Worried tourists give Sri Lanka a wide berth

Advisories against travel to Sri Lanka and media coverage of the country’s food and resource shortage and political unrest have frightened scores of travellers into cancelling their holidays to the destination.

M Shanthikumar, president of the Tourists Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, said there have been 80 per cent of booking cancellations even though members “have tried to persuade visitors that it is safe to holiday in Sri Lanka”.

Shanthikumar: we won’t allow any inconveniences to tourists

The surge in cancellations was triggered by countries such as Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand urging against non-essential travel to Sri Lanka due to widespread fuel and food shortages and possible violence.

The latest government to issue such a travel advisory is the UK. It resulted in tour operator TUI UK cancelling all its programmes to Sri Lanka earlier this week.

Tourism stakeholders said the Sri Lankan government has provided special facilities for fuel and cooking gas to hotels and resorts since tourism is a key foreign exchange earner. Hence, the industry has been spared the brunt of the resource shortages.

“We won’t allow any inconveniences to tourists, so they can come and spend their holidays here and go home peacefully,” assured Shanthikumar.

Despite assurances, the damage by travel advisories is done. Mahen Kariyawasam, past president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Travel Agents said advisories against non-essential travel have a direct impact on holiday travel.

Furthermore, travel advisories lead to a sharp hike in travel insurance, stated Chandra Wickremasinghe, an industry veteran and chairman/managing director at Connaissance De Ceylan. “That is a deterrent to travel,” he said.

Trevor Rajaratnam, vice president of the Universal Federation of Travel Agents, also blamed the negative publicity abroad about the situation in the country for anxious cancellations.

Amid the current crisis, Sri Lanka is ever more dependent on travel and tourism’s recovery. The industry is the country’s key foreign exchange revenue generator. In 2018, tourism generated US$4 billion but that plunged during the pandemic and airport closures.

Expectations for tourism to raise US$2 billion this year have been stymied by the ongoing crisis. From January to April 2022, tourism generated US$626 million while arrivals in April have dropped to just 62,980 from 106,500 in March.

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