After decades of war, Sri Lanka is having a tourism revival. The new highway, which links Galle to the capital city of Colombo, marks a turning point in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, states The Wall Street Journal in a report published on May 30.
“With its white-sand beaches and archaeological sites, the country is perennially named one of Asia’s next travel hotspots”, the writer Jennifer Chen explains.
Three years after the end of the war, those predictions may finally come true. The travel sector already has witnessed a comeback: Compared with 438,000 arrivals in 2008, 1 million tourists are expected to visit this year. By 2016, the government is targeting 2.5 million tourists, hotel industry.
Sri Lanka’s tourism boom could bring big changes to Galle’s historic heart, a 400-year-old fort occupying a 52-hectare headland that juts into the Indian Ocean, The WSJ writer said.
Alluring though it was, the Fort didn’t draw the tourists headed to Sri Lanka in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Initially they were European sun-seekers, indifferent to local culture. Officials, too, failed to recognize the Fort’s potential as an attraction even after UNESCO granted it World Heritage status in 1988.
Peace has accelerated gentrification. Hotels are reporting full occupancy rates, and cafés and boutiques are popping up, especially around the tip of the headland. “There has been more change in the last six months than in the past 10 years,” said a longtime resident.
As with many historic spots, the revival is double-edged. Real-estate prices inside the Fort have spiked in response to the finite supply of houses and UNESCO regulations that bar high-rise development. In 1995, one perch, or 25 square meters, was worth around $500. The going rate now is $20,000, Ziham Hussain, the director of Olanda Real Estate, said.
A one-story 275-square-meter Dutch-built house had recently been sold for $350,000, he added. “With that money, you can buy two houses in Colombo.”
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