The accidental hotelier

For many of us the concept of financial freedom is intertwined with the opportunity to travel and experience all that the world has to offer. Finding locations which inspire and make travel meaningful is an important consideration. Caroline Underhill, our Global Marketing Director and Head of CSR, spoke to Malik Fernando, the self-titled ‘accidental hotelier’, about his trio of unique Sri Lankan resorts and how they came into being.

Nestled in three picture perfect locations in Sri Lanka are a collection of luxury boutique hotels, which offer travellers luxury, individuality, and a sense of heritage.

Resplendent Ceylon is the creation of Malik Fernando, but the roots of the hotels are weaved into an industry synonymous with Sri Lanka – tea. The Fernando family has been involved in the tea plantations in Sri Lanka since the 1950s, when British tea owners departed leaving Ceylon tea in the lands of local people. Malik’s father was chosen as one of the original tea tasters, setting up the Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company in 1988 to counteract the corporation led ownership of the tea industry in the region. The company thrived, and now exports to over 100 countries globally. And as Sri Lanka opened up to travel, Dilmah started fielding requests from tea lovers to come and visit.

To respond to these growing appeals Malik – who had returned to the family business after studying abroad – embarked on the restoration of the original tea bungalows, four colonial-era tea-planter residences on Dilmah plantations. The original focus of the project was to help showcase the tea and how it was created, but the reception of guests revealed that Malik had in fact created something much more unusual and authentic for tourists. Soon the family found that guests enjoyed walking the steps of a 1920’s tea owner, and the popularity of the plantations as a luxury holiday destination grew. Ceylon Tea Trails, Malik’s first boutique luxury resort, opened in 2005.

Although his original intention wasn’t to create a resort, Malik fell into being a hotelier through a distinctive combination of factors; his love of pampering guests with a very personal touch, a new and unusual accommodation offering and the beauty of the region. In fact the development of the business in this direction felt almost destiny; both tea and tourism are symbiotic in their ability to showcase the qualities of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka itself is a unique and compact destination with enormous biodiversity, different landscapes, impressive wildlife and a melting pot of cultures. It’s said that Sri Lanka holds a continent’s worth of scenery – from cool tea fields to ruined cities, Buddhist temples to surfing beaches and national parks, and leopards to whale watching. The country’s 2,000 year history saw it grow in importance as a trade route, and it also boasts some important milestones such as being home to the world’s first hospital. For many, sadly, the country is synonymous with conflict, although thankfully this is now firmly a misconception given any instability ended over 11 years ago.

Today, Sri Lanka is a destination which is growing in popularity. Malik’s vision is flourishing, and his original bungalows have developed into a luxury hotel brand – Resplendent Ceylon – which offers three locations, all of which are very individual and have been designed as such. Malik and his family feel strongly about their role in inspiring travel, sharing their love of Sri Lanka and delighting guests by curating meaningful journeys. The premise is a solid one, with many guests choosing to stay at all three properties as they explore the island.

Community development and social responsibility have also been interlinked into the fabric of the hotel’s development. Some of the tented lodges were built by the local community; Sri Lanka’s fisherman were trained by US and French professionals to help create the resort. This has equipped the local fishing community with new skills which mean they have alternative options for work during their off season. In addition, the company’s ethos in making both tea and tourism ethical is reflected in the fact that 15% of earnings go to into local projects including leopard conservation, a keystone species in the country.

Today Resplendent Hotels has three resorts offering a circuit of Sri Lanka – tea (Tea Trails), sea (Cape Weligama) and safari (Wild Coast Tented Lodge). Together they offer a unique opportunity to experience Sri Lanka’s history, culture and nature.

Lightfoot Travel specialises in tailor-made holidays and, with offices around the world, can help you plan an adventure from any location. Please feel free to contact Matt Vlemmiks at for more information.