Sri Lanka expects tourist arrivals to fully recover in weeks: minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is expecting its tourism industry to recover from Easter Sunday attacks, to prior year levels within weeks after a hit from the Easter Sunday terror attack, Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga said.

"In August, arrivals have reached 5,000 in some days, and even 6,000," Minister Amaratunga told reporters in Colombo.

In August 2018, arrivals had averaged 6,463.2 a day.

Kishu Gomes, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, said the arrivals started that average arrivals were 4,700 in the first 20 days with arrivals picking up to 5000 to 6,000 in the past few days.

Amaratunga said that with the current momentum, arrivals to Sri Lanka will recover in weeks, rather than months, backed by a re-endorsement of the country as the world’s top destination by Lonely Planet, and Travel and Leisure naming it the world’s top island.

"We are almost there and it is now a matter of weeks rather than months for the industry to return to normal," he said.

Sri Lanka’s current administration had re-built links with the West and key markets like UK and Germany, which also influenced global travel insurers and operators by relaxing advisories fast, as police rapidly shut down an Islamist group that carried out the bombing.

Sri Lanka had earlier expected arrivals to recover over a 13 to 18 month period given the experience of other countries that had seen bomb attacks.

July and August form a mini-peak with a Perahera cultural festival in Kandy.  Sri Lanka’s winter season peak runs from about October to March. The blasts hit during the off-season.

Gomes said that arrivals are expected to reach 175,000 in August, compared to 200,359 a year earlier, with a late month boost from a Bohra convention which will bring 25,000 visitors to Sri Lanka.

He said that visitor levels may even surpass the September and October records set in 2018, in the run to achieve a 2 million arrivals target set after the Easter Sunday setback.

"September last year was 149,000 tourists and October was 153,000, so we believe with the trend we see, we will be able to surpass those numbers this September and October."

Two million tourist arrivals would mean a 14.3 percent fall for 2019 from a year earlier.

However, arrivals had not met state-set targets in recent years.

Despite a fast recovery in arrivals from a 70.8 percent fall in May following the bombings, the central bank had said that tourism earnings would take longer to recover, as hotels are full in the winter season due to large discounts offered.

Some hotels had offered half-priced rooms running as far ahead as August 2020, amid the panic after the attack. (Colombo/Aug23/2019)