A boon for tourism | Daily News

A boon for tourism

If asked to name the one sector that has suffered the most from the Easter Sunday carnage, many will not hesitate to say “tourism”. Indeed, tourism, one of the country’s top forex earners, took a near-fatal blow from the bombings since three top five-star hotels were directly affected, with a fourth having a miraculous escape. This was in sharp contrast to the Eelam War period, when tourists or tourist hotels were largely unaffected.

Before the attacks, tourism in Sri Lanka, Lonely Planet’s Number One Destination for 2019, was on a roll. The industry was well on way to the target of four million tourists a year. One of the immediate effects of the attacks was the imposition of adverse travel advisories on Sri Lanka by many Western and Asian Governments. One cannot blame them for this measure, since the safety and security of one’s own citizens is very important for any given country. In fact, Sri Lanka itself has issued travel advisories pertaining to other countries facing similar situations.

Since then, there has been a dramatic improvement in the security situation around the country. There have been no major incidents, save for a few politically motivated attacks on Muslim business establishments in some areas. Most of the terrorists and accomplices involved in the bomb attacks have been arrested, along with many others suspected of having IS or extremist links. Search operations conducted by the Armed Forces and the Police/STF continue daily. The State of Emergency has not been a hindrance to the daily activities of the people – one must keep in mind that we lived under the Emergency for a couple of decades before the war came to an end in 2009.

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have constantly updated foreign envoys in Colombo on the security situation since April 21. They have personally assured them that normality has been restored almost 100 percent and urged their Governments to relax the travel advisories. This appeal, along with ground observations by the envoys themselves, has resulted in the relaxation of the travel advisories by many countries including India, China and Switzerland. This is a welcome move and a big relief for the hard-hit tourism and travel industry. It is hoped that the respective Governments will also intervene to resume some of the air services cancelled or scaled down after Easter Sunday in due course.

Terrorism is now a global phenomenon. A terrorist strike can happen anywhere. Just this week, a parcel bomb exploded in Lyon, France, injuring many people. If we live in fear of terrorism, without travelling near and far or going about our daily business, the terrorists will win. We did not let the LTTE control our lives and we cannot let the Jihadist terrorists do it either. Many travellers who came to Sri Lanka in spite of the adverse travel advisories had told TV interviewers that a terror strike could happen even in their home countries and the Easter Sunday attacks did not deter their plans.

In the meantime, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has noted that some of the promotional strategies it devised along with the inbound travel and tourism industry have become successful. There has been a marginal increase in tourist arrivals already and there is hope in the industry of achieving a revised target of 2.5 million arrivals this year. Moreover, the SLTDA has also removed the minimum room rate requirement for Colombo hotels, which will help attract more budget-minded travellers.

In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings, several hoteliers have also come together to form the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, launching the #LoveSriLanka hash tag and web portal (www.lovesrilanka.org). The web portal provides travellers with consolidated information, updates and advice from credible sources on the ground in Sri Lanka. It provides updates from foreign tourists currently in Sri Lanka so that anyone planning a trip can see the ground realities of travel in Sri Lanka almost in real time.

This is a commendable initiative that will enable anxious tourists to get accurate, impartial information from fellow travellers. Our missions abroad must also play a bigger role in spreading the truth about the ground situation. Every Sri Lankan here and abroad, especially those who are active on social media, must also engage in the same quest at this critical juncture to boost tourism.

In the meantime, there is no doubt that local travellers will continue to patronize the hotels in greater numbers. After all, it is the locals who sustained the hotel industry in the dark days of 1988-89 JVP insurrection and at the height of the war. There were disturbing reports that some hotels were practising a form of apartheid against the locals when they had a full contingent of foreigners. This should never ever happen in any Sri Lankan hotel.

The security measures now in place at hotels (scanners, metal detectors etc.,) must never be relaxed even if the situation improves to ensure that no such incident can ever happen again. It is our paramount duty to ensure a safer climate for foreign visitors.


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