Civil war over, Sri Lanka tourism blossoms
|TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka (MarketWatch) — Brad Hayes arrived at China Bay, just outside this harbor city on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, in rare style. |
The 47-year-old Australian chemical engineer was among the few paying passengers on a Sri Lankan Air Force flight from the northern city of Jaffna.
The 45-minute hop was comfortable and generally uneventful, he said, save for the high-caliber bullet hole in the propeller plane’s fuselage right next to his seat.
“At least I had natural air-conditioning,” Hayes quipped.
The military of this island nation has lots of time — not to mention equipment and land — on their hands after the bloody and conclusive defeat of a decades-long insurgency in 2009. So it is turning an eye to civilian endeavors.
In addition to selling domestic seats on its planes, the Air Force runs helicopter sightseeing tours and operates at least one modest seaside resort.
The Navy, meanwhile, will take visitors out on various marine excursions, including whale-watching trips. The Army has a travel agency and control of much prime property, especially in the former war zones.
Newly idled armed forces are just one of the players jostling for a piece of the booming travel and tourism pie as concerns large and small, foreign and domestic, launch or relaunch projects that were on hold during the civil war.
It is certainly an almost ideal time and place for the travel industry. A recent devaluation of the rupee, coupled with a rise in fuel prices and interest rates, could tamp down the torrid pace of GDP growth (estimated at 8% and change last year) and cause some real pain to those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. But the peace is going to last. The government won the war decisively by killing, capturing or scattering the entire rebel movement.
And it has yet to demobilize the wartime build-up, ensuring that tens of thousands of soldiers with weapons and training are not going to end up on the streets.
Sri Lanka is also remarkably secure from a personal-safety standpoint, with little violent crime and almost none of it directed at foreigners. The most dangerous thing a foreigner can do these days is get in a car or cross the street: With some exceptions, like the new expressway from the capital of Colombo to the southern port of Galle, driving in Sri Lanka is pretty much an endless succession of near-misses.
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source - www.marketwatch.com