Exorbitant airfares from Europe hamper tourist arrivals | Sunday Observer

Exorbitant airfares from Europe hamper tourist arrivals

Dietmar Doering
Dietmar Doering

The revival and development of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka depends lot on slashing the exorbitantly high airfares especially from Europe to Sri Lanka which could be achieved by negotiating with major carriers from Europe, said Aquarius Resorts (Pvt) Ltd., CEO Dr. Dietmar Doering.

He said the tourism ministry has been unable to tackle the issue of exorbitant airfares from Europe to Sri Lanka.

First-time travellers from Europe could become ‘repeaters’ if reasonable airfares are offered, but unfortunately, there is still no sign of seeing any meaningful efforts to take up this important issue directly with the international airlines concerned.

“It would have been a promising step to directly invite the heads of Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Oman Air and Turkish Airlines, (the major carriers from Europe) to Sri Lanka, for a discussion to sort out the question of costly airfares to Colombo,” Doering said.

The minister of tourism could have made this a priority ‘must do’ on his calendar as exorbitant airfares are a disincentive to prospective European travelers. There is sufficient room for airlines to offer airfares in the range of 450 to 500 Euros per traveler to Sri Lanka, which is already on offer for other destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam.

The minister should intervene in this matter and this has to happen swiftly before Sri Lanka’s tourism industry slides further downward.

The Tourism Ministry should take steps to invite airline bosses to Colombo and work out reasonable airfare structures from Europe, which was at one time the major market for Sri Lanka, but has dwindled significantly in recent times.

The high-end spenders are the Europeans, and at the same time, more Europeans tend to do their bookings online, avoiding tour operator services. This was one of the key factors which led to the recent collapse of the tour operator giant Thomas Cook.

“Sri Lanka’s tourism is still struggling to achieve an annual 2.3 million tourist arrivals target, while being outperformed by Vietnam, which has reached a remarkable 10 million tourists so far this year. Thailand and Malaysia are eying 40 million annual arrivals by the end of 2019,” Doering said.

Another disincentive is the six-month period termed ‘off season’ in Sri Lanka. It’s a misnomer, which discourages potential travelers as the misconception virtually paralyzes the east and west coastal tourist centers for six months each year. Unlike in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, there are no devastating storms, which batter the island placing lives at risk. Sri Lanka is not exposed to such harsh weather conditions. Tourists can enjoy Sri Lanka’s bounty of attractions at any time of the year.

However, he said Sri Lanka has the potential and the ideal recipe to allure at least nine million tourists per year, at least five million for a start. With a pragmatic approach backed by systematic planning, this big dream can be realized. Vietnam fought a long, protracted war. It was the mostly heavily bombed country in history, with more than 6.1 million tons of bombs dropped on it by the USA and their allies during the Vietnam war, compared to 2.1 million tons in World War II.

What is Vietnam’s position now as a nation, which virtually rose from the ashes? Today, the country attracts an incredible 10 million plus tourists per year!

Thailand is way ahead of us with 30 million annual arrivals, while resplendent Sri Lanka is still struggling to reach even the three million mark. Even ‘Lonely Planet’ has acknowledged that this ‘Land Like No Other’ is an “Incredible Place to Visit”, but then why is it that the country cannot attract even half the number of tourists that Vietnam boasts of ?, the industry expert queried.

He said that vigorous international promotional campaigns are helpful, but to start with, the airfare to a destination should be the initial attraction, as prices are key to the average traveler. A holiday-maker keen to visit Sri Lanka will think twice because the airfares from Europe to Colombo are more expensive in comparison to most other popular destinations in the region (example: Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore).