Inflation hits a record high of 17.5%
Malik J. Fernando is a second generation Sri Lankan tea planter – his father Merrill Fernando had founded Dilmah Tea in 1988. Malik is the Managing Director of Resplendent Ceylon, Sri Lanka’s pioneering luxury hotel group and the hospitality arm of Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company. He is also a director of Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company.
Malik weighed in on the island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis as the Emerald Isle’s 22 million people face crippling 12-hour power cuts and dire shortages of food, fuel and other essentials, including medicines, over the past few weeks.
Inflation reached a record level of 17.5%.
Data shows that the tourism sector contributes 12% to Sri Lanka’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is the country’s fifth largest foreign earner.
Fortunately, tourism has been largely spared, despite the growing economic turmoil.
“Tourism continues without any untoward incidents. Citizens are protesting against the government’s mismanagement of the economy. The demonstrations were peaceful, except for a few at the beginning where the demonstrators were dispersed by the police. Sri Lankans from all walks of life gathered peacefully and demanded that the government resign. The entire cabinet resigned. There is a strong sense of unity. Tourists also joined the protests in some places. Although it may sound worrying in the news, there is no risk to tourists,” he said.
Malik has found an untapped opportunity in the unfolding crisis. “This is a very positive development for Sri Lanka. The people are fed up with politicians and have been forced to make reforms. A competent new economic team has been appointed; they are negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue plan. The first measures to improve the economic situation have been very well received locally and internationally. The bailout is expected to address shortages in the coming months. Tourism is essential to our economic recovery and all sections of society are acutely aware of this and support the cause,” he said.
Malik is firmly convinced that the crisis would explode. He cited how Sri Lanka champions ethical tourism.
“As an island rich in diversity of flora and fauna, culture, traditions and people, Sri Lanka offers tourists a unique opportunity to experience and experience ethical tourism in a variety of ways. From the Portuguese to the Dutch, the British and the Arabs and all other communities and peoples of the world have come to Sri Lanka over the past centuries. No wonder, ours is an island filled with history, heritage, cultural integration and soul. We have always had a close connection with nature and the environment. Traditional architecture, tropical modernism, respect for biodiversity and the search for sustainable and regenerative means of conservation are our concerted efforts towards ethical tourism. Our number of tourists is relatively low and we never oversell our destinations like many other countries,” he said.
Sri Lanka, as a developing country, has remained committed to sustainability.
Malik said: “We have not suffered the massive development of concrete jungles of massive hotels that have destroyed the environment. Most of our hotels are small boutique properties, many of which are owner-managed, offering a real connection to the country and its people. We have a close connection with nature and our environment, which in turn has allowed us to value, respect and work to protect and preserve our natural resources. From assessing our plastic footprint to addressing climate change and taking action, minimizing food waste where possible, to initiatives focused on positive social impacts, the tourism industry is trying to push back the limits of sustainability.
Malik likes to describe himself as an “accidental hotelier”.
“When I returned to Sri Lanka after completing my degree in entrepreneurship at Babson College in Boston, I expected to spend the rest of my life growing and selling our single-origin Dilmah tea, along with my brother and my dad. I fell in love with the beautiful Ceylon tea region in the cool central highlands at an elevation of nearly 4,800 feet. I thought the Historic Tea Planters’ Bungalows would make ideal boutique hotels for travelers who wanted a truly unique experience in the world’s first tea bungalow complex. This is how Ceylon Tea Trails was born and how I became a hotelier by chance. I’m glad I was able to introduce another kind of tourism – slow travel, living the life of a 1920s tea planter,” he said.
That was the big idea behind Resplendent Ceylan. “A few years after Ceylon Tea Trails welcomed its first guest in 2005, I started getting letters from guests telling me that they had had a wonderful time and wherever they went after that, they never weren’t up to snuff! This led me to think that our type of boutique hospitality in unique environments would be in demand. So we started to develop our tour around Sri Lanka and named the collection Resplendent Ceylan. We wanted offer the curious traveler a range of experiences related to the history, culture and nature of our island,” he added.
Industry experts have praised Dilmah Tea for capturing the global imagination at the expense of India’s tea industry, which is over 175 years old.
“Ceylon tea is special because in a small area we grow a wide range of teas using artisanal methods that have not changed for 150 years. Our teas are renowned for their flavor. My father, Merrill J Fernando, dreamed of introducing the world to originally packaged Ceylon tea. He launched Dilmah in 1988 when he was 58 years old. His passion and dedication, along with the wonderful consumer acceptance, is what has made Dilmah a global tea brand. We are also proud of our association with Emirates, which has exclusively served Dilmah since 1992,” he said.
Ceylon Tea Trails is made up of five colonial-era tea planters’ bungalows, scattered around Lake Castlereagh.
The properties are perched at an elevation of 4,800 feet in the central highlands of the island nation. They feature period furnishings, gracious butler service, gourmet cuisine, and the non-hotel vibe has made Ceylon Tea Trails the benchmark for luxury in Sri Lanka. You can hike and cycle between the five bungalows on marked trails.
Cottage-cozy Summerville (1923) is the quietest, perched above the lake with a breathtaking view of the water and the green hills. Glamourpuss Castlereagh (1925) is situated right on the lake with extensive gardens, two summer houses and fabulous views. Closer to the Norwood Tea Factory, Norwood (1890; rebuilt 1940) looks more modern, with sensational views across the valley. Classic Tientsin (1888) boasts the highest elevation (4,600 feet) and the best swimming pool.
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The high southern cliffs near Galle are home to Cape Weligama with 39 villas and suites.
“Design and cuisine that pays homage to the location strikes the perfect balance between creature comforts and impeccable service, complemented by panoramic views, iconic sunsets and ocean-inspired experiences,” said Malik said.
Wild Coast is adjacent to Yala National Park, renowned for its population of leopards and is located on a rugged, deserted beach, overlooking the azure Indian Ocean. The unique design sees the man-made Cocoon Suites blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
“These resorts encompass the concepts of tea, sea and safari, making them very distinct from each other, while creating a seamless journey of discovery through our small island,” he added.