Winter season begins: Tour operators hope for the best | Sunday Observer

Winter season begins: Tour operators hope for the best

Tour operators are looking for a silver lining as the industry gasps for survival following the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

A tourism expert said exaggeration or over-sharing of information relating to election misconduct or violence could have an adverse effect on the still recovering industry, as Sri Lanka embarks on the sunny-period for travellers.

Senior lecturer at the University of Colombo, Sampath Siriwardena points out yesterday’s Presidential Election, has already cost the country over Rs. 7 billion.

Several countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia have slapped advisories against the island warning of possible violent incidents and particularly advised travellers to avoid political rallies that have now ended.

Siriwardena who has observed tourist behaviour, said during election time, travellers are reluctant to visit a destination, and during such times the industry sees a drastic reduction of visitors. For Sri Lanka, the hit will come from high spending European travellers as opposed to Indian and Chinese tourists who make up the top two tourist markets in Sri Lanka.

Tourists, Siriwardena explained, make their travelling decisions based on what they read in the media or social media platforms.

“Therefore, it is vital to have a peaceful and transparent election (yesterday),” he told the Sunday Observer.

He added that the solution for this is to avoid exaggeration and mass-sharing of information that is violent in nature.

However, doubt is already settling as to whether the travellers have enough time to wait and plan their visits with the winter season just around the corner. Roshi Stronach, a member of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) is weighing the response Sri Lanka received at the World Travel Market in London this year. “Which is not very good,” she said, adding that it reflects on the traveller bookings they have received. Usually during this time, the hotels are over-booked but this year hotels are barely seeing over 50 per cent in bookings.

The Easter Sunday bombings brought the booming tourism industry to a standstill when the attackers targeted four luxury hotels and carried out attacks in three, killing over 250 persons including over 40 foreign nationals.

Last month saw a decrease of 22.5 per cent in the number of tourist arrivals compared to the corresponding period last year. The industry is seeing a gradual recovery. In May, soon after the April attacks the number of arrivals dropped by 70.8 per cent compared to the same month last year.

Tourism veteran Chandra Wickramasinghe is anticipating a hike in arrivals after November 21 as the season starts.

“The best time for tourism is from November 21 to end of March. By then the tourist bookings will begin unless some catastrophic takes place,” a hopeful Wickramasinghe said, adding that the new President will take over at a sunny time for tourism with the upcoming season.

His view is that the election period would not have a negative impact in tourist bookings that is already seeing about a 50 per cent drop since the Easter attacks. He too depends mostly on European visitors.