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Weddings in Kandy are keeping the Hill Capital’s Hotels ticking

FEW TAKERS – Kandy’s iconic Queen’s Hotel is mostly empty

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cultural capital Kandy’s COVID battered tourism industry is seeing business ticking over as the wedding season kicks in and domestic tourists book weekends.

Kandy, which hosts large scale weddings has now started to get domestic customers as the weddings resume.

“The hotels are operating somewhat and most of them are depending on the banquet events. There are 10 to 25 weddings happening in hotels so that’s good to keep the cash flows,” Kandy Hoteliers Association President Samantha Ratnayake, who represents the Amaya chain, said.

“People who really want the weddings use different strategies such as some get 50 per cent of the guests in the morning and 50 per cent in the evening,” Ratnayake told EconomyNext.

“Anyway, weddings are very popular at the moment.”

Sri Lanka’s wedding seasons falls in the months of May, June, and July because of astrologically auspicious times. With the lockdowns in April-May, most weddings were cancelled.

The ban on wedding receptions was lifted in late May however with a heap of restrictions.

For instance, the number of guests is limited to 100 and must follow social-distancing guidelines and people must sit a metre (three feet) apart and wear masks while hugs, kisses and handshakes are banned in public.

He said the operations are 10 to 15 per cent maximum in the hotels but still the occupancy is low.

Ratnayake added that overall, only a few rooms have been booked. Due to the Sri Lanka’s cricket team practices happening in Pallekele some 30 rooms in Golden Crown is booked at the moment.

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“Weekends are filled but otherwise we will have to depend on honeymooners and corporate clients,” he said.

Most of the hotels are still closed in Kandy but out of the 21 registered hotels 9 are now operating adhering to health official guidelines.

They are Amaya Hills Mahaweli Reach hotel, Golden Crown Hotel, Grand Kandyan, Catamaran Beach Hotel, Hotel Topaz Kandy, Hotel Tourmaline, The Swiss Residence Kandy and Earls Regency.

Hoteliers are yet to decide on their promotional packages. Amaya Hills has rolled out a credit card promotions package.

He emphasized the need for the re-finance loan scheme.

“We are very much waiting for the 4 per cent working capital loan, it is very important without that we may not be able to run.”

“Most of the hotels are single owned and very few are corporate hotels, so they are really struggling to pay, some have suspended their staff too.”

Kandy has a large pool of informal sector hoteliers which is entirely out of business.

According to Ratnayake informal sector completely dominates the tourism sector lodgings in Kandy with 9000 rooms while registered hotels only have about 3500 rooms.

But he thinks if they sign up with the Sri Lanka tourism development board (SLTDA), they might be able to get some help.

Kandy Esala Perahera

The annual ‘Esala Perahera’ pageant season which this year runs from July 26th to August 15th has been canceled for spectators.

The Esala Perahera season consists of a series of pageants, traditionally held pay to homage to the Tooth Relic of the Buddha and to pray to the gods for rain ahead of the main cultivation season which begins in September.

It is a season where hotels get booked up to 90 per cent. Kandy dwellers say that during the Perahera season, people make enough money for the whole year.

Hotels offer packages to guests include shuttle service and a seat.

The seats, usually on roadsides or balconies of various private homes and businesses, could sell for up to 100 US dollars each allowing tourists to view the Perahera in relative comfort, compared to crowded pavements.

During the Perahera season, the police allow almost 100,000 people to come into Kandy town per day, with roughly a million spectators coming in over the 10-day period while approximately another 100,000 people are turned away every night.

Another money-spinner is the usual post-pageant carnivals and fairs which the Kandy Municipal Council usually holds at the Getambe and Katugastota grounds.

Ratnayake said last year bookings dropped to 50-70 per cent after the Easter Sunday attacks bombs but the Perahera season proceeded better than anticipated.

Domestic tourism limping back in rest of the country

Sri Lanka gave permission to hotels and restaurants to re-start operations in late May.

Sanath Ukwatte, the President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), and the Chairman of the Mount Lavinia Hotel Group said southern and east coast hotels are doing well as of now from local business mainly due to weekenders.

“In Colombo, the restaurants have picked up now, it’s a gradual upward trend.”

He says the late-night business is gone at the moment as a result of the 12 am to 4 am curfews but if it was removed then people would be much more relaxed and could expect more customers.

“Right now, we are quite happy with the feedback we have received from the local clientele”.

He said Yala was absolutely packed last week with bookings up to normal levels.

Hotels are also seeing inquires and bookings for weddings next year.

A proposal to increase the number of guests at weddings to 200 is under consideration.

Ukwatte says these are very positive moves.

However, he has concerns about sustaining the business in the long run.

“We need to get foreign tourism back, so we are waiting until the elections.”

“We had very good January, February and until mid-March so this year we don’t know if we could touch at least 1.5 billion dollars in revenue”. (Colombo/June25/2020)

Edited by Arjuna Ranawana

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