9 December, 2021


Branding Colombo City To Be Asia’s Another Singapore

By Zahran Sikkanther Lebbe

Zahran Lebbe

The city of Colombo was well admired by the father of modern Singapore Lee Kuan Yew in 1950s, for having the best infrastructure, stone faced buildings and greener environment, and with the visionary leadership and sheer commitment he transformed Singapore, from third world to the first world.

Later on, by looking at the successful city state of Singapore, our political leaders have pledged to emulate it and wanted to transform Sri Lanka to Asia’s another Singapore. However, the progress towards achieving this aspiration had long been questionable with the prevailed Sri Lanka’s political, economic and socio cultural background.

Compared with Singapore, geographic extent of Sri Lanka is 94 times higher and our country has to meet the welfare needs of much larger population with the limited financial resources. Given this nature of geographical area and the present economic status of the country, transforming Sri Lanka similar to Singapore is going to be a very challenging task.

Change in Direction

On the other hand, Colombo is  similar size of Singapore geographically and possess strategic advantage of being located in the world’s main shipping route and the commercial center of our country owning historical colonial buildings, parks, beaches, lakes, golf ground, theatres together with already established ports and airports.

Moreover, Megapolis, real estates and iconic buildings are under construction as well as the international hotels chains are entering the city whereas International Financial City is expected to attract regional headquarters of the international business organizations, professionals and the investment for it to generate fruitful results.

In this juncture, instead of envisaging to transform the entire island, transforming Colombo city to be Asia’s another Singapore reflecting Sri Lankan identity would be much feasible. By narrowing down the geographical scope, more attention could be paid, sufficient resources could be allocated, well align stakeholders towards the vision and also easy to monitor the progress towards its success.

Besides, Colombo being already established city, it would be like icing on the cake. Colombo needs to be modernized, beautified, decorated, capacity built, cleaned, disciplined and organized.

Combining tourism with business and creating Colombo as a leading destination in South Asia for providing high quality services such as healthcare, education, IT and knowledge based industry would be the successful formula for branding of Colombo.

Managing Changes

Accordingly, selected areas which require fast changes in pursuit of this aspiration to create Colombo as desired destination for tourism, investment and to generate revenues as well as opportunities are highlighted below:

Of course, local residents are the important brand ambassadors of the city and their behavior greatly impacts on the way the city is viewed and experienced by the visitors. Local style of driving on the road and politically motivated protests, picketing and long marches along with water cannon and tear gas applied by the police to control such situations generally take place in the city not only disturbs the daily life in Colombo but also tarnish city’s image through international media coverage.

There is also an absolute need to establish unity in a multi-ethnic community and inciting racism, hate speech and ethnic disharmony must be controlled and there must be zero tolerance for disruptive behavior. We are still waiting to see new laws are coming in to control such behaviors.

Many of the Colonial buildings located in the city are found faded although they are of greater architectural designs and rich historical heritage. They must be renovated to bring new outlook and could be used for hotels or shopping malls such as Colombo Arcade.

Transformation of Colombo as a cleaner and sustainable city with more greenery, improved solid waste management and the use of green energy sources is also essential. The waterways including canals and lakes in the city must be maintained clean whereas, increasing the number of parks, golf course, jogging tracks and bike paths could be established in the banks of these waterways. Strict regulation and fines must be introduced against garbage dump in the streets and public places.

Developing iconic landmarks, skylines and artistic roundabouts would strengthen the brand identity of the city. Slum and shanty to be upgraded and new housing project must be established with modern architecture containing the landscaped gardens.

Colombo needs a modernized transport systems and infrastructure including Light Rail Transit (LRT), replacement of three-wheelers with electric cars for the better traffic management and for improved quality of city life.

Indeed, Colombo needs to offer full of unique and memorable experiences, interesting things to fill free time with and exciting things to discover with the array of must visit attractions, variety of entertainments, great places for shopping and dining and theme parks.  The economy needs to be business friendly, corruption free and also have efficient market oriented public institution.

Way forward:

  • Establish Colombo City Branding Commission ideally under the direct supervision of the Presidential Secretariat.
  • Bringing together various stakeholders including Municipal Councils, Ministry of transport, urban development, defense, tourist boards, town and country planning, Botanical gardens and public recreations, universities and media and agree on the Vision for Colombo City Brand.
  • Appointment of a Brand Consultancy firm specialized in destination branding
  • Initiating Strategic Colombo City Branding Plan and making Marketing as a part but in major policy level interventions.
  • Allocating sufficient financial resources for Colombo City Branding Initiatives.
  • Coordinating city-branding activities among relevant stakeholders. Media has to play a vital role by educating general public on the importance of Colombo City Branding and explain the role the residents and various stakeholders have to be play.
  • Encouraging the private sector on identified Colombo City development projects.
  • Monitoring and control on branding activities through performance review and celebrating the success. 


