the list of 31 places to visit, beating destinations such as Argentina's Patagonia wine country, Seoul Korea, Copenhagen Denmark and Mysore India.
The NYT column on Sri Lanka written by Lionel Beehner says the civil conflict which ended last May has ushered in a more peaceful era for this teardrop-shaped island, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendors. Mr. Beehner said that among the most scenic, if difficult stretches of coastline to reach, is Nilaveli Beach. While a few military checkpoints remain, vacationers can lounge on poolside hammocks under palm trees or snorkel in its crystal-clear waters, he said. Mr. Beehner also wrote that an international airport in Hambantota, currently under construction, will make the gorgeous beaches near the seaside village of Galle easier to get to. Decimated by the tsunami in 2004, the surrounding coastline is now teeming with stylish guesthouses and boutique hotels.
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Bernard Goonetilleke said the publicity from the NYT is encouraging. "In the past and in my personal experience, most foreign papers pick up adverse information on Sri Lanka, report it and give publicity to it. In that backdrop for Sri Lanka to be selected as the top destination, it indicates the potential of the country and what we can aspire to."
The NYT article comes at the opportune time when the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada have relaxed their travel advisories on Sri Lanka according to tourism officials. Mr. Goonetilleke did not want to comment on individual countries but said foreign missions in Colombo evaluate the situation on the ground to ascertain if there is a case for revising their travel advisories.
"When we speak to them regarding the need to further relax their advisories, they also tell us to please keep in mind that the situation in the country became normal several months ago." Mr. Goonetilleke added that for decades, the security situation was of concern to them and that they will gradually relax the travel advisories based on the information they gather. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website states that around 94,000 British nationals visit the island every year and that the majority of visits are incident free. The FCO is only advising against all travel to the northern districts of Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaittivu and Vavuniya.