First Boutique Hotel in Sri Lanka – Saman Villas


Today’s article is specifically to correct an ambiguous statement made by me in a previous article with an apology to the business I wronged.

In my Sunday January 12 article in this column titled The Geoffrey Dobbs Affair I wrote "Geoffrey Dobbs started the idea of boutique hotels in the Galle Fort which idea spread all over the Island." You will notice that I said he started the trend in the Galle Fort although in the interview with Maheen Senanayake (reproduced in the Sunday Island January 5) Dobbs had claimed he initiated the concept in this country and his two hotels were the first boutique hotels. I was cautious because I knew of Saman Villas being many years in business, hence my bringing in the Galle Fort limitation. What I wrote incorrectly was: "which idea spread all over the Island." Now I am convinced it was vice versa: Dobbs caught on to the idea that was innovated much earlier than when he got into the hotel business i.e. through Saman Villas started in 1995. I stand corrected on the mention of Galle Fort since Dobbs’ two hotels are outside the Fort.

Daya Ratnayake, Chairman/ Managing Director, Saman Villas Ltd, in the financial pages of the Sunday Island of Jan. 19 under the title Who Pioneered Boutique Hotels in Sri Lanka – Saman Villas or Geoffrey Dobbs? wrote that Saman Villas was the first boutique hotel and went on to state facts about boutique hotels. He corrected what Dobbs said and what Maheen S wrote, and quoted Nan too.

He states in his article: "In the first half of the 1990s the concept of boutique hotels was slowly taking root in a few popular Asian destinations and some islands in the Pacific Ocean. About this time Saman Villas was designed as a 72 roomed 4-star hotel. The plans were rejected by me and Mr. Jeevaka de Zoysa, the newly appointed architect, were taken to Thailand and Bali…The outcome was Sri Lanka’s first boutique hotel with 27 luxury suites spread out on the most beautiful location on the South West coast of Sri Lanka" namely Aturuwella, Bentota.

A message from The Incorporation of Small Luxury Hotels of the World in a newspaper supplement in The Island of February 13, 1996 reads thus: "Small Luxury Hotels of the World are delighted to accept into its expanding membership of 205 properties in 46 countries, the new Saman Villas in Sri Lanka. Membership is by invitation only and each property must meet stringent inspection criteria. …. Saman Villas is the first such property in Sri Lanka to join the ranks of properties such as …"

Apart from it bringing in a new kind of hotel, Saman Villas also initiated maintaining close ties with the people in the vicinity and also at Bentota, benefiting them as the hotel earned money.

Responsible Tourism – the Saman Villas Way

I was given a brochure with the theme design of the pichcha vela as a border stating that

Saman Villas as a responsible corporate entity upholds certain principles. Firstly Saman Villas respects the environment and exploits its resources sustainably. Being socially responsible it forges community relations with the society it is sited within. Thus it goes beyond purely business activities to contribute in the fields of education, sports at village level, culture, village development and community service. Among other activities it is committed to anti-corruption and does what it can possibly do to discourage corruption within and outside the organization This in today’s context is extra laudable. That idea should spread in the hospitality business since it is known that often corruption creeps in when building a new hotel.

Reaching out – near and far It is heartening to read in a brochure titled Community Work by Saman Villas what the company has done from its inception and continues to do.

In the field of education, in 2004, the hotel contributed 35% of the total cost of a fully equipped building for a pre-school and a day care centre in a village further south. That same year a computer training centre and lecture room costing Rs 1.5 million was donated for the benefit of village children. Selecting the Liyanagaswagura Adarscha Kanishta Vidyalaya in the Kundasale AGA’s Division, the company donated a computer and printer and sponsored the prize giving of the school for two consecutive years. In the same village an English training program was conducted from 2008 to 2012. Closer home, the Aturuwella temple Dhamma School was gifted fabric for uniforms for its children. Ongoing projects include offering scholarships to children of Aturuwella village since 1994. Computer training was instituted with a centre being opened in 2009 connected to the Government Nanasala program.To help improve the wellbeing of the people in villages in the vicinity of the hotel mosquito eradication was undertaken starting in 2007. Identifying the major breeding spot as a stream just outside the boundary of the hotel which discharged polluted water to the sea, the hotel installed a closed hume pipe system and a pumping station. To help villagers get over the mosquito menace, awareness programs were also initiated. Organic home gardening was encouraged in 2009 by distributing compost bins to 103 families in Aturuwella so they could convert household and garden waste into organic compost to grow their own vegetables. Sinhala New Year and Christmas parties for village children started in 1996, and conducting an annual sports festival for the entire village since 2009 are other outreach activities to the villages in the vicinity.

Saman Villas reached far out when the company renovated and upgraded the Aluthwewa between Habarana and Trincomalee ensuring irrigation water to a number of villages. In 2012 a substantial contribution was made to conduct the Perahera at Galapatha Raja Maha Viharaya.

Saman Villas contributed Rs 500,000 in 2008 for the restoration of the George Keyt paintings in the Gotami Vihare in Borella which had been undertaken by the George Keyt Foundation.

An ECG machine and nebulizer were donated to the district hospital at Menikhinna, Kandy, in which picturesque location Daya Ratnayake has a second home.

The ‘small man’ comes well within the gambit of Saman Villas Ltd. It is the only hotel that has a resident craftsman on its permanent pay roll, which craftsman specialized in gokkola decoration. The hotel ensures that resident tourists use local vehicles like three wheelers. It also hires cars and vans for guests’ transport from transport providers in the area.

In these times when money is THE consideration and its accumulation given pride of place, it is heartening to note that successful companies like Saman Villas Limited is stretching out helping hands generously to many beneficiaries in different areas of concern.

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