Tourism is growing in Sri Lanka, after multiple crises in the past five years, and well on target to achieve the ambitious 2.3 million arrivals scheduled for this year, officials said.
“In fact, we are hoping to exceed the 2024 target with an increase in flights and new airlines coming in,” state-run Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) chairman Priantha Fernando told TTG Asia.
The country fell short of the 2023 target of 1.5 million with arrivals at 1,487,303 in 2023, sharply up by 106.6 per cent from 719,978 in 2022. Arrivals last month were 210,352, up from 91,961 in December 2022. This is still lower than 253,169 arrivals in December 2018, the highest month for arrivals recorded so far. Arrivals in 2018 at 2.3 million was the highest on record, thereafter the numbers fell due to Easter Sunday bombing attacks on three hotels in 2019, followed by the closure of the airport owing to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by an acute economic crisis in 2022.
Fernando said they should have exceeded the 2023 target if not for problems associated with two markets – Russia and Israel. “We were expecting two weekly flights from Israel from October which didn’t happen owing to the war, while another 2,000 arrivals from Russia was lost in December due to the dispute over a registration problem by budget carrier I-Fly, a Russian charter operator.”
The top source markets last year were India, the Russian Federation, the UK, Germany, China, Australia, France, Canada, the US and the Maldives. Foreign exchange earnings from tourism in 2023 were expected to exceed US$2 billion, up from US$1.13 billion in the previous year. Fernando said limited seat capacities of key markets also resulted in the 2023 target being missed. The number of airlines flying into Sri Lanka in 2018 was 52, which has dropped to 38 today, but more airlines were expected to resume flights this year.
He said under a new programme launched in China, arrivals from there to Sri Lanka are planned to reach one million by 2025. “If we can hit 400,000-500,000 from China this year, we would well be on the way to achieve another good year,” he said. Arrivals from China, which have slowed down in the post-lockdown period, reached 68,789 in 2023. 2018 was the best year for Chinese tourists with 265,965 visiting Sri Lanka.
He said national carrier SriLankan Airlines, which accounted for 38 per cent of passenger capacity, should go up 45 to 50 per cent in the coming months with the induction of more planes.