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Last Updated Saturday November 16 2019 12:54 AM IST
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Kerala limps as Colombo races ahead in tourism

P. Kishore
Special Correspondent @ Malayala Manorama
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Galle Beach Galle Beach in Sri Lanka, Photo: Hash Milhan/WikimediaCommons

If there is one thing that other states in India are jealous of about Kerala, it is tourism. How Kerala went on to become a stellar success story in tourism is a puzzle that many a tourism promotion board in other states are clueless about. Ask The Economist, and it would sing paeans about its lush greenery. No wonder the state earns Rs. 22000 crore (close to $ 3.5 billion) annually.

It's not just other states, but India's southern neighbour Sri Lanka that competes with Kerala to grab a bigger pie of tourism. Kerala tourism is in fact bigger than Sri Lankan tourism. Sri Lanka earns a little more than a billion dollars annually from tourism. But foreign tourist arrivals is double that of Kerala -- about 2.4 million. Kerala has close to a million foreign tourist arrivals only. But what makes the difference is the arrival of more than nine million domestic tourists. As Sri Lanka has no domestic tourism worth a mention, Kerala steals a march over it, in numbers and revenue.

But then visit one of the casinos in Colombo and you can spot many Indians with deep pockets gambling on any day. A good number of them are from God's Own Country, too, mostly tourists seeking the forbidden pleasures back home. And one of such pleasures could soon be liquor, which the southern Indian state intends to ban except in five star hotels. About 712 two star to four star hotel bars in Kerala are facing closure, which is another reason for Keralites to tour other states in India and Colombo. Already scores of tour operators and hoteliers have expressed apprehension regarding prohibition. “We visit Colombo frequently to escape the orthodox atmosphere prevailing in Kerala,” said Rappai, a businessman from Thrissur, who was playing Russian Roulette in a Colombo Casino. Clearly Kerala's loss could be Colombo's gain.

Understandably, Colombo has scaled up the infrastructure to facilitate the arrival of more tourists. There is a spanking new expressway from Airport to the city that can take visitors in half an hour to their gambling dens or watering holes. New hotels, shopping malls, theatres, restaurants...Colombo has them all. With the assistance of foreign town planners, the Colombo Plan is racing ahead to make the tropical island a new tourist paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Old colonial buildings like the Dutch hospital have been given a new lease of life. The cobbled streets and pubs selling draught beer resembles Europe in parts. Huge walls and barricades from the LTTE war era have been pulled down to give a wall-less look. Even Taj Samudra of Gall road has pulled down its walls. Shangri La hotel and ITC hotel are being built. Ever wondered what the secret behind the beauty of many a European city is? It's the wall-less expanse with lawns and plants. Colombo is well on its way to achieve that gorgeous look.

Both India and China are investing heavily in Sri Lanka. India is building railways while China is building roads. China has gifted an international convention centre in Colombo, where the meeting of Commonwealth heads of governments was held recently.

Indian and Chinese businessmen are making a beeline to Sri Lanka, looking for investment opportunities. They are mainly looking at real estate, hotels and resorts. Newly opened up Jaffna and Trincomalee are on their radar. All these give the impression that Sri Lanka is a nation in a hurry, to become another Singapore or Hong Kong. Many Tatas or Ambanis are likely to emerge in the island nation sooner than later.

Last Post: A major builder group from Kerala is investing in a big project in Colombo -- Two tall apartment towers on either side of a road connected by a bridge. There could be many more such projects coming up as the foreign investment rules in Sri Lanka are being eased up. No doubt, Colombo could soon resemble the Hong Kong skyline.

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