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New marketing strategy for St. Andrew's Hotel

by Shirajiv Sirimane

St. Andrew’s Hotel Nuwara Eliya. 

A house turned tea planters Clubhouse started over 120 years ago has been converted to a star class hotel offering colonial type accommodation in Nuwara Eliya. Owned and managed by Jetwing Hotels Ltd, St. Andrew's Hotel is considered a landmark in Nuwara Eliya. Hiran Cooray, Managing Director Jetwing said that they are hoping to introduce a new marketing strategy for the hotel. "We want to upgrade the hotel to a small luxury type to attract up-market clientele."

He said that with the upsurge in tourism in Sri Lanka following the peace process the country is attracting many up-market clientele. "However there is no proper accommodation for top end tourists in Nuwara Eliya and this was the reason for us to go for this investment."

Cooray said that the management had invested over Rs. 30 million during the last three years to upgrade the hotel to meet the demand of local and foreign tourists. "After the refurbishment we offer 40 rooms, seven family rooms and seven suites."

He said that the management is hoping to invest a further 50 million to convert St. Andrew's Hotel to a small luxury type hotel.

Nuwara Eliya was famous for horse racing as well as tea in the 19th century and a leading hotel owner and race-horse owner Arthur Ephraums first built a six-roomed hotel.

Later more double rooms were added and two billiards tables were shipped from Calcutta to add variety to the hotel. Even today clients use one of the two billiards tables, which are over 117 years old.

In 1900 the hotel offered 28 beds and their main clients were the high spending race-horse owners who used to stay for a minimum of two months. According to the Manager of the hotel S. Ravindra the management during the time had to build special stables for horses.

During the time transport to Nuwara Eliya was mostly by train from Nanu Oya and two engines were used. Hollywood film makers bought one of these engines to be blown up for the film 'Bridge on the River Kwai', part of which was filmed in Kithulgala.

When racing was banned in 1956 the stables were converted to twin cottages. A part of the space was also used for a vegetable garden, which had been carefully nursed, and today the hotel is self- sufficient in vegetables.

During the time more attractions such as Tennis, Golf tournaments, flower shows, and car races were introduced which drew more visitors to the town and the hotel too expanded to cater to the growing demand.

From the beginning of the 20th century flowers and vegetables for the hotel came from the garden. Several pears and citrus trees also provided fresh fruit for guests and ingredients for marmalade. The excess produce was packed and sold to retailers in Colombo.

The pear trees were added to the assets of the hotel and taxes had to be paid on them. Poultry and cows provided eggs and milk. Farm workers were given free accommodation in quarters adjacent to a row of garages at the intersection of St. Andrews and Waterfield drive. These buildings are no longer part of the hotel.

During World War II, the British Government used the hotel as a rest and recreation centre for servicemen.

The first arrivals were survivors from HMS Hermes - bombed by the Japanese off the east coast of Sri Lanka. Many from this first batch of sailors arrived in their oil-soaked clothes. For these and later servicemen a committee was set up to provide clothing and other necessities. Provisions for the kitchen and pantry, liquor and cigarettes were supplied from the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute (NAAFI) set up in Nuwara Eliya.

After Independence in 1948, Tamil labourers recruited by the British to work on the plantations were declared stateless.

Their applications for citizenship were too numerous to be processed at the local government office (kachcheri). So the government took over 16 rooms in the hotel as a second kachcheri.

It was said that the upcountry estate families became Ceylon citizens at St. Andrew's. During World War II the Sri Lanka manager De Zilwa took over the management from Arthur Ephraums and he managed it till 1976. In 1976 shortly before the open economy was introduced the property was sold to Gerald Milhuisen and he sold the property in 1987 to Chairman Jetwing, Hubert Cooray.

According to Ravindra who was with the Jetwing management for over 13 years, it was under the Jetwing management the hotel got a new look and many investments were made to make it a star class hotel.

Ravindra said the management is taking great care to protect the environment. They have a special waste treatment scheme.

"We have maintained our garden very well and over the years we have been winning the best garden award. "This year we won a record 36 awards." He said that they have a good English clientele and recently they opened to Thai, Chez, Korean and Japanese markets as well." They have a very steady conference market and their nature trails are very popular.

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