In the global stage, the cities too compete with each other in attracting tourists, investors, donors, events or businesses where they involve in city branding to improve their reputation internationally. In this context, branding of Colombo City to be Asia’s another Singapore but reflecting Sri Lankan identity would be much appropriate and greatly rewarding endeavor!

Be the change that you want to see in the world”

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Latest comments

  • 12

    Perhaps Sri Lanka try and emulate Singapore pluralism, multicultural and ethnic harmony which are enshrined in their constitution. If leaders don’t have backbone to deal with this menace that haunts Sri Lanka every couple of years will
    Never make a model as Singapore. Infrastructure does not make a country its people working together proudly to uplift the country.

    • 0

      ghazzali Wadood:

      Singapore is a small city State. SO, it had to promote multi – everything in order to make the Stable.

      for Sri lanka, Saudi Arabia is the best. Saudi arabia doe snot allow otjher religions and other cultures. Sri lanka must do the same.

      • 3


        In Tamil, they say “Mudavan kombu thenukku aasai paduvadu pola”, means a lame man wishing to get honey from a tree.

        BTW, Ranil said only country below us in the region is Myanmar.

  • 6

    The Problem is, that only new rich SL Politicians who have been to Singapore on a 2 Day Visit, want Colombo to be another Singapore! If you have lived in Singapore, you would not want to live in a congested Place like that again! The Locals don’t seem to enjoy the outdoor Spaces of Singapore. They frequent the busy Shopping Centres and Food Malls, and go Home to their High Rises to sleep.

    • 3

      Hamlet —————————– It is not what is good for the people it is all about “what is in it for me” the one who has been entrusted with the budget. Well down the line please make sure you don’t complain about the scale of corruption.

    • 2

      Hit it on the head, Singapore is a modern day Big Brother society, people are so scared of the government, there is no dissent, there is no alternative view, thinking Singaporeans migrate to other countries, the rest are like sheep, talk only about money, food, English Soccer in that order and are so kiasu as they call it… the faculty of wanting it all… the five C’s … Career, Condominium, Car, Credit Card, Country Club membership. yet to meet one happy singaporean. I have personally seen a fomer opposition leader, a man of Indian origin sellling books at a Rail Station just to survive. The government bankrupted him by law… that is their tactic to neutralise anyone who opposes them. The government btw is actually ONE FAMILY. Old Man was PM , now son is PM, Another Son Runs the Airline, The Daughter in Law Runs Temasek Inc which owns and runs almost every enterprise in Singapore from Public transport, Housing, Ports, etc. 2 Day visits by Lankans who get entry visas ONLY to Singapore will only be blinded by the gloss and glitter…. much like Dubai.. but that si another story.

      • 3

        Murage —————————————“The government bankrupted him by law… that is their tactic to neutralise anyone who opposes them.” ————————– Did Lee operate a fleet of White Van? Did you hear ministers, state officials, their cronies, minister’s mistresses making, billions out of people’s misery? Is there a language issue? Aren’t the roads clean? ……………. Don’t you have anything positive to say about the country?

        • 1

          After ten years living there… yes it is clean. efficient, works like clockwork.. there is glitz and all shiny polished light… but is that all there is to life? .. what about about the people?… they are controlled, managed, subjugated … no alternative opinions, no outlook, sad sad people living to benefit the people at the top. Most Singaporeans live paycheck to paycheck and yearn for freedom… freedom to express themselves,,, freedom to live as they please.. but unfortunately they are unable to… Really is this what Lanka should aspire to be like?… There are much better role models…. New Zealand , Canada, Scandinavian countries!

  • 7

    Problem is, we only desire, we haven’t collectively decided yet. Some want SL to be Singapore. Some want SL to be Myanmar. Some want SL to be Saudi or TN.

    • 8

      Mohamed ————————– We never wanted to be the shinning example to other countries. Physical appearance alone will not make a people happy and contented. The entire country is driven by envy, greed, racism, arrogance,…………………………………

      • 4

        Native Vedda:-
        “The entire country is driven by envy, greed, racism, arrogance,”
        The Dhammadvipa is driven by The Exact Opposite of what the Buddha Taught – the Three Evils of ‘Lobha, Dosa, Moha’!

        • 4

          Hamlet —————————————– Now the project has been given to a failed minister of power Ranawaka Arachchige Patali Champika Ranawaka who is also a public racist. What chance Colombo city has of becoming another Singapore given that a tried and failed minister is in charge of the megapolis ministry? I am not sure whether Champika knows how to change a light bulb?

