19th June 2011, www.sundayobserver.lk, By Shirajiv Sirimane
The picturesque Pasikuda beach, considered to be one of the top beaches in the world, was first declared a tourist zone in 1971. Unfortunately, the zone was confined to a name board. A few private entrepreneurs also laid foundation stones for several projects, but those plans were also shelved.
While tourism took off in other areas including in Trincomalee with star class hotels being built, Pasikuda did not receive the momentum for take off. It was only 40 years later that this prime destination came under the focus of Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa under whose purview comes tourism.
After a careful study, it was decided that the name boards in Pasikuda, planted 41 years ago, should no longer be made to rust and a master plan was formulated to turn the coastal belt around to an upmarket tourist destination. However, the interests of local tourists too were not forgotten.
The first step in this direction was to lease 140 acres of state land to 13 private sector entrepreneurs. An Indian and Maldivian company too have obtained land to build hotels in this beach frontage stretching over 140 acres.
Special guidelines were also issued with each hotel having to build over 40 rooms and have at least three star plus classification. Strict environmental regulations had to be met and a 45-metre buffer zone from the sea too had to be maintained. No skyscrapers are allowed and no more than 10 rooms can be built in one acre.
An Indian company had come forward to take care of the garbage problem. It has installed a plant and will charge one US dollar from each occupied room as a fee.
One of the first hotels to be built in this tourism zone is Maalu Maalu by veteran hotelier, Chandra Wickramasinghe of Culture Club and La Kandyan hotels fame.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa said he went to Pasikuda, to lay the foundation stone for the Maalu Maalu Resort and Spa on June 22, 2010. “On May 30, 2011, I was in Pasikuda again to open the Maalu Maalu Resort and Spa. This is a huge achievement within such a short period of time,” he said.
While congratulating Chandra Wickramasinghe, Chairman of the Maalu Maalu Resort and Spa and his staff for their excellent achievement in this challenging era he said this hotel is a part of the massive development projects currently under way in the Eastern Province.
”This includes livelihood, infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and industrial development projects under the Reawakening of the East Program.”
"After the end of 30 years of terrorism, we have now entered a period of massive development that is not only for this region, but covers all regions of the country."
"As evidenced by the opening of the Maalu Maalu Resort and Spa in the once war-torn Eastern Province, Sri Lankans will enjoy the full benefits of post-conflict economic growth very soon," the minister said.
Wickramasinghe said that Pasikuda was one of the first areas in the South Asian region to be named a tourism zone, but sadly it did not take off. “We must thank the Minister for taking this initiative,” he said.
He said one of the main reasons for him to invest Rs. 360 million in Pasikuda was the manner in which the zone was planned by the Government and also the infrastructure that were provided to them.
“The transparent and professional manner in which the 30-year leased lands were distributed was praiseworthy. Thanks to the personal guidance of Minister Rajapaksa, today Pasikuda is the first planned tourist destination in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Wickramasinghe said he laid the foundation stone for the project in June 2010 and the hotel was commissioned last month, which makes it one of the quickest star class hotel projects to be built in Sri Lanka. The hotel now offers 40 luxury chalets, spa, infinity swimming pool, gym, Karaoke bar, disco, cable TV and many other amenities.
Wickramasinghe said that tourism is gearing for good times and the East coast would be a major tourist attraction. “I am confident of recovering my investment in five years,” he said.
He said unlike many global tourist destinations where there are off seasons, when it comes to Pasikuda there is no off season, which is a major plus point for investors. “This destination could help Sri Lanka attract new tourists from markets such as the Gulf and Australia.”
He also said unlike for many tourist projects launched in many new destinations all over the world, there were no objection from the public for this zone. “In fact, people in the area treat us like gods. During the construction period we did not even lose a nail,” Wickramasinghe said.
He said this is because people know that being an unmarketed destination the social pollution to the area would be low and since there is a limited population they can earn high income from the industry.
He said local contractors are already reaping benefits from the project as the hotels metalwork contract was handed over to a mini welder for Rs. 25 million. "This is the biggest contract he has handled and other hoteliers are already contracting him since he is very efficient."
Commenting on the infrastructure of the area, he said that it had taken over nine hours to get to Pasikuda. Now with carpeted roads and two new bridges being built, the driving time from Colombo is just around six hours. Train services have begun and a new sea plane landing port too is being built. New telecommunication towers, water lines and satisfactory connections too are being provided. "Even the bookings are flowing in and we have nothing to complain about," he said.
He said they are also happy with the staff from the area "who are very dedicated and most importantly, are quick to get in to the mindset of the leisure industry".
Deputy Director Planning, Tourism Development Authority Hemantha Wjekoon said the Government, on its part, while providing land for the investors, has also invested Rs. 800 million on infrastructure development in the area.
Twelve other investors have come forward to construct star class hotels with the total investment being Rs. 5,483 million. Over 90 percent of the rooms in the Maalu Maalu resort would be ready by the end of this year and many will open for December.
He said the Tourism Development Authority, in a bid to meet the local demand, has launched a program to register private residences with over six rooms as tourist hotels. He said about 296 such residences have already registered with them.
Commenting on the infrastructure for local tourists, Wijekoon said that a special area with beach frontage has ben dedicated to them. The Government has built modern toilets and changing rooms and would be providing locker rooms for day-users of the beach.
A shopping complex, open air theatre, aquarium, dingy pier, art gallery, tsunami memorial tower and tsunami warning centre, Tourist Board office, car and bus park, medical centre, sewerage treatment plant, sports centre, life guard's post, cycle path, green belt and other facilities too would be built. Once again, most of this infrastructure is already falling in to place.
The fishing communities, which had been somewhat displaced by this development, have been provided a special area with a fish market being built for them. Companies such as Odel and Cargills have also requested for space in the proposed shopping complex.
"Our plan is to have 1,000 three star plus rooms in Pasikuda. The next region where we plan to have a similar tourism belt is Vakarei and Silawatura," he said
With the dawn of peace, local tourists are already flocking to Pasikuda, especially during weekends. An official from the Valachchenai Pradeshiya Sabha said that over 50 buse loads of people - from all over the country visit the beach. Due to this demand, a basic room in the area costs is around Rs. 1,500 and an air-conditioned room is priced at over Rs.3,000.
When high spending foreign tourists plan their holiday the name Pasikuda along with Gold Coast, Bali and Phuket, too would be in their agenda, further boosting the image of the country.
Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, Deputy Minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana and Chairman SLTDA, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa at the opening of the Maalu Maalu Spa, the first resort to open in the area after the ending of the conflict.
The foundation stone being laid by Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Chairman Maalu Maalu Resort Chandra Wickramasinghe.
Related Info :
• Investors Snap up Lands on Sri Lanka's East Coast as it Opens up to Tourism
• Tourism Development in Northwest Sri Lanka Attracts Investments. Construction Work of a Hotel in Kuchchaveli Underway
• Masterplan for The New Passekudha Tourist Development Area