Sri Lanka is casting an eye to the enormous tourist potential of China to boost one of the picturesque island's biggest industries.
In Shanghai last week to promote the country's tourism potential, Bernard Goonetilleke, Sri Lanka Tourism chairman and former ambassador to China, said the country will spearhead a global campaign highlighting the attractions of the island nation.
Tourism is Sri Lanka's fourth-largest foreign currency earner and the ''Sri Lanka Small Miracle'' campaign had its soft launch in Beijing recently and will be promoted around the world.
Goonetilleke, who recently visited northern parts of the eastern coast of the country, said he was impressed by the tourism potential of this area of the country.
Describing parts of the eastern coast of Sri Lanka as having the potential to be a "Hawaii in the Indian Ocean," Goonetilleke said tourists could now visit almost untouched beaches and coastal hamlets.
"The northern part of the eastern coast has amazingly beautiful beaches with emerald colored water," he says.
"There are areas where you can walk half a mile into the sea and still be in waist-deep water and it is unspoilt nature with a vast tourism potential."
Sri Lankan tourism authorities believe this part of the coastal offers the opportunity for all-year beach tourism with visitors able to enjoy the beaches while the southwestern part of the country is experiencing the annual monsoon.
Since Sri Lanka has changed regulations concerning Chinese tour groups and visitors coming to the country in 2002, Chinese visitor numbers have slowly increased. But Goonetilleke said the numbers of Chinese visitors each year were still small.
"We have been able to gradually increase the tourist traffic to Sri Lanka but we are barely scratching the surface," he says.
"The 'small miracle' campaign aims to highlight the diversity of tourism experiences the island has to offer" despite its small size.
Packed into its small landmass are opportunities to experience adventure tourism like trekking, white water rafting, while other visitors can look to delve into the cultural and spiritual side of the country and its various Buddhist temples and religious sites.
Goonetilleke said a growing section of the Sri Lanka's tourism market has also gained an understanding of the country's ayurvedic or traditional medical traditions.
Sri Lanka also has some of the biggest populations of wild Asian elephants and provides safaris and elephant orphanages where tourists can see these magnificent creatures.
Other world-class nature experiences include watching blue, humpback and killer whales as well as six varieties of dolphins.
"In parts of Sri Lanka visitors are able to, in one day, see both the world's biggest land animal, the elephant, and the world's largest mammal, the blue whale," he said.
(Shanghai Daily March 16, 2009)