The saga of Jetwing is one of classic entrepreneurship. Set up by Herbert Cooray, who dared to dream big, Jetwing has since grown into one of the recognised and respected business entities in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Having the foresight to be part of the Sri Lankan Government’s tourism masterplan in the 1970s, which would mark the island’s entry into the international tourism arena, also paved the way for the dynamic entrepreneur’s entry into the construction industry.
Commencing construction of a hotel in the sleepy coastal fishing village of Negombo built specifically to suit the Charter tourists from Europe, this hotel marked the first stepping stone to success. It was almost exclusively used by a leading Swedish Tour Operator – Vingressor – which urged him to consider starting his own hotel.
At that historic moment Jetwing Hotels was born. Barely two decades later, it has emerged as a market leader and trend setter for Sri Lankan hospitality, dominating the responsible, sustainable and nature tourism segments. Properties such as Lighthouse Hotel & Spa (Jetwing Lighthouse), The Blue Water, Ayurveda Pavilions (Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions), Jetwing Beach and more recently, Jetwing Vil Uyana have become internationally acclaimed properties today.
Herbert Cooray, founder Chairman of Jetwing, made his first foray into the hotel industry with six rooms at the Blue Oceanic Beach Hotel (Jetwing Blue Oceanic). As a building contractor, he built the Seashells Hotel (Jetwing Seashells) in 1972, which he subsequently bought over in 1978. Thereafter, the third hotel to join the group was the Royal Oceanic Beach Hotel that opened in 1981 with 44 rooms. In 1987, a second wing was added to bring the total to 91 rooms in operation subsequently upgraded and repositioned as a 78 roomed boutique hotel called The Beach, (Jetwing Beach) Negombo, in 2004. In 1983, he bought the Yala Safari Game Lodge (previously Yala Safari Beach Hotel), a hotel he had built himself. The ‘Tsunami’ of 2004 unfortunately destroyed the Yala Safari Game Lodge in which Jetwing also lost some of its longest serving associates. The Jetwing Relief Fund was set up in their honour. His fifth prize property was St. Andrew’s (Jetwing St. Andrews), Nuwara Eliya, in 1987.
In a bid to increase its market share, Jetwing Hotels joined hands with the Hayleys Group in 1991 as partners with a 25% stake in the joint venture. In no time, Jetwing grew from strength to strength and the Hayleys-Jetwing partnership acquired the Hunas Falls Hotel (Jetwing Hunas Falls). In addition, they built the Lighthouse Hotel & Spa (Jetwing Lighthouse), which some called an over ambitious project. However today, it has proved to be one of the best hotels in the region and was also one of the first hotels to be accredited the honour of being a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Its ‘Green Practices, its CSR programme ‘A Taxi Line Through The Community’ which won them a PATA Gold Award and their various community related activities has won them much recognition as being one of the most environmentally responsible hotels in the country.
Tropical Villas (Jetwing Tropical Villas) followed in 1993 and soon after Jetwing entered into an agreement with Union Apparels to manage The Blue Water Hotel. Under Jetwing management, it achieved five star status in 2003.
Jetwing is working on many new property developments. Jetwing Vil Uyana was opened in 2006 with 25 Villas built in an artificially created wetland. Plans are also in the pipeline to construct a luxury tented camp on the Nilaveli beachfront called Mannal Kadu. Yala Safari Game Lodge has also been earmarked for reconstruction. Jetwing Hotels have journeyed from beaches to creating nature reserves in the span of a few decades. Since its inception, Jetwing has remained attentive and receptive to clients and business opportunities alike.
Although Herbert Cooray commenced his foray into the leisure sector with only 12 employees at Blue Oceanic Hotel (Jetwing Blue Oceanic) in 1972, Jetwing now stands strong with approximately 2,000 staff. Apart from their main specialisation in Hotels and Travels, Jetwing have diversified into event management, outbound package tours and Ticketing, Airline Representation, Professional Conference Organisers, Freight forwarding, Birding and Wildlife Travel, to name a few.
His entry into the inbound tour operation also started in similar fashion, when a German Tour Partner having seen the Blue Oceanic Hotel and falling in love with Negombo offered Herbert Cooray the opportunity to partner him in setting up a travel agency. Jet Travels set up shop Negombo with four associates. Over time, it established a large client base, changed its name to Jetwing Travels and now ranks as one of the leading inbound tour operators in the country – working with reputed counterparts from all over the world.
Jetwing Travels also has an Outbound Division which has IATA accreditation and does ticketing as well as organising packaged holidays for discerning Sri Lankan travellers. Herbert cooray is no more but the Jetwing legacy has passed on to his daughter, Shiromal Cooray, who now is the Managing Director of Jetwing Travels, and his son, Hiran Cooray, who functions as the Chairman of Jetwing – both of whom are ensuring that the Jetwing brand scales new heights each day.