- Hotels to be open for business on 1 Nov after US$ 16 m upgrade
By Marianne David
Top blue chip John Keells Holdings (JKH) yesterday formally announced the revamp of its footprint in the leisure sector with the opening of Chaaya Tranz Hikkaduwa and Chaaya Wild Yala from 1 November.
The former Coral Gardens and Yala Village have been completely refurbished with an investment of over US$ 16 million and will be operated under the ‘Chaaya Hotels & Resorts’ brand.
“Today, as we celebrate World Tourism Day, we are excited and proud to launch two products, which are very distinctly different and very exciting properties for us. We believe the two products will be the beginning of new tourism products for Sri Lanka and that we will be at the cutting-edge of development with them. Our philosophy is to be the trendsetter in the hotel trade,” JKH Deputy Chairman and President of the Leisure group Ajit Gunewardene told the media yesterday.
The key drivers of the two new properties are Mario Stanic, who is the General Manager at Chaaya Tranz Hikkaduwa and Teddy Roland, Manager at Chaaya Wild Yala.
Showcasing the local flavours of Hikkaduwa, Chaaya Tranz Hikkaduwa would best be described as a “celebration” of the liberal lifestyle there, boasting vibrant interiors and luxurious spaces. The group has infused a total investment of US$ 12 million to transform the property, which is a 150-room resort, and will also make Chaaya Tranz its base for whale watching in Mirissa.
Sector Head – Sri Lankan Resorts of the John Keells Hotels Sector Jayantissa Kehelpannala said: “Chaaya Tranz truly transforms the very concept of tourism in the exciting seaside location. We’ve gone four star definitely, but we’ve maintained a subtle flavour of nostalgia that the old Coral Gardens evoked, while introducing our legendary standards and service. We have also created our very own brand of music, endemic to the property, by renowned composer Chris Dhason.”
The Architect behind the transformation, Channa Daswatte said: “Inspired by the party life Hikkaduwa is famed for, the old Coral Gardens which is part of Sri Lanka’s tourism history is being transformed into a resort that will face the rest of the century. We have gutted the hotel down to the structure and reworked its spatial configurations.”
Presenting an epic adventure into the wild, the former Yala Village turned Chaaya Wild is being re-launched as a world-class game lodge with an old world atmosphere which simultaneously boasts cutting-edge aspects, Daswatte added.
Chaaya Wild is certain to be a nature enthusiast’s dream come true, with the 66-chalet lodge placed in what could best be described as an extension of the Yala National Park with open boundaries to the surrounding wildlife.
“The team at Keells, together with Channa, set about transforming the former Yala Village into one that blends with the true concept of the wild… What have through Chaaya Wild is a unique proposition, a four star ‘game lodge’ which sits in the centre of all this wildlife activity, adding an aspect of luxurious creature comforts, which you would surely agree makes for a calming and relaxing time in the wild,” Kehelpannala said.
The resort’s offerings stem from responsible tourism practices aimed at conserving and being one with its precious environs. A roof top observation deck and bar would be a key attraction, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding wilderness, while ‘Nature Trails,’ the dedicated naturalist team, will offer unique experiences that are wild and personal.
Both Chaaya Wild and Chaaya Tranz are set to offer very special excursions, as explained by Keells Hotel Management Services Head of Eco Tourism and Special Projects Chitral Jayatilake, who walked the audience through detailed presentations of wildlife experiences that guests could encounter at the properties.
The investments in the two properties come hot on the heels of the group’s large investment in the east coast in opening Chaaya Blu last year. With a combined investment of over US$ 16 million, the two new and distinctly unique properties are certain to enrich the country’s overall tourism offering.
The group has three Chaaya Hotels operating in Sri Lanka at present – Chaaya Village Habarana, Chaaya Citadel Kandy and Chaaya Blu Trincomalee – in addition to three in the Maldives. With the two new launches, Chaaya Hotels & Resorts, the group’s home-grown resort brand created in 2006, will now become the largest Sri Lankan resort brand with five unique properties in Sri Lanka and three in the Maldives.
For John Keells Group, tourism is a year‐long celebration, asserted Gunewardene, noting that the Leisure sector receives the largest capital commitment of the group, amounting to a near 40%. “We will continue to invest not only in increasing the size and reach of our hotel portfolio but in adding unique and districts properties to enhance Sri Lanka’s overall tourism offering,” Gunewardene asserted.
Concurring with his views, Kehelpannala said: “We want to contribute towards the national vision in developing tourism, to meet its goal of attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2016. We intend to put Sri Lanka on the global tourism map as a destination that practices sustainable tourism in its absolute form, while ensuring that we deliver on expectations.”
Commenting on the group’s initiative to empowering its leisure group staff with training from the world-renowned Jumeirah Group-linked Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM) in Dubai, Gunewardene said that it was not only investing in hardware but also in software, which he described as the most important aspect in terms of developing a cutting-edge product.
The initiative entails an investment of Rs. 40 million, with a further Rs. 50 million to be channeled for training and development by the end of this year.