China relaxes travel advisory on bomb-hit Sri Lanka

A female Chinese tourist in Rambukkana, Sri Lanka

China has relaxed its travel advisory on Sri Lanka, the first origin country to do so after the Easter Sunday bombings that left more than 250 people including 40 tourists dead and shattered the country’s hopes of reaching a record 2.5 million arrivals this year.

This came a day after Sri Lanka prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday appealed to the international community to lift travel advisories. The prime minister gave assurance that the security situation has improved after a crackdown on IS-led Islamist groups and their networks, blamed for the April 21 bombings at three churches and three luxury hotels.

A female Chinese tourist in Rambukkana, Sri Lanka

“We are happy that the travel ban on visiting Sri Lanka has been relaxed by China from ‘Do not travel’ to ‘Be Cautious’,” said Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau chairman Kishu Gomes on Saturday.

China is Sri Lanka’s second largest source market after India.

India, along with the UK, the US, Germany and France among others, had issued travel advisories urging their nationals to avoid non-essential travel to Sri Lanka.

International arrivals into the destination dropped by 60-70 per cent since last month’s attacks. Tourist arrivals were at 166,975 last month, a 7.5 per cent dip from 180,429 in April 2018.

Krishan Balendra, chairman of John Keells Holdings, owner of the Cinnamon hotels chain in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said that the country’s security rating has gone to a 4 (unsafe) from a 1 (safe), according to a US travel rating system.

“We need to go to a 2 (terrorist attacks likely). Most of Western Europe is rated at 2,” he told TTG Asia.

He added that the company will initiate its own marketing and outreach efforts with the expected easing of travel advisories over the next few months.

Devendre Senaratne, former head of a local travel industry body, said that though the country is safe as declared by the three armed forces “we need this to be seen by the European ambassadors” in order to soften the advisories.

Meanwhile, president Maithripala Sirisena assured diplomats at a meeting on Monday that the security situation in Sri Lanka had returned to normal and urged the lifting of travel advisories.

According to the president’s media division, ambassadors of the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia and the EU participated at the meeting where the president also said the state of emergency was extended for a further month last week but would be soon lifted.

At Friday’s meeting chaired by prime minister Wickremesinghe with 43 heads of missions in Colombo and two representatives of UN agencies, the diplomats had expressed that they needed more time to lift the travel bans, saying they were still closely watching the situation.

Industry officials said foreign missions were still not convinced of security in the country in the absence of a unified voice declaring that the country is safe. The prime minister and president, who come from two different political parties, have been seen to offer differing voices on the country’s security level.

The industry is also disappointed that a US$5.6 million destination marketing campaign, awaiting launch once travel advisories are lifted, is yet to garner cabinet approval, two weeks of since its submission to cabinet ministers.

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