WTM 2019: Sri Lanka hails ‘bounce back’ and targets tourism growth

Sri Lanka hopes to rebuild tourism as an even bigger industry following its faster than expected recovery from this year’s Easter Sunday terror attacks, delegates at World Travel Market 2019 were told.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said the destination had “bounced back” thanks to the global support following the attacks on April 21 on churches and luxury hotels, which killed at least 253 people and led to a sharp drop of 70% in visitor numbers in May.

Managing director Charmarie Maelge said there was a particular focus on the UK, with plans to get more travel agents to visit in 2020, because of the special affinity between the two countries.

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She said: “We want to rebuild Sri Lanka back better and make tourism a bigger industry. We want to recover our numbers from the UK, recover our yields, embrace the trade and create better awareness of Sri Lanka. In 2018, the UK was the number three market to Sri Lanka but in September (this year) it climbed up to become the number two market for us.

“We have huge plans to get agents over to Sri Lanka because seeing is believing. The UK carries a lot importance for us and we are here to say we have bounced back and we are seeing a rapid recovery.”

The impact of the April attacks was “vast”, she added, and had come when Sri Lanka was in a “comfortable position” in terms of tourism having suffered in the past from the impact of civil war and the 2004 tsunami.

Maelge added: “Tourism dropped and the economic fall-out was massive for Sri Lanka. We have had a lot of problems, more than other countries, but the impact has not been as bad as this time. Every family most probably in Sri Lanka is dependent on tourism. The industry and the government have done everything to put tourism back on track. Giving visa waivers to 48 countries helped us increase our number rapidly.”

Now holidaymakers were checking the availability of holidays to Sri Lanka, and not asking if it was safe to go, she said. “Of course the incident (attacks) did damage to our reputation but in fact nothing (in the country) really changed and everything was still in tact,” she said.

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism development, wildlife and christian religious affairs John Amaratunga said the country was “safe to visit” and remained a peaceful country, adding: “There is a rainbow after the storm. I am hopeful we will see an enormous increase in tourists from the UK.” .

Manisha Gunasekera, the high commissioner to Sri Lanka in London, said it was business as usual for Sri Lanka. “We have been resilient and united and made a steady recovery following the Easter Sunday incident; please cascade that message.”

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