With an end to hostilities in Sri Lanka seemingly imminent, tourism could be set to spread to the country's troubled north-east…
While it is still too early to predict the future course of events in Sri Lanka, the possibility of a lasting peace opens up the prospect of the great swathes of pristine sandy beaches in the north and east of the country becoming new tourist hotspots.
With the fighting still fresh, outrage over the number of civilians killed and fears that pockets of Tamil Tiger fighters may continue with terrorist attacks, the Foreign Office continues to advise against all travel to the north and east of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka travel experts, however, hope that in the long term, the ending of the 26-year-long civil war will signal a fresh start for tourism in what is potentially one of the most attractive holiday destinations in Asia.
"This is a good step forward but we have to be cautiously optimistic; there is still a lot of work to be done to bring about a true peace," said Jean-Marc Flambert, who promotes a number of hotels in Sri Lanka.
"But in fact the best beaches on the island are on the east coast. Also, with the rainy season there coming at a different time to the rain in the south and west it could turn Sri Lanka into a year round destination."
Resorts that are likely to become holiday favourites include Nilaveli, just north of Trincomalee, and, further south, Kalkudah and Passekudah. Arugam Bay is set to attract the surfing crowd while Trincomalee itself, described by Admiral Nelson as the finest harbour in the world, could become a major new tourist hub.
Throughout the years of conflict, tourism to these parts of the island has been almost non-existent, or limited to domestic visitors and more intrepid western backpackers and they lack the hotels and infrastructure of the more developed south and west.
"There is a great potential to develop tourism on this side of the island," said Mr Flambert. "Obviously people are going to remain cautious for a while but many have been waiting for this day."
Foreign Office advice
Despite the prospect of an end to hostilities, the Foreign Office continues to advise that British travellers avoid military, Government and paramilitary locations, which it warns have been the most frequent targets of attacks, even in the south.
"There is a high threat from terrorism in Sri Lanka. Fatal attacks have become more frequent. They have occurred in Colombo and throughout Sri Lanka, including places frequented by expatriate and foreign travellers," it warns. "Some hotels in Colombo are situated near such locations. If you intend to stay in a hotel in Colombo, you should ensure that it has adequate security and contingency measures in place and be aware of your surroundings at all times."
See www.fco.gov.uk for details