Hollywood celebs wax lyrical on Sri Lanka in big boost to tourism

ECONOMYNEXT- A host of Hollywood celebrities visited Sri Lanka over the past week, poised to give the island’s tourism industry, currently recovering from the Easter Sunday terror attack, a major boost.

Social media networks Twitter and Instagram were abuzz with photos being shared of Hollywood stars Margot Robbie, Melissa Benoist and Bill Skarsgard visiting Sri Lanka over the past week.

You are beautiful

Melissa Benoist, who currently plays the eponymous Supergirl in the fifth season of the show and also had a starring role in the hit musical-comedy serial Glee, on Monday evening posted her adventures in Sri Lanka to her 3.9 million Instagram followers, sparking enthusiasm for the country.

“Ayubowan, Sri Lanka, you are beautiful and we loved you,” Benoist said, in a post which included a picture of her travelling on a train with her husband Christopher Wood, who co-starred with her in the early seasons of Supergirl.

Benoist also shared snaps of heritage sights in Polonnaruwa and Dambulla, and a wild elephant by the roadside.

View this post on Instagram

Ayubowan, Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 you are beautiful and we loved you

A post shared by Melissa Benoist (@melissabenoist) on

Krishan Balendra, Chairman of John Keells Holdings, which owns Sri Lanka’s largest hotel chain Cinnamon, told Economynext that the growing attention for the country among celebrities at this juncture was good news, and the word of mouth among their social circles would boost the country.

“High profile celebrities visiting Sri Lanka and sharing their experiences on social media will help to boost tourism to the country, particularly the higher-end segment,” he said.

Cinnamon has its fair share of hosting celebrities in Sri Lanka such as British cooking show host Nigella Lawson and CNN’s Richard Quest, in its initiatives to boost the country’s tourism industry.

Harith Perera, Immediate Past President of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators, told EconomyNext that famous celebrities visiting the island following the downturn was ‘fantastic news’.

Dying to Visit

Meanwhile, Margot Robbie, one of the world’s biggest stars, was also visiting the island, and stayed at Aathma House Colombo, a luxury boutique hotel, which shared the news on Instagram.

“Absolute pleasure hosting the lovely, super talented Margot Robbie,” the hotel said.

Robbie, who rose to international fame on her performances on the television series Pan-Am and the blockbusters Wolf of Wall Street, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, told the fashion magazine Vogue in June 2019, that Sri Lanka was the top country she was ‘dying to visit’.

Robbie is yet to share snaps of her trip with her 17.9 million Instagram followers, but on her trip out of Sri Lanka was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for portraying Fox News employee Kayla Pospisil on the motion picture Bombshell, a true story which tackles sexual harassment at the television network.

Bill Skarsgard, star of the billion-dollar grossing IT franchise was snapped by his wife Alida Morberg during a trip to the island over the past week as well.

Skarsgård, a part of a Swedish acting dynasty, plays IT/Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the series, which is an adaptation of a Stephen King book.

The A-list of Destinations

Sri Lanka has hosted celebrities such as Game of Thrones stars Kit Harington and Rose Leslie in 2017 and musician Macklemore in 2014. X-Files and Sex Education’s Gillian Anderson even owns a home in the island.

The go-to destination for A-list celebrities in South Asia has typically been the neighbouring Maldives, with the archipelago’s white sand beaches, turquoise waters and exclusive resorts providing privacy.

Ten years after the end of a civil war, Sri Lanka has yet to transform into a mass-market tourism destination, but is now counted among the A-list of countries to visit, being featured high up in top places by almost all major global travel and lifestyle publications over the past two years.

Many urge their readers to visit the island before it loses its charm.

Readers of the upscale travel magazine Conde Nast in November voted Sri Lanka the fourth best country to visit in 2019.

Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the best destination to visit in 2019 shortly before Islamist suicide bombers targeted three hotels and churches, but later re-affirmed its stance, saying the country was safe to travel to once more.

As the island quickly shut down the terror network, travel advisories were lifted.

Arrivals to Sri Lanka fell 18 percent to 1.9 million tourists in 2019, but had recovered to a 4.5 percent fall by December, from a 70.8 percent fall in May, due to the quick lifting of travel bans and support from travel publications.

The country has been striving to attract high-end tourists, as it is still seen as a frontier destination which is backpack and budget friendly.

Mid to high end group tourists, especially older Europeans couples and families, have been resistant on booking holidays to the island following the terror strikes, and hotels were offering rooms at half-price, placing even luxury resorts within the grasp of budget tourists, who made up most of the arrival numbers in the latter part of 2019.

Security concerns have been further alleviated with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, an ex-Defence Secretary, being elected President in November.

The President on January 13 set an ambitious target of reaching 10 billion US dollars in tourist earnings, from 4.5 billion US dollars in 2018.

However, tourism market efforts have languished in bureaucratic delays over the past decade, and word of mouth has been Sri Lanka tourism’s greatest friend. (Colombo/Jan15/2020)