Sri Lanka tourism in recovery mode as it begins global outreach efforts in India

Sri Lanka's minister of tourism, wildlife and Christian religious affairs, John Amaratunga (centre) joined by SLTPB representatives

Some three months after the deadly Easter Sunday bombings that dealt a severe blow to the country’s tourism sector, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) has now begun its global efforts to revive inbound tourism, starting with a first stop in India, its nearest neighbour and biggest source market.

A delegation, led by Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism, wildlife and Christian religious affairs, John Amaratunga, was in India this week to hold discussions with key trade and media representatives in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi.

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism, wildlife and Christian religious affairs, John Amaratunga (centre) joined by SLTPB representatives

India is the first country that the tourism board has visited post the terrorist attack. Part of its recovery strategy for this market include plans to introduce discount tour packages.

Key tourism bodies including SriLankan Airlines, The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators have also joined hands to come up with attractive discounted tour packages for the Indian market.

These B2B packages offered by SriLankan Holidays – the leisure arm of SriLankan Airlines – are said to be 30 to 60 per cent cheaper than the normally publicised packages.

While addressing the Indian media during a news conference in New Delhi, Amaratunga added that that Sri Lanka may consider introducing visa-on-arrival facility for key source markets such as India and China in the near future.

In addition, SLTPB has appointed a UK-based marketing communications agency, and is planning to appoint several PR representatives in key markets.

“We have appointed J Walter Thompson to help us ideate a new set of strategies covering our key source markets. Considering the sentiments that have surfaced post April 21, it demands a different approach. We are presently brainstorming what changes are required, and will be working with the agency over six months to aggressively promote our tourism products,” said Kishu Gomes, chairman, SLTPB.

The tourism board has also revised its targets for 2019, fearing a decline of 30 per cent in inbound arrivals compared to last year – Sri Lanka welcomed 2.3 million international tourists in 2018. However, with key source markets including India, China, the UK, Italy, Australia, France and Germany relaxing its travel advisories, the tourism board expects that the sector will recover gradually.

“There was a decline of about 70 per cent in the number of tourist arrivals in May, soon after the terrorist attacks. However, in June we are seeing an increase in demand and are confident about prospects in the future with travel advisories being lifted,” said Nalin Jayasundera, managing director, Aitken Spence Travels.

Bringing optimism to Sri Lanka’s tourism and hospitality stakeholders are numerous sporting and MICE events taking place as scheduled in coming months. These include an international baseball tournament, surfing competition and logistics conference.

“The international surfing federation did an independent security audit and concluded it is safe to visit Sri Lanka. The logistics conference taking place in Colombo will see participants from 100 countries. The United Federation of Travel Agents Associations is also organising its annual general meeting in Colombo in two months time,” elaborated Gomes.

“This is a reflection that things have normalised and international community is supporting Sri Lanka,” he stressed.

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