Bush Tourism

The tea plantation industry has identified 20 estate bungalows as potential sites for boutique tourist retreats.
Mooted in conjunction with the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, the project is also encouraging other plantation companies to diversify into tourism under an Asian Development Bank project that is looking to spread the risk and increase the profit centres for plantation companies.

The Plantation Development Project (PDP) will help plantation companies to be more profitable and exploit the estates resources like its mineral rights.

Under the PDP, plantations taking up eco tourism projects will receive tax concessions, duty free facilities and concessionary loan facilities to set up.

Prior to this concession and support, a number of plantations managed by leading conglomerates and others in partnership with ecotourism specialists, have already added estate bungalows as niche places to stay when exploring Sri Lanka.

Thai resort and spa chain lquote Six Senses is currently talking John Keells Holdings and the Richard Peiris Group, to develop a luxury tea spa on a 600-acre stretch of Maskeliya Plantations.

Meanwhile, the tea industry will meet on October 14, to consider forming a joint venture marketing unit for the regional plantation companies, officials of the Regaining Sri Lanka endash Tea Task Force said when presenting their three month update on their initial recommendations made earlier in 2003.

The joint marketing initiative would hopefully rollout generic tea promotion activities along with local brand promotions.

ADB funding of upto US$ 2 million per project will be available for two or more regional plantation companies to establish joint marketing alliances for brand promotion.

In addition, Tea Board officials say they will seek donor assistance to raise its promotion budget from US$ 1 million to about US$ 5 million.

Currently, monies for promotional activities come from an industry cess.

The additional funding, Board officials say will help boost international brand promotional activities and enable local exporters to compete with global brands and their promotional spend.

Other profit centres will be created from crop diversifying over an estimated 2400 Hectares of plantation land so far identified.

The PDP is expected recommend viable crops for diversification, also providing with technical support and part funding for the projects.

The PDPs total funding of US$ 128 million will be available to the 23 regional plantation companies upto 2008.

Of the monies, ADB will pitch in with US$ 30 million and the JBIC with US$ 14.8 million.

The plantation companies will bring in US$ 44.2 million supported by US$ 9.3 million by local banks and US$ 30.1 million from the government.

By Shafraz Farook, shafrazf@vanguardlanka.comrn

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