Feature: Sri Lanka opens floating market as tourism attraction

Feature: Sri Lanka opens floating market as tourism attraction

COLOMBO, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- A new feature has been added to Colombo's landscape with the opening of a floating market in the heart of Sri Lanka's capital that aims to attract tourists for a taste of local life.

The floating market along the ancient Dutch-built Beira Lake is the latest in an extensive facelift given to Colombo since economic revival gained prominence after the end of a three-decade war in 2009.

The end of the conflict also heralded a tourism boom with numbers expected to top one million tourists for the third consecutive year at the end of 2014.

Chinese tourists are also increasingly flocking into the South Indian Ocean island leapfrogging to the third country with the most number of arrivals in just three years.

The market, is literally floating, but unlike similar waterways in Thailand, square shops built of wood float along the banks of the Beira canal and can be stepped onto easily.

The shoreline also has a string of shops selling everything from cooked food to pirated DVDs of popular Hollywood and Bollywood movies.

"We had a shop along the main bus stand and when it was demolished, we were given a floating shop here," M. Somalatha, who sells pickled fruit to people sauntering by, told Xinhua.

Many of the dozens of vendors hail from Colombo's poorer classes but have been tradesmen for decades.

Floor space of each of the square "boats" can be divided into two or four slots with vendors having to pay a total of 8,000 rupees (61 U.S. dollars) per month to Colombo's municipality.

Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena declared open the new precinct on Monday evening in the presence of Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

This concept market in Bastian Mawatha was built by the Urban Development Authority under the direction of Secretary Defence.

The Floating Market which sits between the long distance private bus terminal in central Colombo and the main railway station contains 92 stalls including a restaurant and refreshment stalls.

In addition to the private shopping stalls, it will also house a number of selected state institutions that will offer local produce, gems and jewelry, and handicrafts to tourists.

Floating platforms selling vegetables and fruit are one of the attractions of the market.

The special light setup with solar powered street lamps illuminate the area with shades of various colours.

"Artistically landscaped walkway and the tree lined street reflect the environmental concern showed during the construction phase of the market. Construction work of the Floating Market was handled by the engineering units of the army and navy," a statement released by the Defence Ministry ahead of the opening said.

The new market will be another attraction for Sri Lanka's many tourists that recorded a growth of 24.7 percent to 861,324 by the end of July.

During last month earnings from tourism were estimated to have increased by 34.4 percent to 193.6 million U.S. dollars in July 2014, compared to 144 million U.S. dollars in July 2013.

China remains the fastest growing market to the south Asian island, easily outstripping Indonesia at 76.9 percent and Russia, which grew at 74.8 percent when compared with arrival numbers for the first six months of 2013.

Since the end of a three decade war in 2009, Sri Lanka's tourist arrivals have boomed reaching over 1.2 million last year and attracting earnings of 1.7 billion U.S. dollars, according to the Central Bank.

The tropical island is aiming to attract 2.5 million arrivals by 2016, buoyed by fast increasing numbers from China.

Only 27,627 Chinese tourists arrived in Sri Lanka in 2012, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) but the numbers nearly doubled to 54,288 last year.

Tourist arrivals from China to Sri Lanka during the first seven months of 2014 jumped 144.2 percent when compared to the same period last year.

Most of the tourist arrivals were from Western Europe with 223, 810 tourists visiting in the first six months of this year, recording a 17 percent increase over corresponding 2013 figures, the SLTDA report said.

Happy couples and families strolled along the shore or sit at tables having a snack while children play at the Floating Market, a project the government is keen to showcase as an example of the new Sri Lanka after the end of the war.