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29th August 1999

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Ranweli Holiday Village pioneers popularizing nature-based tourism in this part of the world

Been to a different place lately?

By Wathsala Mendis

As a part of their worldwide Student Travel programme, three members from Kuoni -a leading British travel operator and the second oldest in the world- along with 11 school teachers from England and ImageWales were in Sri Lanka recently on a tour to explore the possibilities for educational visits.

Schoolchildren and university students will come to Sri Lanka in the second phase of the project where they'll be exposed to the local natural and cultural environment. Both a learning and participating experience, it gives them the opportunity to gain a truly international perspective with the focus on sustainable tourism.

"More and more of our students are into the environmental impact of tourism," says Alf Scrimgour, Student Travel Manager and an ex-head teacher. "These visits give them the chance to see it at different levels," he says.

A significant step towards popularizing nature-based tourism, successful educational tours have already been carried out in Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, Cuba, and the Galapagos Islands under this programme.

"Responsible travel to natural areas and the sensitive handling of the environment," Alf says, "has become the fundamental challenge of tourism." Ecotourism, a small segment of the tourism package, is aimed at a niche market. Much more than a buzzword, it awaits and deserves to be more fully Imageexploited as catering to nature lovers who are not only upscale but also sensitive to environmental degradation.

During their stay in Sri Lanka, the group's choice was Ranweli Holiday Village in Waikkal, situated in a scenic peninsula in an expanse of over 22 acres of forested environment. A tranquil idyllic location 18 km away from Colombo Airport, it provides that much-needed feeling of being somewhere different.

The experience a tourist receives in staying at a lodge/hotel including trips to nature areas accounts for a major component of the tour when it comes to ecotourism. Isolation is part of that experience.

Ranweli, surrounded by two rivers, a lagoon, and the Indian Ocean, is accessed through a picturesque Imageferry cruise which creates a psychological impression of a nature excursion. It is very much part of the unique built environment, designed and developed in harmony with nature, not overpowering it, but using local building material. Keeping to its built-in environment-sensitive concept of low carrying capacity, Ranweli has 84 chalets (72 bungalows and 12 family rooms) offering a blend of comfort and indigenous aesthetics, creating the ambience and charm of a village. The resort nestles in a clear sprawling sea frontage in the west and a wetland mangrove and waterways in the east, providing excellent material to study diverse forms of life and their adaptation.

A naturalist's dream, the hotel environs are an ideal setting to observe more than 30 varieties of birds typical of the wetlands or to relax and fish in the lagoon or river.

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