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Sri Lanka tourism adopts new ways to cater to Middle East visitors 

Sri Lanka’s tourism is trying to cater more to visitors from the Middle East countries, with special initiatives already underway, officials and industry players said on Thursday, as they seek to revive the crisis-hit country’s hospitality sector.

Tourism has traditionally been one of the key sources of Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves and in 2018 earned $4.4 billion, contributing 5.6 percent to the gross domestic product. But this dropped to just 0.8 percent in 2020, as the country received a major blow when the outbreak of COVID-19 halted global travel.

To rebound from the pandemic, Sri Lanka declared 2022 the “Visit Sri Lanka Year” to prioritize the tourism industry in general, but as the country sank deeper into its worst economic crisis in history, it began to realign its strategies and identified the Middle East among its top potential markets, pinning hopes on Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and especially Saudi Arabia.

“The Arabian market is a key market segment in Sri Lanka tourism,” Madubhani Perera, marketing director at the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, told Arab News.

She said it was of paramount importance now to build up confidence among visitors from the region so that they would feel culturally comfortable in Sri Lanka and, as industry players are trying to tap into the market, all future promotion campaigns should focus on “safety and respect for their culture.”

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Colombo Khalid Hamoud Nasser Al-Dasan Al-Qahtani has also recognized Sri Lanka’s potential in appealing to Arab visitors, provided their comfort in traveling is taken care of.

“Sri Lanka is an ideal destination for tourists from the Kingdom…To make it more attractive, there must be an Arab-friendly environment,” he added.

One such initiative to boost the country’s popularity among travelers from the Gulf is now spearheaded by Sri Lankan hospitality veteran Fazal Mohammed, CEO of Al-Araf Hotels and Resorts, who has worked for 30 years in the Saudi hospitality sector, serving in managerial positions in brands such as Fairmont and Raffles in Makkah and Al-Faisaliah Hotel — one of the finest five-star hotels in Riyadh.

Mohammed’s most recent project is Horton Heights, a super luxury hotel located in the scenic hill city of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, which is expected to open its doors to guests this winter.

“The project is designed for high-end tourists and looks to cater to leisure travelers from the Middle East region,” Mohammed told Arab News, adding that it is designed to appeal to leisure travelers from the Middle East, with staff proficient in the Arabic language, high levels of privacy and fine dining experiences.

“Emphasis is also taken to allow the Middle Eastern traveler to enjoy his or her holiday in the island nation and ensure his daily lifestyle and habits are not disrupted,” he said. This means that “rooms and facilities will be made available to carry on daily prayers,” and halal food options will be available.

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