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.