The Grand Oriental Hotel, an icon of generations past, is opening its doors to a new era of splendor, bringing to life its rich colonial architecture. Built in 1837 as a British military barrack, the iconic building has withstood the tests of time, standing strong for almost two centuries. Being the first European owned hotel in the East, the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH) was reputed worldwide for its plush services, becoming the choice of many illustrious patrons, including the likes of author Anton Chekhov. Today, it takes another step forward in embellishing the institution’s prestigious history.
His Excellency President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his manifesto ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ pledged to restructure underutilized and underperforming state institutions. Accordingly, the Government is set to facilitate wide-ranging tourism development programmes with the objective of increasing annual tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. The Government also wishes to endow Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and culture, in wake of the government’s initiative to zone Colombo as a heritage square to promote city tourism. This will be a competitive advantage GOH will possess, at a time when the city will be positioned as the old city of Colombo.
While beautification of Colombo city is a key interest of the Government, under the vistas of prosperity splendor, several key initiatives are underway to achieve rapid development, in line with Honourable Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s vision for the tourism industry. With the patronage of State Minister of Urban Development Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and under the able guidance of the Secretary to the Ministry Mr. Sirinimal Perera, the GOH has been restored to its original grandeur, exhibiting rich colonial architecture in order to facilitate the Government’s policy decision of developing tourism opportunities in the business capital of Colombo. The restoration is in line with the vision entrusted with the Ministry of Urban Development, supplementing the many development projects which are already underway to elevate Colombo’s tourist attractions.
“Complementing the initiatives undertaken by the Government to develop transport infrastructure within the island, the restructuring of GOH is the first step in creating a heritage city in Colombo. The new heritage square aims to increase the number of tourist stays in Colombo city, and will also pride itself in being well-connected to the transport network which is already in development,” Mr. Sirinimal Perera, Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development said.
“While a new city is being built towards the shorelines of Colombo, His Excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision is to develop the Old City of Colombo in par with the new,” Mr. Perera said. “This will be the beginning of a successful era of development, through which Sri Lanka could potentially increase tourist arrivals, and compete with the region,” he added.
With a successful vaccination rollout, the government is expecting a major boost in tourist arrivals. Following a tumultuous and stressful couple of years for the industry, a considerable recovery is expected soon. “It is the Government’s responsibility to boost the tourism sector by giving them the right platforms and infrastructure to bring more tourists to Sri Lanka. Therefore, a well-crafted, extensive plan is in motion to develop the surrounding areas of GOH over the next few years,” Mr. Perera said.
Mr. Sirinimal Perera further stated a Cabinet nod was granted in March 2020 to incorporate a holding company to strategically implement the revamping of the Hyatt, the Hilton and the GOH. In order to execute these ambitious goals, Selendiva Investments Ltd. was welcomed aboard to implement the restructuring of several state-owned assets.
The initial strategy was to restructure these properties and to implement operational strategy performance of these assets, especially to ensure that they will be profitable entities in future. This exercise is expected to enhance the value of the shares which will benefit considerably to attract investment on PPE model, CEO of Selendiva Investments Mr. Shamahil Mohideen said.
Selendiva Investments Ltd. is expected to make several underperforming state institutes viable, profitable and marketable assets. “The refurbishment of GOH was intended to bring the hotel to a profitable level where industry standards were met in terms of quality and services. Our two-fold strategy was to develop the asset and then to bring new operational strategies.” Mr. Mohideen explained.
“GOH was the first project of Selendiva which was completed successfully. I can happily state that this first task has been achieved. At the cost of Rs. 250 million rupees the property has been revamped. We are very confident that the revenues can be turned around in a very short time. Waters Edge Recreations, a subsidiary of Waters Edge Ltd is expected to operate as part of the strategy to enhance performance and compete in the market with the private sector. The top state-owned hospitality provider’s industry expertise, headed by veteran hotelier, Chairman of Waters Edge and Board Director of Selendiva Investments Mr. Rohan Fernandopulle, will be a boost to the venture” he said.
Chairman of Bank of Ceylon Mr. Kanchana Ratwatte together with the Board of Directors praised the achievements of Selendiva Investments in completing the GOH refurbishment and restoring the hotel to its former glory. “Selendiva Investments and Waters Edge Recreations together will develop this asset to elevate the GOH towards the next level of hospitality standards,” he said.
Due credit and appreciation goes out to the State Engineering Corporation of Sri Lanka appointed by Selendiva Investments, for taking on this challenging task and doing a job well done in completing the project tastefully to the expectations of Selendiva Investments.
In this latest endeavour, the Colonial architecture which is one of the key hallmarks of the GOH has been retained, with the view of preserving heritage attractions. While a further 140,000 sq. ft area is to be developed in the second phase of this project, the new GOH boasts of two new refurbished ballrooms, the iconic Harbour Room, the Taprobane Lobby restored to its past glory, as well as the Tiffin Hut, the hotel’s pastry shop. The Tap Bar and the Blue Leopard night club are also set to welcome guests with their renewed services.