Sri Lanka Tourism’s marketing manager, Nabeel Shariff, on China, Chile and why Sri Lanka – the island formerly known as Ceylon – is everyone’s cup of tea

What do you like to do on holiday?
Once I touchdown in my destination, I’m on the go – I can’t waste a minute. Holidays tend to be quite short, so I really like to be able to sample as much of the local lifestyle and gastronomy as possible. I always try to engage with locals so as to really get to grips with the country. I love photography – it’s my bit on the side – and will always be on the lookout for a unique angle to photograph. I’ll only see the sites mentioned in the guidebooks if they really are iconic – like the Grand Palace in Bangkok or The Treasury in Petra.

Where did you last go?
I’ve just got back from Shanghai and Beijing. It was an amazing trip. China has so much to offer and such a rich cultural heritage that the Chinese are justifiably proud of. Beijing, home to blockbuster sights such as the Forbidden City, has to rank as one of my favorite city breaks. However, make sure you learn some Mandarin before you go – you’ll need it!

Do you know where you’re going next year?
I haven’t really thought that far ahead! That said, I have only seen one country in South America – Chile (which has to be one of my all-time favorite destinations) – so I’d like to see more of the region. I’ve just decided I’ll pencil in Argentina for 2011!

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favorite and why?
As mentioned Chile ranks in my top three destinations with the varying landscapes of the Atacama, Patagonia and Easter Island. However my heart lies in Asia: the colors, flavors and people of Sri Lanka personify the island’s diversified melting pot. It’s a photographers dream too.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
I still haven’t made it to Australia and New Zealand and would like to push myself to endure the 20+ hours it takes to fly there so I can see what all the fuss is about.

In your destination, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Sri Lanka has a wealth of hidden gems that only an open mind and some local knowledge can uncover. Finding a quiet cove on the south coast, with some local street food on the beach, sums up the island mentality. Worlds End in the heart of the country is simply breathtaking at sunrise, and when combined with the often overlooked Sinharaja Rainforest takes you into a Jurassic era of natural beauty. I never get bored of watching animals in the wild, and Yala National Park is well worth the drive to the other side of the island for the experience of seeing leopards, bears, and elephants in their natural habitat.

How do you plan your holiday?
I usually arrange my flights first then, closer to the date of my trip after some serious amount of research; I book the places where I will base myself for the trip.

How often do you go away?
Probably three or four times a year. That includes ‘proper’ vacations as well as short trips to Europe and North Africa.

Who do you travel with?
My wife. We’re the troublesome twosome travelers!

Where do you see tourism in your destination, in 10 years time?
For the foreseeable future, those destinations that provide the best service, value, and diversity will be the beneficiaries in a market that’s never been more demanding or competitive. Having ushered in a new era of peace, Sri Lanka looks set to continue the tradition of treating visitors with the best experience they can have in the country. The developing Kalpitya region will be key to providing further access to stunning coastline and wildlife in the nearby Wilpattu National Park. The diversified east coast, with hundreds of kilometers of unspoiled beaches, is currently attracting investors and, within three to five years, will host an array of first-class resorts.

Traditionally a winter sun destination, Sri Lanka will become an all year round destination in the near future providing visitors with excellent weather conditions for rest and relaxation as well as offering a plethora of cultural, wildlife and historical attractions. With so much to see in such a small island, Sri Lanka is truly living up to its status as the wonder of Asia.

Thanks Nabeel! For more on Sri Lanka, visit www.srilanka.travel
To find out where other industry experts holiday, don’t forget to keep clicking back to the CD Traveller website.