Tourists to help boost Lankan tourism | Sunday Observer

Tourists to help boost Lankan tourism

Though many countries issued a travel ban on Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attack, they had started to relax the restrictions by the end of May. China, Germany, India, Sweden and Switzerland were some countries which had already lifted the travel ban, according to Government Information Department/Foreign Ministry sources.

Just three weeks after the devastating Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, Deborah and Victor from the United Kingdom were among a handful of foreigners arriving in the island. As a number of countries issued travel advisories against travelling to Sri Lanka many tourists had already cancelled their holidays to the country, concerned about possible terror attacks. According to the couple, hearing about the terrorist attacks which left over 250 people including foreigners dead, they too had initially questioned the decision to holiday in Sri Lanka. The couple, however, was among the small number of tourists that trickled into the country in spite of the incidents of April 21.

“Our relatives and friends tried to dissuade us from visiting Sri Lanka,” Deborah said. Victor was also concerned initially. She considers that terror attacks take place the world over, hence, the couple had decided to continue with their long-awaited holiday. Arriving in the island, the couple says they now have no regrets about the decision.

“Sri Lanka is still an amazing country which deserves to be visited,” she said adding that the increased security was also comforting. But seeing the devastating effect the bombings have had on small businesses which depend on tourists is upsetting according to the couple. “We really feel for the people who have lost jobs and business as a result” she noted.

Those such as Sato Keiko, a tourist from Japan, has been making the most of this opportunity by making it a positive travel experience even though security concerns had weighed on his mind. As most tourist hotels and attractions remain empty Keiko who has travelled to Sri Lanka on previous occasions said this has been his best visit to the country. “I have never experienced a situation like this before,” he said. He has managed to avail himself of the discounts offered by hotels after the attacks in a bid to attract tourists.

“I have managed to save a significant amount of money,” he said. According to Keiko, it was also an opportunity to travel and discover Sri Lanka undisturbed by hordes of other tourists. Travelling to Ella, Sigiriya, Kandy and Yala, Keiko said he was able to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka as never before.

Earlier in the year, Sri Lanka was ranked as the number one travel destination in 2019 by Lonely Planet and the country was well on its way to developing its tourism industry. But with the attacks happening at a time where Sri Lanka often sees a peak in tourist arrivals, the handful of visitors have been insufficient to enable the tourism industry to get back on its feet.

According to Sri Wijeratne, a Guest Service Agent at Anantara Hotel, Tangalle the fate of the industry has now become a national crisis. “Bookings up to December were cancelled by guests after the attacks” he revealed adding that large amounts had to be refunded leaving the businesses in dire straits.

The issues have left small hotels owners with no choice but to close shop as operational costs continued to rise. “Most hotels are employing cost reduction methods now” he added.

While Sri Lanka experienced nearly 4500 tourist arrivals daily prior to the attacks, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), Kishu Gomes, claims that arrivals dropped to a near zero right after April 21. According to him, the authorities are doing their utmost to assure foreign governments about travel safety in Sri Lanka. “We have given the message to the embassies that Sri Lanka has assured the security within the country,” he said. He hoped has normalcy returns bookings will increase in the coming months. The picture brightens up as many countries have moved to relax advisories against travel to Sri Lanka issued at the time.

Clarifying the steps taken by the SLTPB Gomes said, that soon after the incident the Tourism Board introduced tourist products, brands and services to increase promotions and services provided for tourists. “Also there are international events coming up in the next few months such as golf, basketball, surfing events, a wildlife conference and Sancharaka Udawa. In addition, there will be international tourist promotional events in Sri Lanka” he said.

Understanding the effect the attacks have had on the tourism industry which earns a significant revenue for the country, the Government has extended their support through various methods. While the sector is expected to lose close to USD 1.5 billion in revenue the Ministry of Finance has also planned to provide financial relief to those affected in the tourism industry. Despite the obstacles, Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera recently assured the country that the industry will bounce back within a short period.

Meanwhile, following the attacks , some tourists holidaying in the island have also attempted to promote Sri Lanka and extend their support to the ailing tourism industry.

Many of them posting on social media sites such as Instagram have tried to convince and assure others that the country is now safe. Indian tourist Karan Waghmar, who is currently holidaying in the island says he too will share his experiences on social media in a bid to support the tourist industry in Sri Lanka. “Sri Lanka has a bright future in tourism” he pointed out hoping the information he shares will encourage others to visit.