Sri Lanka tourism starts to recover from political crisis hit

ECONOMYNEXT- Bookings at Sri Lankan hotels have started to recover in January 2019, industry officials said, after being hit from a political and economic crisis triggered by President Maithripala Sirisena in October, just as the peak tourism season was starting.

Sanath Ukwatte, head of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, an industry lobby group, said bookings have bounced back in January after a weak December, especially among hotels outside the capital Colombo.

"Now the season has properly started," Ukwatte said.  "More than the city, resorts outside are seeing occupancy of over 80 percent, and with good rates for rooms."

"Forward bookings are continuing strongly up to Easter," Ukwatte said.

Occupancy in Colombo city hotels have historically been higher than those outside, according to official data.

Hoteliers said in November that forward bookings were slowing down due to the political crisis that started in October. Business travelers had seen a reduction, some hoteliers said.

The peak winter season runs from December to around March/April.

President Sirisena suddenly appointed ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister on October 26, and illegally dissolved parliament.

Legislators loyal to Rajapaksa also rioted inside parliament destroying public property, forcing the Speaker to get police protection, generating global headlines, while others also joined the fray.

As political rallies mushroomed, there were several travel advisories amid warnings that there could be bloodbath if the crisis was not resolved.





Demonstrations turned out to be peaceful though there was one death, when trade unionists who surrounded a former minister were shot at.

Ukwatte blamed cancellations on travel advisories.

In December arrivals grew 3.5 percent after growing 16.5 percent in November.

November arrivals were higher amid the crisis due to more British tourists coming to watch England cricket team’s tour of Sri Lanka.

Direct flights from Australia and higher German arrivals also helped in November, before growth slowed in December.

Hiran Cooray, chairman of Sri Lanka’s Jetwing group, said business has picked up in January.

"Our hotels are having occupancies of around 80 to 90 percent," he said. "The numbers are somewhat similar to last year."

"If there was no political saga we could have done around 10 percent better," Cooray said.

State Finance Minister Eran Wickramaratne was quoted in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror newspaper saying that the tourism industry lost out on 250 million US dollars in earnings due to the crisis.

Assuming an average 11-day stay and 175 dollar daily spend of a tourst, Sri Lanka lost out on 130,000 potential tourists, going by the minister’s estimates.

However, business travellers’ daily spend is four times as much as an average leisure traveller, and a less number of such tourists could have generated higher revenue.

Sri Lanka ended the year with 2.33 million tourists, up 10.3 percent a year, though short of a target of 2.5 million, which tourism minister John Amaratunga also blamed on the political crisis. 

A spokesperson for the state’s tourism promotions office said the country being named the best to visit in 2019 by the travel publisher Lonely Planet on October 23 has generated interest among tourists.

Foreign bloggers and travel magazines have increased coverage of Sri Lanka after receiving the endorsement from Lonely Planet, the official said. 

The state had also launched a television promotion, off-season travel packages and a digital media campaign in 2018.

The three promotions in 2018 were building up to a main three year campaign in 2019 which is now facing delays. (Colombo/Jan16/2019- Updated Jan17, 23:00)






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