Sri Lanka has a long history as a tourist destination; there have been ups and downs in the tourism industry in Sri Lanka in recent decades, particularly between 2003 and 2009 due to political violence and the separatist war interspersed with a number of peace episodes. Since the end of separatist war in May 2009 tourism in Sri Lanka has been booming and it has been ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world for the past few years. The purpose of this chapter is to present an overview on tourism in Sri Lanka in this handbook. The chapter mainly focuses on Sri Lanka’s attractiveness to tourists, historical evolution of its policies towards modern day tourism, the changing patterns of tourist arrivals during different episodes of war and peace, and the recent tourism boom and the associated national tourism development strategy (TDS).
Location and Tourism Attractions
Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island in the Indian Ocean, situated at the southern tip of India between 60 and 100 North and 800 to 820 East. It is separated from India by the Palk Strait, which is 32 km wide at its narrowest UNDP and WTO, 1993. The land area of the island is 65,610 square km with a maximum length of 432 km and a maximum width of 224 km. (Sri Lanka Info, 2011). The southern half of the island is dominated by rugged hill country, while the northern half is a large plain. It also has palm-fringed beautifully beaches on the south western, southern and south eastern coastlines (Lai, 2002).
As a tourism destination, Sri Lanka can compete successfully with other destinations partly because of its pivotal geographical position (Fernando, 2017b). Its strategic location in the Indian Ocean on the major air and sea routes between Europe and the Far East is an advantage to the country’s positioning as a global logistics hub (Sri Lanka Info, 2011). O’Hare (1994 p. 43) pointed out “the Island ‘controls’ (as in colonial times) routes to the Far East as well as to other destinations in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia”. This geographical location of Sri Lanka was a reason for colonisation by three western powers, the Portuguese (1505- 1656), the Dutch (1956-1796) and the British (1796-1948).
In addition to its location, Sri Lanka offers a plethora of options for tourists among them beach destinations, favourable climate, rich cultural heritage, national parks and wildlife (Lai, 2002). It has 1,585 km of coastline, with Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna are well known for excellent scuba diving. Mirissa has becomefamous for viewing of whales and dolphins, while Tangalle is being promoted as a diving destination. Meanwhile, Trincomalee is known for its natural harbour and has two relatively unexplored beaches.