  • 4

    Zahran Sikkanther Lebbe concludes: “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. Having recycled the virtues of Singapore Zahran Sikkanther Lebbe wants only Colombo to be developed. He may hide behind the theory “If Colombo develops, so will the rest of the country”. On the contrary Colombo will develop if attention is paid to rest of Lanka – more public and private schools, hospitals, industrial zones and the like. Singapore is corruption-free and there is law and order. These must be installed in Lanka first. Zahran Sikkanther Lebbe: You must join hands with Nagananda

  • 2

    Singapore is a country Colombo is a city

    Instead of spending billions of rupees in re branding Colombo ; first re-brand the image of Sri Lanka.Tourist don’t come to Sri Lanka to admire Colombo. They land in Colombo and then bugger off to underdeveloped but exotic sea sides and other tourist spots.>>>>>>>Sri Lanka is still famous for July 1983, Tamil Tigers and No Fire Zone.>>>>>You say to a foreigner I am from Sri Lanka then there is an admiration, “oh the land of Tamil Tigers”! then only they say I want to visit Sri Lanka its a beautiful country.>>>> thanks to Tamil Tigers for putting Sri Lanka on the tourist map.

    • 1

      And when they do a bit of pre-travel plan research on the Internet, they find it another Myanmar starting with Acon’s visa rejection to tourists being deported, arrested for various reasons connected to similar

  • 4

    One cannot “brand” and “market” a dud product. Colombo is just that. Singapore has a cabinet with politicians who specialise in their respective areas of expertise. For Eg. A doctor is the Minister for Health, A Teacher is the Minister for Education, An Army General the Minister for Defense. They are all University Graduates. Lankan politicos have barely passed O/Ls and are either the progeny of corrupt former politicians or thugs and crooks who are there to plunder. Perhaps Colombo should try modelling itself after Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Naypyidawor Pyongyang…. much better chances of success!

  • 3

    You must be joking man ..
    How do we become Singapore..?
    Since 1948, both political parties did not have any good plan to develop this country…leftist SLFP and rightist UNP have been ruling the country except a few leaders today all political parties or most of MPS have made their poats and position as money making business ..Look at the price of car MPS going to have 25 Millions ..look the salaries and luxury life style of MPs in SL? Some of them did not pass GCSE O/L I do not know what can they debate in parliament?
    You must be joking when you write this peice of writing and you dream to see Colombo city like that is Singapore..you must be dreaming.?
    Bring a leader who does not steal ?.who does not bribe?.today MR intreduce this culture of looting public money…a huge amount of money is looted by him?. Many MPS did do that?.
    So.we need a clean leadership askills former Singapore leader or like that of Malaysian leader Mahdhir. We do not have such leader . MS should do it but he does not use his power ..
    Punish all who looted public money ?
    Remove all who found guilty ?.
    Remove all.official linked with bribe and fraud
    Punching them.all will.help SL to.stop this corruption..
    Five judiciary to act swiftly on this ..
    Confiscate all property of looters of public money?
    Make sure no one take or give bribe ..
    Bring down all unnecessary public expenses ..
    Clearn the politics
    We need political correctNess.

  • 2

    Colombo must never become like Singapore. I have two reasons:

    Firstly, because the objective to ‘be like Singapore’ is nothing new to SL politics. It just means more of the same, and it will inevitably result in failure.

    Secondly, while Singapore appears to be an eminently liveable city it is actually a place where there is a lot of unhappiness and societal stress.

    I have lived in Singapore for half my life and therefore I speak from experience.

    • 5

      Rizwan ————————– “I have lived in Singapore for half my life and therefore I speak from experience.” ————–So you haven’t lived half of your life in this island which means you haven’t got enough experience to compare two countries. Well had you lived here during your prime the politicians and the bureaucrats with their cronies would have destroyed you by killing your hopes, aspirations, drive, creativity, …….. your dignity, ……………….. You should be happy at least you have lived half of your life outside the country.

      • 1

        Don’t assume that just because I have lived in another country I do not understand the difficulties of living in Sri Lanka. Of course I acknowledge that is significantly harder to live in Sri Lanka compared to Singapore.

        I want Sri Lanka to improve, but I disagree that Singapore should be used as an example. Singapore’s governance has changed over the years, and it is not the same governance that existed in the 70s and 80s which led to its explosive growth. The current government is not corrupt and is also made up of well meaning individuals, but still the economic policies they follow are harmful to the country’s development. Singapore is destined for an economic crash which will result in high unemployment, stress and difficulties. This might just cause adverse political change, or if the same politicians remain, it could result in doubling down on existing harmful (but well meaning) policies.

        As things get worse Singapore could be headed the way of Sri Lanka where good politicians are replaced by bad ones. Some would say that Singapore was destined to become like Sri Lanka just because its people, like us, put great stock in the politicians to deliver, when actually the truth is that politicians cannot deliver anything at all. It is the people who deliver for themselves and the politicians would do best to leave them alone and give them their freedom.

