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Sri Lanka: From My Eyes and Experiences

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Midigama Beach, Sri Lanka. Photo by sasha set on Unsplash

Sri Lanka, an island country in south Asian, located to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal and to the southeast of the Arabian Sea, has been interestingly attracting Russian tourists over the two decades. The tourism industry, apart from tea exports, is very important as it brings revenue to the national budget. The economic changes seen as a huge opportunity for promoting tourism business in Russia.

As middle class Russians are travelling for their vacations in Asian countries, so also the business is all year round booming. The main reason for this scenario is the growth in incomes and the tendency in increase of vacationers during the past years. Simply, the overall economic changes in Russia positively affect the outbound travelling. According to my point of view, overall economic development in Russia will continue creating a lot of opportunities for expanding the tourism industry.

For the time of my stay here, Russian tourist traffic to Sri Lanka has increased more than 10 times. Exotic destinations are becoming more and more popular among Russians and Sri Lanka is one of the most attractive Asian countries. Of course, it seems that the global instability and financial crisis affected all economic spheres and, to some extent, tourism as well.

Despite this situation, people still make their choices more carefully and seriously, and give their preference to the countries they have never been before. Sri Lanka is a developing destination on the Russian travel market and I can say that there is a great future ahead.

Stability and strength are the best indicator at the present difficult times and this give us a power to express optimism about the future in Sri Lankan tourism sphere. The number of Russian tourists travelling to Sri Lanka is increasing year by year, and in leaps and bounds.  In 2017, the growth was about 10% in spite of the crisis.  Experts at the Russian Tourism Agency told me that the figure for first quarter of 2018, for instance, is not so impressive but attributed to the policy of Russian tour operators and air companies.

Personally, I have every reason to say that Sri Lanka is a small miracle. Nearly all Russians who have visited the island talked about the natural beauty of Sri Lanka. There are three main reasons that make the country a very popular destination among foreign and Russian vacationers.

First is that there is summer all year round. An average temperature is about 26-30 degrees Celcius (and there is no raining season) which attracts travellers the whole year round. In some seasons, rain might start suddenly in any part of the Island and stops short as well. You are able to see the climate changes from tropical on the coastline of the Indian Ocean until the temperate in highland of the island where some frost observed at night.

Second reason for its popularity is that Sri Lanka has splendid nature and rich cultural heritage. Travellers who enjoy a cognitive tourism are able to see historical heritage, museums, ancient cities, Buddhist temples and national dance show. Numerous national parks, mountain peaks, waterfalls, rain forests and jungles with an infinite number of animals and nature variety attract nature-lovers. For adventure tourism, Sri Lanka offers climbing to the mountains peaks, rafting, diving surfing and other kind of water sport.

Third reason of Sri Lanka’s attractiveness is the local hospitality and friendliness of Sri Lankan people. Sri Lankan hotels provide a well-known Asian service and comfortable accommodation. People smile right from the bottom of their hearts.

The government’s key policy on tourism promotion and strategies that have adopted to sell the country’s tourism destinations has pushed potential tourists to choose Sri Lanka. My interaction with Sri Lankan diaspora, the idea to set up a tourism department at the embassy began in 2008, and it was so because the diplomatic officials have seen a great opportunities in expanding tourism for Sri Lanka.

The Embassy of Sri Lanka in the Russian Federation takes an active part in promoting the country on the Russian travel market. Over the ten years, I have seen them participate in workshops for travel agents and talk about Sri Lanka to the managers of travel companies. The officials communicate with journalists with great pleasure and contribute to make for their farm trips around Sri Lanka as well.

The government officials organize and support direct flights to Sri Lanka. There are two direct flights organized by Aeroflot airlines from Moscow and airlines from St. Petersburg. In interview discussions with a few Sri Lanka officials, they told me that they have given all kinds of support for those flights and tried to minimize ticket’s rate by the reducing handling costs in Sri Lanka airport.

Sri Lanka regularly participates in Moscow International Travel and Tourism exhibitions in March and Leisure exhibitions in September. During these business events, officials arrange regular meetings with leadership of tour operators for discussing vital problems and help with solutions. The main objective is to support the integration of all members of the travel market.

Further, officials give assistance to Sri Lankan hotels in attracting Russian speaking staff and Russian translation of hotels information. Quite recently, I have noticed that audio guides issued in Russian language including virtual excursions to places of interest in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka tourism industry seeks investors worldwide to invest in the tourism industry. There are attractive schemes to facilitate investors for the tourism infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. Interested Russian investors could invest in those projects. There is high perspectives about the economic sphere in cooperation with Russia. The most important is to have an agreement signed in the field of tourism between Russia and Sri Lanka.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Mind-Blowing Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

MD Staff

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photo: Rockefeller Center

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree acts each holiday season as a luminous magnet for camera-toting visitors. It towers above the ice-skating rink, with the golden statue Prometheus near its apron, carrying on a custom as old as Rockefeller Center itself—starting back in the early 1930s when the Midtown complex was still under construction.

The folks at Rock Center accept submissions each year. What do they look for in a specimen? A nicely shaped Norway spruce, typically at least 75 feet tall and dense enough that you “shouldn’t be able to see the sky through it,” according to head gardener Erik Pauze. Being from the tristate area generally helps—long distance is a consideration, but it’s not a deal breaker (1998’s tree was flown in from Ohio, and there was one from Canada way back when). The selection process takes a while, during which time the winner generally makes itself known. As Pauze says, “Sometimes I visit a tree several times over the year, [to] watch it grow or fill out. But when I see the perfect one, I just know it.”

