Sri Lanka: The Jetwing Story!

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The Jetwing Story

The Jetwing brand is the largest independent business group in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry today. Founded by the late Herbert Cooray, it’s a brand synonymous with Sri Lanka; unique locations, luxury accommodation, and a commitment to sustainability and conservation.

From Colombo through the central highlands, southeastern plains to the Indian Ocean, we experienced Jetwing Hotel’s hospitality. Each property was unique, yet they all maintained a consistent Jetwing ethos, sustainability, community projects, caring for the country and its people.

It got me thinking, what is the Jetwing story?

As I researched, it became clear, there would be no Jetwing story without Herbert Cooray.

Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka.


Introducing Herbert Cooray, founder of the Jetwing Group

Born in Kosgama, 40 odd kilometres from Colombo, on January 27th, 1929, to building contractor, Jeramius Cooray and his wife, Lucy Wijegunawardena, Herbert Cooray’s early years were much like every kid in the village.

He rode to school by bull-cart with Neville, his older brother, played games in the rain with the other kids, and generally got into mischief like any young lad.

It wasn’t until secondary school that Herbert received a reality check. Lucy insisted the two boys be educated in Colombo.

Jeramius wasn’t keen but he knew what he was up against, after all, Lucy’s strong will was evident when she kept her maiden name after marrying him in 1926.

Sri Lanka: Colombo, the Commercial Capital.

Experiencing a period of bullying by classmates (and some teachers), Herbert developed a natural affiliation with those ill-treated or oppressed, rebelling against authority and empathising with the underdog.

By university he realised, to be able to help people, he needed the establishment or, at least, be in a position to debate the issues. He launched a campaign for the presidency of University of Ceylon’s Student Council and won.

Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka.


Laying the Foundations

After university, Herbert was unsure of his direction. A stint studying law preceded a position teaching English before he settled into an insurance sales role. With a small base salary padded by commissions, Herbert’s entrepreneurial side emerged. He realised the harder he worked, the more he made.

As a prolific reader, he learned much about investing, set his sights on travel, and eventually followed his father’s footsteps into the construction business.

A building contract for what was then Seashells Hotel in Negombo was the catalyst for Herbert to purchase land nearby and launch his first hotel project – Blue Oceanic.

Negombo. Sri Lanka.

The planned 60 room Blue Oceanic Hotel opened a lot earlier than planned in 1973 with only six rooms completed. The demand at that time was so great.

Tourism in Sri Lanka in the 1970s was, for the most part, sold as group packages. To get a slice of the action, a relationship with a foreign travel agency and tour operator was imperative. At the time, these foreign agencies and tour operators held the power over a property’s occupancy.

One such tour operator working with a travel agency in Colombo inspected Blue Oceanic with the intention of booking a group and convinced Herbert to start his own travel agency. If he did, the tour operator’s German clients would be his. A compromise was reached and early Jetwing Travels was born. It was 1981.

Galle. Sri Lanka.


Nurturing the Passion

Herbert’s true love was the hotels themselves. Discovering locations within Sri Lanka’s natural beauty; conceptualising and creating the structure with minimal impact on the environment; employing and training people from that particular area.

To turn his vision into reality, it came down to choosing the right people. In Shiromal Cooray’s book, “A Man In His Time, The Jetwing Story and the Life of Herbert Cooray”, she quotes Herbert as saying:

“You can’t teach someone to smile. You can’t teach someone to serve others well, you can’t teach personality, you can’t teach a person to be passionate about what they are doing. But you can find people with those qualities and teach them what to do.”

Jetwing Kaduruketha. Sri Lanka.


The Legacy Lives On

Herbert Cooray died in 2008, just one year before the end of the civil war. Through three decades of violence, he continued his passionate campaign for Sri Lanka’s tourism.

Stepping up, both daughter, Shiromal and son, Hiran, have continued Herbert Cooray’s legacy.

The Jetwing portfolio is not a “seen one, seen them all” hotel chain. Each property is individual, but the company vision remains consistent throughout.

