Wendy Wu Tours’ deputy managing director, John Warr, was in Sri Lanka with his daughter when the Easter bombings, which caused the deaths of more than 250 people, eight of whom were Britons, took place.
He was on a Wendy Wu tour and arrived back in the UK on April 25 and has now recounted his experience of the country at a time of crisis.
Warr told Travel Weekly: “We were staying in Bentota for the last few days, located south of Colombo, before we came back. We were far enough away from where the attacks took place to not see any evidence of what happened.
“I noted to myself, after visiting a number of churches and religious sites how relaxed it felt and how diverse the place was, there were people of many different faiths interacting with each other, it was very peaceful, so it was a terrible shame what happened.”
The Sri Lankan government warned of increased security at airports and potential delays.
Warr said: “We were advised to arrive at the airport four hours before we were due to leave. There was a lot of security and checkpoints, our driver couldn’t take us all the way and once we got to the airport we went through about five checkpoints before boarding the flight. While we were there, they closed the airport for about an hour, which could be a problem if you have a flight to catch and you’re not yet through all the security. But it was relatively seamless for us.”
Wendy Wu Tours issued a statement advising its customers in Sri Lanka and due to travel that, up to the end of June, customers had the option to transfer free of charge to another date in 2019 or 2020, or to another destination, or even cancel.
Warr said: “We contacted customers and gave them the option to return home earlier and none of them wanted to. If they felt threatened or scared, they would have wanted to come back.
“Short term, the attacks will 100% have an impact on tourism, but what I would say is that the British market is very resilient. What you might see happen is what we saw in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia – that the price drives tourism, so low costs in these destinations can probably help in the long run.”
He added: “There will be cancellations and I think people will not want to go back there yet since the FCO travel advice has changed.
“We’re not expecting many people to enquire about Sri Lanka, but we do have tours leaving later in the year. I’m pleased to say that at the moment we haven’t had one single cancellation beyond June.”
Sri Lanka was due to mark 10 years since the defeat of the separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the end of the month.
Warr said: “It’s such a beautiful destination and visitor numbers have been growing immensely. We need to find ways of supporting Sri Lanka and the trade has a role to play in doing that, but we have to help customers first and foremost.”
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