By Charumini de Silva
Popular travel guide Lonely Planet yesterday officially named Sri Lanka the number one country to travel to in 2019, citing a growing number of activities, better accessibility, the rise of new hotels and trending wellness tourism as key reasons for the island to be chosen for the top spot in the annual ‘Best in Travel 2019’ publication.
“Our number one country to visit in 2019 is Sri Lanka. The country is decidedly having its moment in the equatorial sun,” Lonely Planet Vice President Andrew Hinshelwood told journalists in Colombo.
He said there were a number of reasons why Sri Lanka stood out during the selection process.
“We feel it is a destination with lots of things happening. The buzz about it is making the country a great destination. We believe it is a destination that offers something for everyone, that appeals to all types of travellers.”
He emphasised the ongoing transport development and infrastructure was a key point, which opened up the northern and eastern regions, including areas previously off limits, difficult to reach or lacking in services, delivering new discoveries and more experiences to travellers. In addition, the increasing number of quality hotels restaurants and sustainable tour operators offering diverse experiences also catered to rising needs.
He said that they also believed Sri Lanka ranked very high in creating great offerings for the emerging and trending wellness tourism sector.
“Whether you are a family traveller or an adrenaline junkie, a wellness seeker or a foodie, in Sri Lanka you will find all the magic you’d expect from South Asia bundled into a resurgent, medium-sized island nation that is friendly and, with improved tourist infrastructure and transportation, more accessible in 2019 than ever before,” Hinshelwood stressed.
According to him, opportunities for expanded exploration abound, with water sports, surfing and whale watching, jungle hikes, safaris and other nature-based experiences, cooking lessons, village homestays, yoga retreats and Ayurveda centres cited as examples.
Best in Travel is Lonely Planet’s highly anticipated annual collection of the best travel destinations, trends, journeys and experiences to have in the year ahead. Over the past 14 years, Lonely Planet has set the travel agendas for the next 12 months with the annual release of Best in Travel. Sri Lanka was first selected the number one destination to visit in 2013 in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel.
“We have hundreds of travel experts on the ground contributing their experiences from almost every destination of the planet and travellers trust us to give accurate, fresh, entertaining and honest advice. We strive to put the traveller first and present an objective view on the destinations to make their own informed choices and travel responsibly.”
The Best in Travel 2019 ‘unmissable experiences’ in Sri Lanka include wildlife, such as the 300-strong elephant gathering at Minneriya National Park, 1000-year-old Buddhist monuments and hiking and train travel through the hill country’s tea plantations.
“Already notable to intrepid travellers for its mix of religions and cultures, its timeless temples, its rich and accessible wildlife, its growing surf scene and its people, who defy all odds by their welcoming nature and friendliness after decades of civil conflict, have revived this country. They might be coming into their own, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime event or simply have been overlooked for too long; whatever the reason, now is the time to plan a trip,” Hinshelwood added.
Elated by the announcement, Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga expressed confidence that Sri Lanka was on track to achieve 2.5 million tourist arrivals and generate $ 4.5 billion in revenue by the end of this year.
“Lonely Planet is an authority on travel and tourism news and this endorsement is a big win for Sri Lanka. It is great to see that the country is finally getting its due place on the global tourism map. We expect to see this publicity being converted to actual footfall in the coming winter season and the year beyond,” he stated.
The Minister said that this accolade would complement Sri Lanka’s new brand identity campaign which is now set to get off the ground next month at the World Travel Mart (WTM) in London in a bid to boost more high-end visitors to the country.
Acknowledging that they were keen to make tourism the top foreign exchange earner in the economy, Amaratunga said the Government was rolling out a number of initiatives in areas of developing roads, expressways, railroads and internal airports to cater to growing tourist arrivals.
“Sri Lanka has no seasons, it is a 365-day country. With the ongoing developments in the country, we will ensure that our tourists will get better accessibility to explore more beautiful places in our island nation, while trickling down the benefits of the growth of the industry to all its stakeholders in the supply chain to ensure sustainable tourism development in Sri Lanka and to strengthen its position in the global market,” he added.