By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The country’s largest conglomerate John Keells Holdings (JKH) launched ‘Cinnamon Life’ last night as the first step in making Colombo the capital of South Asia.
Cinnamon Life will be the theme of JKH’s US$770 million and 4.5 million square feet flagship Waterfront Project—currently the largest private sector project in construction—aimed at making Sri Lanka the heart of South Asia’s MICE (Meetings, Incentives Conventions and Exhibitions) tourism. “The new Colombo will be the capital of South Asia, and this project will be the centre of attraction in the new Colombo. It will be branded Cinnamon Life and it will be a projection of contemporary Sri Lanka and the future,” JKH Deputy Chairman Ajit Gunewardene said.
He expressed that services of Cinnamon Life would be cutting edge, with technology never seen before in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan-born internationally renowned architect Cecil Balmond, designed the property. “This will be a marketing tool for the country—and for John Keells—like the Sydney Opera House. People know the Sydney Opera House without someone having to explain it or they know the Burj is Dubai or the Petronas is Kuala Lumpur,” Gunawardene added.
Balmond said that Waterfront offers 24/7 dining options, a futuristic interior which changes consistently through active technology and an exterior designed so that light falling on the building would reflect back in sparkling colours.
“It will make tourists who enter Colombo go ‘Wow!’ Inside, it will include an ice rink, cinema complexes and sky walks—you will actually be walking on the sky,” he exclaimed.
However, Gunewardene said that even if better designed buildings come up in the distant future, Cinnamon Life would be a long-lasting concept which would remain the centre of new Colombo.
He noted that 4,000 delegates could take part in events concurrently at Waterfront, which includes a luxury 800-room hotel, and luxury apartments and office complexes situated in two separated towers.
“It will be a city within a city. People can live, work, shop and entertain themselves without leaving,” he added.
Gunewardene went on to say that the project will employ 8,000 excluding those such as entertainers, and indirect employment would exceed 60,000 well paying jobs.
“Big monster project like this are vital for a country, but they need to be managed well,” Balmond added.
John Keells Property Group President Suresh Rajendra said that the project is already a success, with 40 percent of the apartments already sold.
Gunewardene said that Sri Lanka’s room capacity would be completely inadequate down the line if MICE tourism picks up as projected.
“We can reach 5 million tourists through MICE, and then the rooms won’t be enough,” he said.
Recent reports said that Sri Lanka’s formal sector room capacity is 29,103, and government projections place this as a 20,000 formal accommodation deficit for the 2.5 million tourist levels for 2016.
“Today we don’t have space for MICE tourism. Especially from India. We have to turn them around all the time and they go to places like Malaysia, Thailand and the Middle East,” Gunewardene said.
He noted that corporate traffic will make large hotels viable and draw investments for even more projects, and added that the Waterfront Project will allow even other hospitality projects to benefit, as it has only 800 rooms but conference facilities for 4,000.
Gunewardene said that the Waterfront project was conceived post-war with the rapidly growing Asian economies, which are located in geographically advantageous positions in mind.
“Look at Singapore. They have built so many hotels, but they’re building even more,” he added.
Singapore has many mega convention centres such as The Sands, of which the main facility alone could handle 11,000 delegates comfortably. Last year Singapore was able to attract over 4 million MICE tourists.
Gunewardene said that setting up convention centres would drive exponential growth in hotels in Sri Lanka.
The government last year attempted to set up a convention centre in Battaramulla with the said intention, but got into conceptual and regulatory hot waters.
According to figures of the Sri Lanka Conventions Bureau, Sri Lanka attracted 134,488 MICE travellers in 2013 with revenues of US$177 million, which placed the spending per MICE tourist at US$1316. The average spending per tourist in Sri Lanka including the MICE figures is just US$150.
However, Gunewardene warned not to forget the free independent travellers, group travellers and other niche tourism markets.