        So I regard Singapore and Sri Lanka as having the very same policies now. Plants at different stages of growth. But Sri Lanka is further down that road to doom compared to Singapore. The good news is Sri Lanka’s future is destined for a collapse of the public sector and Rupee, and shrinking of government. With a new constitution coming soon perhaps stability can be got and a government that can stay small. Under such a situation Sri Lanka might thrive and forge its own tale, completely different to Singapore’s tale or the tales of other success nations.

        Between the two countries I am more optimistic about Sri Lanka.

  • 3

    Under Lee there would have been no tigers or Rajapaksas nor a parliament filled with greedy uneducated thieves sucking the public purse dry.
    Lee a Cambridge educated lawyer would have turned this wonderful piece of real estate into an orderly law abiding paradise with proper towns and world class public transport along with foreign investment and jobs.
    Unruly fake Buddhist monks causing trouble,doctors and others on strike for political reasons would be given offers they can’t refuse.Very low crime and corruption corporal and capital punishment plus long jail terms especially for our robber politicos.
    White vans controlled by uneducated low life abducting and killing opponents, not a chance courts will bankrupt opposition.
    This mess being Singapore, not a chance in hell.

    • 0

      Bravo racist Gamini, Lee talked a lot about the Lankawe government and Tamils, but very little about JVP. So there are lot of good reasons and substantiations for why you must remember LTTE and should conveniently forget JVP. I know Lee would have been good in suppressing LTTE, along with Old Royals and uneducated parliamentarians, but patting on JVP’s and your back saying Bravo. Still can I ask you question? How did the Island’s most crime free people(North) came to be needed Lee like person to control them? Put it in you head my friend, it is not uneducated parliamentarian created LTTE, you National father DS, the best lawyer JR, Oxford educated and SWRD fired the Tamil who were occupying the 75% of the employment sector and turned them into LTTE. If you don’t know the Lankawe history, please don’t put the LTTE in line with world’s most notorious criminals Old Royals, uneducated parliamentarian and with the Rapist army or in line with you. They were most disciplined organization when they existed. Please remember one thing, as long as you act like fake gentleman, it is you who are destroying the country more than LTTE or
      Old Royals, or uneducated greedy parliamentarians. Unfortunately even Lee wouldn’t have methods to deal with Sinhala Intellectuals like you, who would run your politics for another century on the name of LTTE, colleague

  • 2

    Without finding a workable solution for the garbage problem they are trying to hoodwink the masses. Successive governments ruled since the independence for 70 years failed miserably in their duties. Therefore the mission of making Sri Lanka like Singapore will never realize. People of Sri Lanka have already lost the hope with the politicians.

  • 1

    This present stock of Politicians, officials will have to be nuked in tandem. Make sure none of them escape. Then import an entire shipload of trained administrators from Singapore and have no elections for the next twenty five years.

    This country may become like (i stress the word LIKE) Singapore.

    Sri Lanka, what a beautiful country with such ugly and atrocious, ruthless, politicians, thieves, and thugs ruling it.

    Added to that now unruly monks !!

    No chance in hell to become like Singapore.

    Be content with the fate and lead your life.

  • 2

    You ll never catch up Singapore. The cap will be widening further. SL travel on negative direction. if it is around the globe perhaps two lines may meet. But straight line on opposite directions will never meet

    • 0

      I am told that the world is a globe.


  • 0

    I guess 80% of this article explains existing infrastructure development, BRANDING is just one tiny element of a complex marketing effort. On way forward writer explains his suggestions various branding activities which probably be ATL and BTL activities, none of the points mentioned will have a significant affect or any for explained in content to Sri Lanka’s development.. A professional town planning does not need branding, besides more developed cities in the world now do away with loud branding such as Large Bill Boards and Advertising Screens in public places… What Sri Lanka require is a long term marketing strategy, by 2020 50% of apartment complexes built right now will not have tenants. We have left a goldmine of a brand (Ceylon Tea) left to rotten and let its popularity hijacked by new market players. We should be hiring Sri Lanka’s best marketing professional to steer this brand. Another goldmine is our tourist industry we need a national policy in place for this sector, every time a new minister appointed whole strategy of Tourist Board changes, we need a policy in place a strategy in place who ever get appointed to head the ministry or board should only continue executing the long term plan. In my opinion government should appoint a committee to develop a long term strategy to Promote Sri Lanka, with respected professionals in marketing, finance, IT, with representatives from tea, apparel industry, gem etc. to conduct open forums for a period of 12 months to formulate a long term strategy. 01 forum a month would be ideal. With all gathered information the committee should recommend their plan, this plan should be approved by the parliament as Sri Lanka’s National Policy. Policy that would stay intact even during a regime change.

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