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Sri Lanka expects quicker recovery in tourism: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tourism minister said he expected the country’s tourism industry to bounce back in as little as three months, with security authorities rapidly closing down a terror network, after holidaymakers avoided the island following co-ordinated bombings on Easter Sunday.

"We will bounce back in the next three months," John Amaratunga told reporters in Colombo on Friday.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Kishu Gomes said earlier in the week that it had taken an average of 13 months for other countries to recover from similar events.

He said in the first week of May about 1,700 tourists were arriving daily, compared to about 4,200 a day last May or a 60 percent fall from a year earlier. Gomez said Sri Lanka may be able to end the year with a 30 percent downturn if no new attacks take place.

Amaratunga however said that a recovery was already underway and arrivals were improving daily.

"Tourist arrivals are continuing to rebound faster than expected," he said. "In fact, 2,000 tourists continue to arrive on a daily basis."

"People who want to come are observing and watching to see how the situation is, so if nothing happens over the next few days or weeks it will bounce back."

"Some of the airlines confessed that bookings for June and July have not taken place."

So far, 37 countries have issued travel advisories to their citizens on travelling to Sri Lanka.

Amaratunga said the government is in talks with ambassadors to lift these advisories, but they had informed that more time is needed to evaluate the situation.

He said global tourism hubs recovered fast after terror attacks.

"New York, Boston, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Istanbul, Mumbai, Tokyo and Auckland have all been victims of terror attacks."

"These places have bounced back in a short period of time, and I don’t see how this is any different here, now that all the culprits have been arrested."

Amaratunga said Sri Lanka’s military top brass have assured of continued safety, while the government has approved a tourism insurance scheme for visitors.

Sri Lanka’s police and government had failed to act on warnings by India that a churches would be attacked by an extremist Muslim group. However the police and military had since arrested most of those directly linked to the attacks.

"Sri Lanka is open for business," Amaratunga said. "I’m quite confident that the message can be sent around. We still have seven months to capitalize on the global recognition bestowed by Lonely Planet."

"The tourism industry has seen darker days in the past," he said, referring to a 30-year civil war which ended in 2009 and started the tourism boom of the past decade.

Middle East based Islamic State has claimed responsibility for attacks carried out by local extremist Muslim organizations which apparently had links to the group, killing over 250 people in Churches and hotels, including tourists.

Sri Lanka has already banned two organizations, National Thowheed Jamath and Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem, which have links to Islamic state killed over over 250 people in co-ordinated bombings on Easter Sunday.

Gomes had declined to comment on the damage the security lapses and the immediate behaviour of the politicians had caused on the confidence of tourists on Sri Lanka.

The attacks took place at the start of Sri Lanka’s off-season for tourism, which runs from May to June and September to November. (Colombo/May13/2019)