Two hotels devastated by Easter Sunday bombs remain closed while a third affected hotel is open for limited operations, as tourism authorities cope with a surge of cancellations and tourists desperate to return home quickly following the deadly attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
“Yes, there a lot of cancellations and many in Sri Lanka want to leave. This is a natural, initial reaction after a crisis of this magnitude,” said state-owned Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) chairman Kishu Gomes, adding that such reactions were also observed in the immediate wake of terrorist bombs in France, Germany and the UK.
He said there were incidents of bombs being found across Colombo on Monday but by and large the situation is under control. He added: “We had some serious incidents but we have taken control and continue to move forward”.
The Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo reported a number of casualties among their guests and colleagues. “Our hotel remains secured by the military and the police. We have also decided that the hotel will be closed until further notice,” the hotel said in a statement on Monday.
A spokesperson for also-affected Kingsbury Hotel said they have been closed since Sunday but would open in a week.
Also-affected Cinnamon Grand Hotel general manager Rohan Karr told TTG Asia that the hotel is partially open and servicing their in-house guests while accommodating those who would come on prior bookings. “For others, the hotel is closed,” he said.
At least four countries including the US, the UK and Canada issued travel warnings with the US embassy saying that nationals should exercise caution due to possible terrorist acts.
Sri Lankan tourism authorities said they were going ahead with plans to host the world’s largest wildlife conference and the country’s biggest-ever global event. The 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is due to be held in Colombo from May 23 to June 3, drawing 3,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries.
“Yes, this conference is on. Our attitude is to move forward (and go ahead with plans),” assured Gomes. Another official at Sri Lanka’s Convention Bureau said they had received confirmations from 1,600 participants for CITES so far.
CITES is being held for the second time in South Asia, with the last occasion being 36 years ago in India.
However, in line with postponements of several non-related tourism events during this week, the authorities cancelled a Wednesday media briefing to launch a mega Sri Lanka travel fair in June with the support of state agencies and tourism trade associations.
SLTPB’s Gomes said that officials have been placed at hospitals and other areas to help victims and other tourists. The airport, whose security was taken over by Sri Lanka’s Air Force and where stringent checks of incoming and outgoing baggage was underway including a four-hour pre-departure period for outgoing passengers, has been beefed up with more SLTPB staff. These officials were helping, particularly backpackers, who did not have prior hotel bookings in finding them accommodation nearby and even paying for their stay during curfew hours.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew was lifted a 06.00 on Monday and re-imposed from 20.00 to 04.00 on Tuesday. The government said six suicide bombers linked to an Islamic extremist group named National Thowheeth Jama’ath were responsible. The group itself has not yet claimed responsibility.
The Sunday bombs killed more than 40 foreigners among a death toll of nearly 300. Tourists from the UK, the US, Pakistan, India, China, Japan, Denmark and Belgium were among the victims. Local and foreign media reported that Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, who is also Scotland’s biggest private landowner, had lost three of his four children – who were holidaying in Sri Lanka – in the blasts.