Travel in Sri Lanka has largely been unaffected by the state of emergency that was declared on Tuesday to curb ethnic unrest in some parts of the country, but the trade is concerned that the crisis will deter tourists from visiting the fledgling destination.
Clashes erupted earlier this week between majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims in the hill station town of Teldeniya in Kandy, a major tourist area. A curfew was imposed on March 7 and lifted on March 8, and was reimposed from 18.00 yesterday evening (Thursday) to 06.00 (today) as a precautionary measure.
A nationwide state of emergency was also imposed on Tuesday as a precaution again the unrest spreading to other areas. This is the first time emergency rule has been enforced in Sri Lanka since it was lifted in 2011, following the end of a savage civil war in 2009.
The US, the UK and Australia have also issued travel advisories, requesting their nationals to exercise caution when travelling in the country.
Travel Trade Association president Trevor Rajaratnam said it was an unfortunate situation as Sri Lanka in recent times has been identified as an emerging travel destination.
“The crisis has created alarm bells and many of us in the industry have been fielding calls from overseas reflecting concerns,” he said, adding that even though the unrest is confined to Teldeniya and the rest of the country was calm, the word ‘emergency’ always creates uncertainty.
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority chairman Kavan Ratnayake is now expecting the problems will have a negative impact on tourism. “To say otherwise would be untrue. But how we deal with the situation as an industry and a country will determine how quickly we recover. We are monitoring the situation closely,” he was quoted as saying in local media.
While there are no restrictions to movements for tourists in Kandy, Samantha Ratnayake, president of Kandy Hoteliers Association, acknowledged that there had been cancellations.