Sri Lanka sets eyes on the Middle East market

Sri Lanka is bouncing back after three years of crises and is targeting the Middle East as a key market due to the mix of high-spending Emiratis and expatriates.

Speaking at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM), Udaya Indrathna, ambassador at the Sri Lanka embassy in Abu Dhabi, said: “Sri Lanka has had its challenges but I’m pleased to say most have passed.”

Sri Lanka has shifted its focus from quantity to quality and is targeting the Middle East as a key market

He went on to refer to the 2019 bomb attack, Covid-19 pandemic, and recent political and economic turmoil. He said the new president has surrounded himself by young talent to steer the country in a new direction, with tourism positioned as a promising economic pillar.

In this new chapter of Sri Lankan tourism, the country has shifted its focus from quantity to quality, with the Middle East region – home to a healthy mix of high-spending Emiratis and expatriates – being aggressively targeted.

According to official figures, expats from the region tend to stay an average of four to five days and Emiratis for two weeks, enjoying luxury accommodation and experiences.

Dushan Wickramasuriya, director of marketing, Sri Lanka Promotion Bureau, noted: “The UAE in particular is unique because 80 per cent of the population are expat residents from places like India, Europe, the US and Canada. These are all key markets for us, so when we target this region, we’re not only reaching Emiratis but other nationalities as well.”

Minister of tourism, Harin Fernando, said the ministry has set a target to increase visitor spend from the current average of US$200 to US$250, to between US$400 and US$500 by next year.

“The Middle East market is crucial as we are now seeking quality tourists over quantity. We slowly want to focus on the right markets and right people over numbers,” he noted, adding there are no plans to make Sri Lanka an expensive destination – instead it will appeal more to the “affordable luxury” segment.

At ATM, Emirates also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to actively promote Sri Lanka as a leading tourist destination.

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