ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka's hotels are getting tourists despite a political crisis that hit the country last Friday, and the industry is scrambling to reassure tourists, officials said, while travel advisories were issued by authorities in several key markets.
"We have not had any major cancellations in hotels," The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka President Sanath Ukwatte said.
"We have had inquiries from travel agencies whether everything is safe in Colombo, and we have briefed them that it's absolutely safe for travel, and transport is working as normal."
Officials of several hotels who did not wish to be named said there were a few cancellations, even from India, which is Sri Lanka's largest market.
A recently opened city hotel of a major international chain said a slowdown was seen in forward bookings especially in business travelers, but potential guests were being informed about safety arrangements.
"We are monitoring forward bookings and have seen a slow-down for the coming week as some business travellers have re-scheduled their plans,” Shangri-La Colombo Vice President/General Manager Timothy Wright said.
"A few events have also been postponed."
"We are currently hosting a couple of large international conferences and the events and delegates have been unaffected by the local political situation. They have continued as scheduled as they are reassured by our safety and security measures," he said.
At least four countries, the UK, the US, Australia and Canada have issued travel warnings for tourists visiting Sri Lanka.
The British market is the third largest for Sri Lanka, while Australia is one of the fastest growing.
Sri Lanka plunged into a constitutional crisis on Friday when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place in a controversial move.
There have been at least two major protests in the capital and suburbs which were peaceful.
Ukwatte said that no tourists have been affected in any incident so far, and locals do not drag foreign visitors into political activities.
He said with WTM London, the world's largest travel trade show, kicking off this weekend, Sri Lankan tourism and hospitality firms intend to further reassure foreign travel agencies on local safety and build on the recent boost the industry received.
"We have had a huge boost for tourism with Lonely Planet naming us as the world's best destination," he said.
He said the government is finally launching major promotional activities, and the 'So Sri Lanka' tagline and logo will be unveiled at WTM London, along with the new two million dollar marketing campaign.
A digital marketing campaign, an off-peak season campaign and a television advertising campaign are currently running after no activity for nearly three years.
Levies collected from formal tourism and hospitality businesses and the airport tax fund promotional activities.
Ukwatte played down any effect of the political crisis spilling onto the marketing efforts of the government.
"There's not really (an effect). Tourism is mainly private sector driven, and any government coming or going will not have a major implication on tourism industry."
"Any government will want to keep improving tourism because it's a major foreign exchange earner and employer," he said.
However, when the government changed in 2015, now ousted Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga halted the tendering of the tourism promotions campaign alleging corruption, and it was delayed for three years.
During the period, many hotels went through difficulties, causing the industry to consolidate.
There was also uncertainty at Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau amid the political turmoil with its chairman leaving, sources said.The managing director also left as his contract was yet to be extended by cabinet after expiry on November 01.
In a speech at the ministry, newly appointed Tourism Minister Vasantha Senanayake had said that he would not interfere with tourism promotions now being launched, official sources said.
Sri Lanka is targeting 2.5 million tourists this year, up from 2.1 million in 2017. (Colombo/Nov02/2018)