In a groundbreaking event, sixty micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) from the Central and Uva provinces converged at the Darrawella Club, unveiling their innovative strategies poised to capitalize on the economic growth opportunities emerging from The Pekoe Trail. These enterprising individuals, partaking in The Pekoe Trail Business Incubator, passionately shared their transformational business plans geared towards job creation and investments in new products and services along the trail’s extensive 300-kilometer expanse, to industry stakeholders, including representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, regional plantation companies, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Pekoe Trail Business Incubator is an initiative of the Tourism Resilience Project (TRP), which is funded by the European Union with additional support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The incubator is designed to build the capacity of new and existing tourism MSMEs along The Pekoe Trail through training, mentoring, and business advisory services. The ultimate aim is to increase the availability of high-quality products and services along the trail and create opportunities for employment and rural economic development that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. The program was implemented by business incubation specialists, Gadfly Innovation.
The incubator, which commenced in February 2023, attracted interest from 112 tourism MSMEs that participated in workshops held in Hanthana, Hatton, Haputale, Ella, and Nuwara Eliya. The workshops coached entrepreneurs on a range of topics such as business resilience, customer experience, sustainable business practices, and tourism marketing. Out of these participants, 60 of the most promising enterprises were selected for one-on-one business development mentoring which facilitated the business transformations they showcased at Darrawella.
Commenting on the incubator, Dr. Johann Hesse, Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives stated, “This first batch of incubated enterprises validates the high potential of The Pekoe Trail’s economic growth opportunity for the many rural communities it passes through. Through the funding of novel concepts such as The Pekoe Trail, the EU is not only committed to supporting the revitalization of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, but also the long-term economic prosperity of the people in the industry”.
Speaking at the opening of the incubator showcase, Mr. Dennis Wesner, Deputy Director, Office of Economic Growth, USAID stated, “The Pekoe Trail is more than just a tourism innovation; it is a purposefully designed experience aimed at creating economic prospects in the more remote communities of Uva and Central provinces. The United States is pleased to support economic growth in communities along The Pekoe Trail, to foster positive economic changes in areas that have historically missed out on the benefits of tourism. USAID is confident that numerous entrepreneurs will be inspired to leverage The Pekoe Trail as a foundation to launch or expand their businesses, thereby promoting economic growth and sustainability in these communities”.
The Pekoe Trail, a 300km discovery of Sri Lanka on foot, is creating international headlines for Sri Lanka as a destination for wellness and nature-based travel. It is a unique tourism experience that supports the long-term environmental sustainability of habitats as well as the social and commercial sustainability of the communities it passes through. The Pekoe Trail will be open to travellers in stages commencing November 2023.