With beach villas including a chef, butler, and maid; sustainable eco-lodge resorts; boutique and star-classed hotels; homestays, glamping resorts, and a houseboat, Jetwing Hotels encapsulate Herbert Cooray’s vision.

Yala. Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s diverse regions and the variety of experiences can make planning an adventure overwhelming.  It’s here that Jetwing Travels are a lifesaver.

With their 38 years of experience, Jetwing Travels work itineraries around the seasons, the traveller’s timeframe and your preferred activities.

Offering transport, informative guides, tickets to attractions and hotel reservations as a complete package, Jetwing Travels takes the uncertainty and, let’s face it, the hassle out of planning your trip.

Itinerary examples are prepared and discussed prior to confirmation and information is supplied for each suggested location. Tailoring itineraries to suit the traveller’s needs is the ultimate goal.

Yala. Sri Lanka.

For first-time Sri Lanka visitors, Jetwing Travels is definitely worth considering. From our experience, we can highly recommend Sanjeewa. He did his utmost to ensure we saw as much of Sri Lanka as time allowed. With some email discussion, we ended up with an excellent itinerary.

Duminda (our guide/ driver) shared his extensive knowledge of Sri Lanka’s history, politics and culture, ensuring we were far better informed than had we been left to our own devices.

His years of experience with Jetwing Travels meant we avoided scams, took shortcuts to avoid traffic congestion and he introduced us to scrumptious snacks from the roadside.

Kandy. Sri Lanka.

It’s heartwarming to see Herbert Cooray’s vision still evident in the Jetwing Group’s properties and travel experiences. You have to take your hat off to him, it wasn’t an easy task.

When you stay at a Jetwing property, read Shiromal’s book, it’ll have you admiring a man who was a socialist – English teacher – insurance salesman – developer before finding his true passion in hospitality.

Herbert Cooray’s legacy lives on and that’s a thing we love….

Negombo. Sri Lanka.

Disclaimer: This article contains discounts and upgrades that will never affect our 100% honest opinions.

To book any of the Jetwing properties, simply use the search window below. For a bespoke Sri Lanka itinerary, contact

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Getting around Sri Lanka.

Distances can be deceiving. Few highways exist, though this is changing, single-lane roads are what you’ll be taking for now. Although the road quality is pretty good, they weave and wind and the number of tuk-tuks make for slow going.

Your Über app works in Sri Lanka for private cars, taxis and tuk-tuks.

Trains are inexpensive and plentiful. From Colombo, Kandy can be reached in 3 hours, Nuwara Eliya in a bit over 6, Ella in just under 9 and to reach Galle on the coast it’s just 2 hours.

When to go?

Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, ‘Yala’ in the west-south-west from April/ May to September, and ‘Maha’ in the east from November to March.

The heaviest rainfall occurs during Yala from April to June and Maha from November to December.

Take the monsoon seasons seriously. Wind and rain can cause major delays for road and train travel.


Our Sri Lanka Adventure

For detailed info on planning your adventure please see “Sri Lanka: Where to Begin?”

Sri Lanka: Colombo, the Commerical Capital! gives an overview of where to #eat #drink #explore #shop & #stay in the commercial capital.

If you’re interested in road-tripping Sri Lanka, our first leg is covered in Sri Lanka: Colombo to Kandy Road Trip!

Continuing through tea country on Sri Lanka’s famous Blue Train can be found in Sri Lanka Road Trip: Hill Country, Highlands & Plains!

For a unique experience at Sri Lanka’s first Agro-Eco-Luxury resort, please follow this link to Sri Lanka: Kaduruketha.

If it’s wildlife you’re seeking, then don’t miss Sri Lanka: Yala National Park & the Beach!

Galle, on the southwestern coast, oozes history at the Dutch Fort and Mirissa is the place to see Blue Whales and Dolphins. For more, check out Sri Lanka: The Coast Road from Yala to Galle!

Negombo is perfect as the beginning or end of your adventure because it’s close to Bandaranaike International Airport. Take a look at Sri Lanka: Negombo, Our Final Road Trip Destination! where you’ll find all you need to know before you go.


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