SINGAPORE (Feb 4): Catalist-listed theme park developer and operator Sim Leisure Group is marking its foray into new geographic regions with an entry into Sri Lanka.

The Penang-based group on Tuesday announced the signing of a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Elpitiya Plantations to bring its ESCAPE theme parks to Sri Lanka.

Elpitiya is an associated company of blue chip conglomerate Aitken Spence. Both companies are listed in Sri Lanka.

Under the agreement, Elpitiya will sublease land for the project while Sim Leisure will develop and operate theme parks under its ESCAPE brand.

The group has been granted preliminary approval to commence construction on the theme park. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Sim Leisure aims to commence construction of ESCAPE Sri Lanka in March 2020.

Sim Leisure and Elpitiya expect to sign a definitive agreement in relation to ESCAPE Sri Lanka later this month, including the entry into a strategic joint venture partnership.

ESCAPE Sri Lanka will be located halfway between Colombo city and the main beach resort of Galle, a city on the Southwest coast of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's Tourism Ministry is aiming to attract four million tourists to the island-nation in 2020 – more than double the number of arrivals in 2019.

The country is also eyeing tourism revenue of US$5 billion ($6.8 billion) this year to spearhead an overall economic revival.

“I see tremendous opportunity in the Sri Lankan market with its population of over 20 million,” says Sim Choo Kheng, CEO of Sim Leisure. “We will have the first-mover advantage of building the first world-class attraction in Sri Lanka. Unlike many parts of East Asia, Sri Lanka has tremendous untapped potential for family leisure and a highly-educated population hungry for success.”

“Sri Lanka is one of few countries which is unspoilt and green. The country’s unpolluted coastline and beaches bring tourists from all over the world and its tourism industry is growing at an incredible pace,” he adds. “Furthermore, the cost of doing business in Sri Lanka is relatively low.”

Shares in Sim Leisure closed 2.3% higher, or up 0.5 cent, at 22 cents on Tuesday, before the announcement.