Tourism industry undeterred by coronavirus | Sunday Observer

Tourism industry undeterred by coronavirus

9 February, 2020
Dr. Thilanga Ruwanpathirana speaks at the media briefing.  Pic: Samantha Weerasiri
Dr. Thilanga Ruwanpathirana speaks at the media briefing. Pic: Samantha Weerasiri

Sri Lanka will be carefully watching the impact of coronavirus and is hopeful that the spread of virus will phase off gradually. The country’s economy, in particularly tourism, construction and trade sectors face the threat of its adverse effects. However, the tourism industry is expecting to maintain the growth momentum, despite the gloomy situation it faces at present, Sri Lanka Tourism Chief Kimarli Fernando said in Colombo last week.

“This month will be worse, because all tour groups from China have been cancelling their visits,” she said.

Sri Lanka recorded 22,363 arrivals from China in January com­pared to 26,414 arrivals in January 2019. The tourism authorities are expecting a 14,000-15,000 drop in the number of Chinese tourist arrivals this month. Sri Lanka attracted 23,759 Chinese tourists in February last year.

Stressing the need for a proper communication mechanism regarding the coronavirus, Fernando emphasised that with more credible information being made available on the virus, the public would come into realisation the real gravity of the virus.

“It’s a learning process. Every­one was shocked with little information available on the out­break, but now we are more aware,” she added.

Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals declined by 7.4 per­cent year-on-year (YOY) to 226,094 in January with arrivals from China dropping 15.3 per­cent YOY amid the out­break of the new coronavirus, delaying the full recovery of the country’s tourism sector in the aftermath of Easter Sunday attacks.

In December last year, the decline of tourist arrivals decelerated 4.5 percent YOY from 70.8 percent YOY decline in May, in the immediate aftermath of Easter attacks, indicating a quick industry recovery.

January to March is considered to be the peak season for Chinese tourist arrivals where millions of Chinese travel across the world during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Chinese government has ordered travel and tourism companies to stop selling tour packages from January 24 to contain the outbreak while advising its citizen to restrict out­bound travel.

Sri Lanka has also suspended the issue of on arrival visas for Chinese nationals at BIA from January 28. However, the tourism industry fears a potential slow­down in global travel due to novel coronavirus concerns.

Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Travels Chairperson Shiromal Cooray said, “We had a good month in January as many Chinese tourists arrived in Sri Lanka right before Chinese New Year. We had three Chinese tour groups cancellations this month. Cancellations will be felt from this month. But we are still getting free independent travellers (FIT) from China.

“Moving forward, people becoming afraid to travel might become an issue. That’s the main concern for us more than the slow­down of the Chinese tourist arrivals,” she said.

Many Sri Lankans have cancelled their travel plans abroad with coronavirus spreading to over 25 countries and similarly foreign travellers might also limit their travel plans, she said.

Mean­while, Health Promotion Bureau Consultant Community Physician Dr. Priyanga Ranasinghe urged the public not to panic and get carried away with mis­leading information spreading on social media.

Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan issuing a statement last week said it was worrisome that some taxis, hotels and restaurants were refusing to entertain Chinese citizens in Sri Lanka.

“There’s only one case confirmed in Sri Lanka so far. The number of dengue cases is much more. Being a tourist is nothing to be stigmatised, but you have to be on alert and listen to the advice given by experts,” Dr. Ranasinghe said.

She noted that Health Promotion Bureau is currently monitoring the myths and rumours circulating on social media and measures are being taken to disseminate accurate information.

According to Health Ministry Consultant Epidemiologist Dr. Thilanga Ruwanpathirana, 20 people suspected of having the virus are under surveillance at five hospitals.

“We had one confirmed case as reported earlier this week. There are 20 suspected individuals under surveillance, that is five at IDH, two at National Hospital in Colombo, two at Karapitiya, three at Teaching Hospital in Kurunegala and eight at National Hospital in Kandy. All are healthy at the moment, however, we are keeping them under observations,” he said.

He noted that the Health Ministry, with the involvement of other state entities, has taken several measures to prevent coronavirus entering the country. The arriving passengers are required to fill health declaration forms including travel itineraries, which would be used to monitor them during 14 days incubation period of the virus.

All Chinese tourists, guides and drivers have been advised to wear face masks and to use hand sanitisers during tours.

“We shouldn’t discourage Chinese travellers visiting Sri Lanka. The best option is to take them around the country with all the precau­tions. This particular virus wouldn’t spread from swimming pools and bed linen. It can only be spread by droplets,” Dr. Ruwanpathirana said.