Swarovski-crystal star. Photo: Adam Kuban

Come late November, Today show personalities Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Craig Melvin will join a host of performers (Pentatonix and John Legend included) for the opening ceremonies, and the tree stays lit—and available for public viewing, selfies and Instagram posts—until early January. This year, a ceremony for hoisting the new Daniel Libeskind–designed Swarovski star atop the tree will precede the lighting by a couple of weeks.

Pining for more info? We’ll go out on a limb and guess you are. Here’s some tree trivia to keep you waxing botanic through the holiday season.

This year’s model

Height: 72 feet
Weight: 24,000 pounds (estimated)
Species: Norway spruce
Hometown: Wallkill, New York
Age: Roughly 75 years
Date felled: November 8, 2018
Date put in place: November 10, 2018
Date of star raising: November 14, 2018
Date of tree lighting: November 28, 2018
Up until: January 7, 2019
Number of lights: 50,000+
Average number of expected daily viewers during holiday season: 750,000

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, 1931. Courtesy, Tishman Speyer

Through the years

1931 First Christmas tree on the grounds, put up by construction workers
1933 First official year of Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
1941 Four reindeer, in pens, flank the tree; later, they move to the Bronx Zoo
1942–44 Tree goes unlit due to World War II
1949 The tree is painted silver, ostensibly to make it look more wintry
1966 A white spruce hailing from Canada becomes the first tree from outside the US
1981 Last time a species other than a Norway spruce (in this case, another white spruce) is chosen
1997 Tree from Stony Point, NY, is transported by barge down the Hudson River
1999 Tallest tree ever, at 100 feet
2016 Tony Bennett, at the age of 90, performs at the ceremony for the fourth time in seven years

Fast facts

* Why a Norway spruce? Our research indicates that its characteristics of a straight trunk and the ability to resist wind make it a sturdy choice; and its size, on average between 80 and 100 feet at full maturity, matches Rockefeller Center’s height requirements.
* For the most part, the same LED lights, which were first introduced in 2007, are used each year (though their total number has grown from around 30,000 to around 50,000).
* The Swarovski-crystal star that tops the tree first appeared in 2004—and has been reimagined by architect Daniel Libeskind for 2018. The new version has 3 million crystals, 70 glass spikes and, with a brightness of 106,000 lumens, may be powerful enough to turn night into day.
* Those in charge maintain the tree with regular watering—as it’s outside, it retains its freshness better than it would in a house or apartment.
* The inaugural tree lighting was broadcast on radio in 1933; 18 years later it made its televised debut on the Kate Smith Evening Hour.
* After the tree is done spreading holiday cheer, it’s sent on its merry way to be used as lumber for Habitat for Humanity.

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The Best Ways to Spend the Festive Holidays in Beirut

MD Staff

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The holiday season is one of the most exciting times to visit Beirut. The city streets are decked out in shimmering lights, dazzling displays of ornaments and that incomparable festive buzz.

There’s plenty to experience in Beirut during the holidays and Four Seasons Hotel Beirut is your ideal home away from home, perfectly located to take in the sights, sounds and excitement of the festivities, which are just a stroll away. To ensure you make the most of your trip and don’t miss out on the best activities of the season, our concierge team is happy to share a helpful insider’s guide to celebrate the holidays in the city.

Partake in Festive Culinary Delights

Celebrate the holidays at Four Seasons Hotel Beirut with an exquisite array of innovative offerings and culinary delights. From a holiday-themed afternoon tea to delightful delicatessen evenings, and even a pop-up caviar and oysters bar, revel in a host of magical moments, all backed by legendary Four Seasons service.

Admire the Beautiful Christmas Trees

Downtown Beirut is the place to be if you want to see the most popular Christmas lighting events in the city, as the famous Martyr Square welcomes Christmas with VIP appearances, music and a countdown to the Christmas tree illumination. Other celebrations include the Beirut Souks Christmas Tree Lighting event and our very own Four Seasons Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.

Holiday Ice Skating

One of the best ways to get in the Christmas spirit and have some winter fun in Beirut is by wrapping up warm for an ice skating session at Beirut Ice Skating, just a few steps from the Hotel.

Visit Byblos Christmas Village

Without a doubt, Lebanon’s most comprehensive Christmas attraction is the Byblos Christmas Village. An hour drive from Beirut, enter a world of Christmas bliss with stunning lights, decorations and other festive attractions. Admire the sky-high Christmas tree that has been featured in The Guardian and Wall Street Journal. Numerous food stalls and a traditional Christmas market add to the merry atmosphere.

Shop for Gifts

Shopping in Beirut at Christmas is a sightseeing opportunity in itself, as ABC, Beirut Souks, Aishti Seaside and Le Mall all boast dazzling Christmas displays and impressive seasonal decor both inside and out. From department stores to high-end boutiques, shopping for your Christmas gifts in the city definitely won’t disappoint.

Check Out the Christmas Street Food Market

A popular annual event Souk El Akel, Christmas market edition is a food celebration showcasing Lebanon’s vibrant culinary world of foods including Lebanese, Middle Eastern and international bites, and can be found at various locations throughout the city. Entertainment, parades, kids area, food court, and much more await.

Attend a Christmas Concert

One of the season’s most anticipated highlights, Beirut Chants Festival welcomes during December performers from all over the world, both established and emerging, to share heart-warming performances in the many beautiful and historic churches of Beirut.

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Beyond the Liberty Bell: Exploring Western Philly

MD Staff

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A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?

Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.

Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.

Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:

* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.

* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.

* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.

* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.

For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.

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