By Shiran Illanperuma
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority recently announced plans to promote the annual Kelaniya Perahera as a major cultural festivity to attract Western tourists as well as pilgrims from Eastern countries with significant Buddhist populations.
According to sources from the SLTDA, cultural activities account for about 25% to 30% of tourist activities on the island and is therefore a significant market for growth.
The Kelaniya Perahera takes place mid-January during the peak season for tourists from the West who come to enjoy temperate weather and cultural activities.
“Culture and heritage is something a lot of people travel for. For example, 80% of French tourists attend cultural events and attractions. It’s the same with the British,” SLTDA Chairman Paddy Withana told the Daily FT.
Plans are also in place to provide tourists with adequate transport facilities to attend the festivities which takes place 10 km north of Colombo.
Boasting the largest number of Buddhist temples in a single country, the tourism authority is seeking to market the island as a pilgrimage destination to the 400 million or so Buddhists scattered around the world.
“There is a segment that comes only for religious activities,” said Withana. “People coming from countries with Buddhist populations such as India, Thailand, China and South Korea all visit these cultural areas.”
SLTDA hopes that collaboration with local hotels and travel agencies will increase tourist density in Kelaniya and develop the perahera into a yearly attraction for key markets across the world.
The Kelaniya Perahera is one of a number of regional cultural festivals including the Nallur Kandaswamy Festival in Jaffna and the Kataragama Festival that the SLTDA is seeking to promote over the next few years.
Said Withana: “Kelaniya is the first Perahera in the year so we decided to start there. After that we will keep promoting other cultural festivities.”