By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, May 17, 2010 (IPS) - A year since Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war ended on May 18 last year, tourists are returning in huge numbers to a popular beach destination located over 300 kilometres from where the last battles were fought.
Nowhere is the relief at the end of fighting more tangible than on the beautiful beaches of Hikkaduwa, south of the capital Colombo.
The war against the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting for a separate state for the minority Tamils, cost over 70,000 lives in over two and half decades and sent over 280,000 fleeing for their lives in its final phase.
Hikkaduwa, famous for its coral reef, sandy beaches and swanky hotels, is on the rebound. Visitors who abandoned the sun and the beach when bombs started going off have begun to return.
The best days may be still ahead of this famous tourist destination south of the capital Colombo. Already, it is bracing itself for huge arrivals during the next European winter season.
Arrivals grew by an impressive 50 percent or an increase to 160,000 from 106,000 in the first quarter of 2010, compared to 2009, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the government agency that monitors tourist arrivals. This year, the island known for its scenic beauty expects over half a million tourist arrivals, making 2010 one of the best seasons in the last half a decade.
"We saw very good arrival rates this season (between November 2009 and April 2010)," Siri Goonewardene, president of the Hikkaduwa Hoteliers’ Association, told IPS. "With the war no more, travellers feel safer visiting here and there were no unexpected security-related incidents that would have driven them away."
The general manager of Coral Sands, a 75-room luxury hotel on the Hikkaduwa beach, expects better results later this year when the next winter season starts. "The bookings have been good. If...