The latter part of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century brought about giant technological improvements in transportation. Railroads, ocean liners, automobiles, and airplanes became affordable modes of travel. Whereas traveling to the far corners of the earth had previously been the domain of explorers, fortune seekers, and colonial civil servants, the transport revolution enabled ordinary people to travel great distances in comfort and at reasonable cost. This new-found freedom to explore the world sparked a new type of traveler: the tourist. The era of travel for pleasure had dawned. By the 1920s tourism was a fast growing business with luxury cruise liners offering trips to exotic locales in faraway lands.


Throughout its history, Ceylon had always attracted foreign visitors. Due to its reputation as an island of great beauty, as well as being located in one of busiest sea lanes in the world, Ceylon became a popular port of call for every cruise liner that sailed to the Far East and beyond. In an attempt to promote tourism, the Colonial Administration established The Government Tourist Bureau in 1937. The primary objective of the organization was to provide services and facilities to the large number of passengers who sailed in to the port of Colombo aboard cruise liners. With the onset of the Second World War, however, tourist arrivals had reduced to a mere trickle and the Tourist Bureau ceased operations in 1940.

The advent of widespread intercontinental air travel after the war ushered in a new era in travel. Ceylon, which gained independence in 1948, reestablished the Tourist Bureau with the objective of promoting the country overseas and developing it as a popular travel destination. Together with the newly formed national carrier Ceylon Airways, the Tourist Bureau promoted Ceylon in countries where the Government had opened diplomatic missions. As the tourist industry grew, the responsibilities of the Government Tourist Bureau greatly increased and in 1966 it became the Ceylon Tourist Board.


The Government Tourist Bureau produced a variety of promotional materials including posters that highlighted the islands attractions. Following what seems to have been a popular custom; posters were selected through a series of poster competitions. Two artists, C. K. L. Samarasinha and G. S. Fernando, competed in many such poster competitions and their winning designs are some of the best known Ceylon travel posters from the postwar era.


With the advancements made in color photography and offset printing, hand-painted lithographic artworks had given way to photographic posters by the 1960s. Interestingly, one can observe the change in poster design and technology by comparing Ceylon travel posters of different eras. Government Tourist Bureau posters were hand drawn illustrations while Ceylon Tourist Board posters were all created with photographs. Not surprisingly, Ceylon travel posters from the forties are highly collectible because they are beautiful and nostalgic reminders of a bygone era.



Governments were very quick to use posters as a medium to disseminate information. We have already seen how, during wartime, the protagonists used posters as a propaganda and civil defense tool. Other government campaigns too found posters useful in spreading messages, providing instruction, lifting morale, and giving advice. These posters were usually sited in government buildings within areas that received heavy client traffic but the more propagandistic information was posted in public spaces.

Some of the earliest Ceylon Government posters were those utilized in the Malaria Eradication Campaign. Designed in Great Britain they were used throughout the colonies in affected areas. The use of DDT made a severe dent on malarial transmission in Sri Lanka but what role the posters played in suppressing the disease has not been recorded. Owing to the rural audience for anti-malarial messages and lower levels of literacy, graphics-rich posters were the medium of choice in carrying anti-malaria information. 

Apart from the ubiquitous political propaganda posters that sprang up every time there was an election, various government departments used posters to make the public aware of their services. Poster Competitions were a popular tradition in Ceylon that got local artists involved in designing posters. C.K.L. Samarasinha, Reggie Candappa, G.S. Fernando, and Victor de Mel were some of the artists whose reputations were built by winning these poster competitions. Some of the best known Ceylon posters were the result of such competitions.