Like all countries, Sri Lanka is recovering from the particular economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but unlike many it possesses huge strategic potential to become one of the main hubs for international investors in South Asia and beyond.
With a thriving tourism and hospitality industry that contributes around half a million jobs, as well as a large expatriate population, it is no surprise Sri Lanka was extremely vulnerable to the spread of the virus. The challenges posed by a strict island-wide lockdown, the temporary suspension of commercial flights, finding sufficient medical equipment and procuring vaccines were deeply felt, but the overall efficiency of the health sector and the high quality of its services prior to the crisis contributed to minimize the pandemic’s negative effects and speed up the island’s recovery.
One of the first measures taken by president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government was the creation of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID-19 to ensure that healthcare and essential services were provided to the general public in an efficient manner. Later on other opportune measures were developed, most notably the establishment of the ‘ITUKAMA’ COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund, in order to address the critical healthcare needs of those affected by the virus and to improve Sri Lanka’s long-term preparedness for health emergencies. Consequently, those initial measures started to yield results, and as of August 2020, Sri Lanka was the South Asian country that most successfully controlled COVID-19, with 2,839 reported cases for its 21 million inhabitants.
Likewise, tourism is one of Sri Lanka’s most promising markets, with a wide range of investment opportunities ranging from eco and adventure tourism to luxury and MICE tourism. Currently, with an annual 2 million visitors (compared to Malaysia’s and Thailand’s approximately 30 million) and four of the top ten global hotel chains having already invested in the country, there is a huge growth potential with untapped areas waiting for the right investors.
Port City Project, planning for the future
While Colombo Port is currently the world’s 18th best connected port, following Sri Lanka’s government long-term and strategic view the new Port City, Colombo is projected to become the next hub of South Asia. Indeed, it has been conceived as a brand new city development built as an extension of the existing Colombo CBD but using the latest sustainable city design and smart city concepts. With a total expected investment of USD15 billion, the project is expected to be built in two phases spanning nearly 25 years and is targeted to be finished by 2041, when it will have 269 hectares of reclaimed land, of which 179 hectares will be destined to city development.
As it is projected, Port City, Colombo will be made up of five different precincts, each with its own distinct features: the island living district, central park living, the financial district, the international island and the marina. When completed, Port City, Colombo is estimated to have 5.7 million square metres of build up space Grade-A office buildings, international school, healthcare facility, integrated resort, marina, retail destinations, top hotels and various lifestyle developments
With its special combination of a huge potential for highly profitable investment opportunities, strategic location as a gateway to India and a key link in China’s Belt and Road initiative, strong historical economic ties with some of the world’s most powerful economies, attractive investment benefits, and last but not least a long-term, open-minded and efficiency-oriented perspective on doing business, Sri Lanka is ready to face the challenges of our era and poised to become the next hub in South Asia. Along with its Asian neighbors, it is actively contributing to the region’s transformation as the world’s new economic power.