Sri Lanka and the Maldives are proving to be an irresistible draw as destination weddings gain in popularity, Michael Taylor writes.

Located just a one hour’s flight apart, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are growing in popularity as joint destinations as couples wanting to tie the knot in a romantic setting get married in one island and fly to the other island to spend their honeymoon.

Usually, this means getting married in Sri Lanka in the presence of family and friends, followed by a short flight to the Maldives for their honeymoon. Both islands are located in the Indian Ocean.

“Destination weddings are gaining in popularity among couples,” explains Russell Cool, Area General Manager, Sri Lanka, ONYX Hospitality Group. “Given that Sri Lanka and the Maldives are in close proximity and are both popular destinations, combining the two together allows the couples to get the most out of their precious moment in time.”

Sometimes wedding planners create packages for the couples, and sometimes they do their own research and make their own plans.

“With the advancement of technology and the Internet today, some of the couples conduct their own research and make all the arrangements themselves directly with the different involved parties such as hotels and airlines,” Cool says. “However, there are wedding planners out there offering advice and one-stop service, taking the whole wedding planning headache out of the couple’s hands.”

Onyx entered the Sri Lankan market in 2014. It now has four hotels in the country, with another property scheduled to open in mid-2019. The group opened its first and only property in the Maldives in early 2016.

“Amari Havodda Maldives is an ideal hideaway within the pristine nature of the Maldives with its own house reef and uninterrupted views of the ocean and underwater life,” says to Christoph Leonhard, General Manager, Amari Havodda Maldives. “Located in the pristine Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll approximately 400km south of the capital Male, the resort features 120 guest villas, ranging in size from 77 to 153 square metres, with over-water and beachfront options.”

Does the group have plans to open more properties in the country?

“As our group is expanding, we continue to keep an eye on potential opportunities and are in active negotiations with partners on new developments in this beautiful destination,” Leonhard says.

Growing optimism

Shangri-La is one of a growing number of hotel groups entering the Sri Lankan market, which had been held back by a protracted insurgency, which raged from 1983 to 2009, seriously inhibiting the island’s tourism industry and discouraging multinational hotel groups from investing in the country.

The Hong Kong-based hotel group opened it first property in Sri Lanka, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa, in mid-2016, reputedly the highest profile hotel to open in the country in 30 years. A second property, the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, opened in the nation’s capital in November 2017.

“As tourist arrivals into the island have grown exponentially over the last eight years, Colombo has found its place as the gateway to all this amazing island has to offer,” says Timothy Wright, Vice President & General Manager of Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo.

“We aim to set new luxury hospitality standards in Colombo and seamlessly blend Shangri-La’s personalised hospitality with the much-loved traditional Sri-Lankan charm.

According to the Hotel Association of Sri Lanka, 2,116,407 people visited the island in 2017, up 3.2 per cent from the year before, with leisure travellers accounting for 85 per cent of that figure. The increase would have been better if it had not been for heavy monsoonal rains that serious mudslides and floods in the second quarter, resulting in a large number of cancellations.

The year 2018 has started on a positive note, with industry leaders expecting the year to end with double digit growth.

Fitch Ratings expects tourist arrivals to grow by 15 per cent over the next four years to 3.6 million in 2020. Earnings, however, will not grow at such a robust pace because much of the growth will come from China and India, whose tourists tend to spend less than those from other key markets such as Australia, Europe, and the United States.

The Maldives, meanwhile, seems to be coming out of what Andrew Ashmore, Head of Sales & Marketing for Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ Coco Collection, calls “a serious slump”. The group has three properties in the country, each with 100 rooms.

“2017 was the poorest in revenue terms for many years, but 2018 is shaping to be the strongest in four or five years,” Ashmore says. “The recovery started late 2017, and for us we have been the market leaders in our competitive set.”

Looking forward, Ashmore is optimistic. “2018 looks very promising as the start shows, and all indicators are showing a better than average year than the last four years.

But challenges remain as there will be a “massive increase” of 28% in the supply of rooms by 2021, Ashmore points out.