Arab spring in full bloom

Last week, it was a was a strange experience for me. I heard as much Arabic in Colombo and outstation as I would on an average day in an Arab country.

By Qadijah Irshad (Colombo Courier)

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Published: Fri 26 Oct 2012, 11:43 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:27 PM

Suddenly there’s a different kind of ‘Arab spring’ Lanka. In retrospect, the spoken Arabic language has been picking up gradually in Lanka since the end of its three decade long war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

The presence of Arab tourists was felt in a number of places in the Lankan capital, especially malls, where many were seen shopping.

With the country repositioning itself in its rightful place as a tourist destination, it has had an influx of Arab visitors (among others) in the past three years. This has prompted a rush among canny investors in tourism to cater to the needs of the Arab tourists. The demand for Arabic speaking personnel at every level — in hotels, restaurants, tourist resorts and high-end stores is growing.

Even small-time, individual tour operators/ van owners who have spent a few years in the Gulf are urgently brushing up their Arabic skills for that leeway in what is now a highly competitive sector. If you can provide your visitor with the comfort zone of his language and culture, you have inched your way into the industry.

In every strategic — and even in some non-strategic tourist destinations — you would now find a Siri-Lanki face dabbling in Arabic with his guests. The study of the language which was once limited to scholars and students in madrassas here is being learnt by common Muslim — as well as some non-Muslims. The high spending power of Arabs prompts Lanka to cater to their needs. Restauranteurs are talking about Arabic sign boards for their business entities; tourist destinations are contemplating women-only pools. Big leaps for a country whose new generations are moving away from its original orthodox cultures!

Just recently, Hiba Al Mansouri, a former Emirati journalist, published the first travel guide on Sri Lanka in Arabic.

Even more recently the newly appointed UAE Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Abdul Hamid Abdul Fattah K. Al Mulla, said that his country was keen to expand the investment profile in Lanka. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at 
$1.1 billion at end of 2011.

The expat Arab population in the country is on the rise and a market has emerged to cater to their needs — from non-spicy, edible food on Arabic terms to segregated
activities for women.

Undoubtedly, Lanka is becoming a new tourist destination for Arabs. Lanka equipping itself for this?

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