Thatscricket - News - SL awaits cricket and tourists bonanza

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2001, 23:53 [IST]
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Colombo: When Indian cricketers arrive in Sri Lanka next month, the local tourist industry is hoping they will bring their own cheering squads and fill not only stadium seats but also empty hotel rooms. For the Ceylon Tourist Board (CTB), the Indian team's projected trip is the chance to start batting on an intensive promotion to persuade cricket-crazy Indians to visit the island.Like some 8,000 Britons who tagged behind the English team in January, tour operators expect rock-bottom prices for star-class facilities, shopping trips and plenty of sightseeing to attract cricket fans from across the Palk Strait. But, with three weeks to go before the Indian team arrives, not many have so far taken the lure.Accommodation in luxury hotels in Colombo like the Taj Samudra, the Lanka Oberoi and the Galadari and five-day packages costing two people between $ 228 and $ 248 have yet to see Indians beating a path to the travel agent's door.At the deluxe central province Kandalama Hotel on the shores of a manmade lake, rooms can be had for $ 14 a night per person in a double room, according to one travel agency."We have not had many bookings and we are waiting to see if things will improve," said Bandula Padmakumara of Sunlanka travels who participated in a first ever "Visit Sri Lanka" campaign in India in April and was anticipating a rush to join special tour packages to the country.Last year, some 32,000 Indians visited Sri Lanka, making them the third largest nationality to come here behind Britain and Germany. At present, most Indians come here on business or to visit relatives. But the CTB expects their sales push, launched in New Delhi and Mumbai, will prod holidaymakers to sit up and take notice.Like some nine other operators, Padmakumara is offering a wide-ranging array of options. "Most Indians want five-star hotels to stay in, good transport and plenty of shopping and they are prepared to spend to get it," he said. "That's something we can offer at very attractive rates."CTB marketing director Charmarie Maelge is upbeat, expecting, if not a stampede, at least brisker last-minute demand for slots on the tours. "Indians don't make travel plans in advance," Maelge said. "Unlike Western tourists, they wait for the last minute to decide."She described plugging cricket to entice Indians as "a trial run," adding the board did not anticipate anything like the invasion of British fans who had hotel owners grinning from ear-to-ear.The first Indian engagement will be with Sri Lanka and New Zealand in a triangular series which will be played in Colombo and at a new Sri Lankan Rs 300 million-stadium at Dambulla in the north-central province. The team will be here till early September.Using sport to generate tourism is a new tack taken by the CTB as visitors from traditional Western markets have dwindled in recent years. A protracted anti-separatist war, largely confined to the north and east but occasionally erupting elsewhere, has kept would-be visitors from coming here in large numbers.The industry is banking on tempting a big tier of affluent middle class people to come here on holiday to prop up the flagging tourist industry. "All the economic indicators show that India is going to be high-yield market for us," said Maelge.IANS

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