East coast brimming with tourism potential says Sun Siyam boss



By Saman Indrajith

Over the past two years, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector has grown exponentially, and this growth could be further amplified if authorities increase the visibility of the Eastern Province, a region brimming with untapped potential and featuring historical landmarks such as the old city of Batticaloa, pristine beaches like Arugam Bay, renowned for surfing, and the stunning destination of Pasikudah, says General Manager of Sun Siyam Pasikudah, Arshed Refai.

In an interview with the Sunday Island on the sidelines of the 11th edition of the Sancharaka Udawa exhibition at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Exhibition Halls at BMICH on May 17 and 18, Refai said that in contrast to the well-known tourist destinations in the south, like Galle, the eastern area has a lot of undiscovered tourist potential. By promoting sites such as the old city of Batticaloa and beaches like Arugam Bay and Pasikudah, the nation’s tourist industry may become more diversified and less dependent on the south and center, resulting in a more equal distribution of revenue from tourism throughout the nation.

He says that promoting post-conflict economic development and recovery in the East depends on growing tourism. An increase in tourism may result in the building of infrastructure, the creation of jobs, and the improvement of regional economies. Furthermore, by providing the necessary funding and incentives for conservation activities, promoting the East can help to preserve its distinctive cultural heritage and natural environment. By concentrating on the East, Sri Lanka can provide a more extensive and diverse travel experience, drawing in a larger clientele and guaranteeing the industry’s sustained growth.

Sun Siyam Pasikudah General Manager Arshed Refai

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

A:Of course. I’m proud to be serving as the General Manager of the boutique iconic five-star retreat, Sun Siyam Pasikudah. I have been in the hospitality industry for quite some time now, counting over a decade with Sun Siyam Resorts. I work closely with the CEO and the Group General Manager of the resort group. I began my career in the field of technology but gradually, over time, I found my passion and transitioned into operations, working my way up from being an operations manager back in 2020.

Q: Is tourism picking up in the Eastern Province? Tell us more.

A: We certainly see a spike in tourist arrivals to the East, especially with various properties, including ours, doing their part in promoting the destination and its unique culture and experiences. That being said, the destination itself could use increased visibility and awareness, and there are plenty of resources and attributes in the region that can be developed to cater to the potential demand.

Q:What are the challenges, and how can the industry overcome them?

A:In my honest opinion, I think infrastructure is one of the key challenges when it comes to Sri Lanka. Having a well-developed network of roads and access points such as domestic airports and regular domestic flights at reasonable cost would certainly help boost tourism and bring in an equitable level of tourists and revenue distributed throughout the country.

Q: What do you think the industry should do to promote tourism in the East?

A: We need to boost destination promotion, and more so, increase visibility and awareness about what the East Coast has to offer. Sadly, I have met many Sri Lankans who aren’t even aware of the East and its attractions. When it comes to our sunny beaches, it’s always the South that wins the top spot. Of course, it should, but we also have some marvelous beaches along the stretches of Pasikudah, Trincomalee, and even Jaffna.

Q: Can you tell us about Sun Siyam Resorts and why Pasikudah?

A: Sun Siyam Resorts has its roots in the Maldives, with five luxury private-island properties consisting of one four-star and four five-star properties. Our property at Pasikudah is the first overseas hotel outside of the Maldives. We are all owned and managed by Sun Siyam Group, led by the visionary owner Ahmed Siyam Mohamed. We chose Pasikudah for its pristine, untouched beaches and tranquility.

The destination speaks for itself. Sun Siyam Pasikudah has been in operation for a decade now. During the unprecedented times of COVID-19, we had to cut back, but this gave us plenty of time to reflect on our purpose and direction. We completely shut business and underwent an extensive renovation. With a team of very talented local staff and in collaboration with the designers at Studio Sixty7, we successfully pulled this off. In November last year, we re-opened our doors to our stunningly renovated property.

Sun Siyam stall at the 11th edition of Sri Lanka’s largest travel and tourism fair, “Sancharaka Udawa 2024” at BMICH organised by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and supported by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB)

Q: Let’s talk about your market.

A: Our markets have primarily been Europe, CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States—the confederation of countries that used to form the Soviet Union), the Far East, and Asia. We also have many locals visiting us. We are looking at tourism picking up at a much better pace than before, and we are quite optimistic about our projections.

Q: As a resort, how would you explain your role in promoting tourism in the East?

A: As a boutique resort, we do everything in our power to promote the East Coast through several channels that serve different markets and audiences. We have outreach campaigns and promotions together with our properties in the Maldives. We also took part in this year’s most anticipated travel and tourism fair, Sancharaka Udawa 2024, with a stall that projected a part of our property. We are also planning on organizing international events at the property in the future, This will help boost awareness of the region and its beaches, culture, food, and peopl