The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Prasanna’s classy fads and big dreams


When entering his home at Rosmead Place, it’s almost as if you stepped into a page from Narnia, a fantasy novel. But you really wonder if you stepped back in time when entering veteran hotelier and ‘dreamer’ Prasanna Jayawardene’s (PJ as he’s fondly called) office on the second floor.

Prasanna Jayawardene

The exquisite and enchanting antiques are truly treasures and add that nostalgic old age charm. What catches the eye mostly are the little antique ornaments and items, English porcelain and pottery, small furniture and the collectables which you will fall in love with. It’s also easy to see that each piece is lovingly chosen and beautifully presented taking you a step back in time, but with all the fun and sparkle of the present day.

Classy fads
Tea is served in silverware of a bygone era. Settling down to a long chat with the Business Times, he admits to having expensive hobbies. Antique collections and collecting ‘a few trophy cars’ are the most outstanding of them all. “I own a stretch Daimler, a limousine originally used by the queen when she was here,” he says. A stretch Austin Princess, also a limo which was imported for the then Premier Dudley Senanayake and a Jaguar owned by a Malaysian Sultan, which is over 50 year old completes the current collection. “Now I am restoring these cars again,” he says.

He also collects antique furniture. “This I love and they are mostly Sri Lankan, Dutch or from the English period. The other house which I built in Anuradhapura has more,” he says, which brings us to the next question why a house in Anuradhapura. He is quick to add that it was built as a base for his agricultural projects that he is currently involved with in the North and the East.

He is in the process of developing an “owner’s camp’ where there’re three rooms and the rest of the expanse is just a sprawling area. “This will be set up at Vakarai and will be right on the beach on a coconut land,” he says gleaming. He’s planning a simlar project near Mahiyangana in a 180- acre land. “The emphasis is on the agriculture,” he says, adding that it’s all organic farming.

It’s a realization that his talents are diverse and also vast when browsing through the three novels he has written.� “I’m not a great author or a writer,” PJ is quick to explain, adding that he only writes for himself. His last book was published last year, but some of its contents were actually written sometime ago – nearly 10 years, he says.

O/L debacle
He says that he failed O/Ls thrice consecutively and very effectively. A true Trinity College product, PJ says thanks to his father he got into hoteliering and later attended the Institute of Hotels and Tourism in Klesshiem Castle, Austria where he obtained his Diploma in Hoteliering. “Rest is training and experience,” he says, adding that despite his O/L debacle, he didn’t lose hope or confidence.
At 23 he fell in love in Paris and married Carin from Sweden. “I have two children – a girl and a boy,” he says, adding that his daughter is a Marine Biologist in Miami and his son is a Business Consultant based in Sweden.

Creation of “Elephant Corridor” hotel, the first hotel to charge US$ 1000 in Sri Lanka in 2003, bringing in a new dimension in hoteliering is one of his claims to fame. This is Sri Lanka’s first purpose built Boutique Hotel with 21 suites, each one with its own small private swimming pool, including a presidential villa. Built on 200 acres of unfenced jungle land, where only small parts around the hotel are nature-escaped, PJ says there’s no motorized traffic allowed inside the hotel. The hotel has created employment for over 150 staff, many of whom come from the vicinity of the hotel, in addition to the staff with international and national experience.

Bigger picture
His employment history is extensive as well.
At 24 years, appointed General Manager of Browns Beach Hotel, Negombo the first Sri Lankan General Manager to be appointed not only to Browns Beach Hotel, but also to any other of the new tourist hotels then established. In the Seychelles, he was appointed Director-General Manager of COSPROH, the largest hotel owning company in the country with hotels managed by Meridian, Sheraton and eight other national and international hotel chains on three different islands with almost 2000 beds.

At 32, he was appointed Director General/General Manager of the Ceylon Hotels Corporation. He was also the first private sector professional to be appointed to the biggest tourist organization in the country at the time, in 1980. The Hotels Corporation at the time managed not only the portfolio of the Hotels and Rest Houses, but also Railway Catering, BMICH Catering, a Duty Free Shop in Fort, the biggest tourist transport fleet in the country and a travel agency among other diverse areas.

As of now, he is in the process of creating “Isle of Agnes”, a super luxury hotel in a spectacular location in Sri Lanka. The room rates here will range from US$ 5000 to US$ 10,000 and PJ promises that this is a milestone in Sri Lanka’s tourism, as these rates have not been charged before. This hotel, he says will offer stretched limousines and pleasure boats for each of its suites, among many other new concepts.

It’s easy to see that he is enamoured by Sri Lanka “We’re in the best geographical location in the world. And this is the best time.” When asked why many call him a dreamer, he says, “I am a dreamer. I always believe that Sri Lanka will surpass India and China in terms of growth. When I was born we were the richest in the region from all the rubber reserves that we had at the time. This is a beautiful country and I think in decades.”

He also says that things come to him stages, but he is apt at coining them to see a clear and a bigger picture.

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