Encouraging signs | Daily News

Encouraging signs

Tourism was the one sector that suffered the most from the after effects of the Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. But now there are signs that the tourism sector could bounce back faster than expected, thanks to a combination of positive factors.

Most countries have now relaxed their travel advisories, making their nationals feel safer in Sri Lanka. Some of the tight security measures have been relaxed as the Security Forces have managed to round up any remaining extremists and bust the terror cells. Several global airlines are restarting the flights they had cancelled immediately after Easter Sunday.

Best of all, Sri Lanka has still retained the top spot in the Lonely Planet Top Destinations ranking. Many supportive articles have also appeared in other prestigious publications. The country is already seeing an increase in the number of tourists arriving in Colombo and if everything goes well, pre-Easter Sunday arrival levels are not far away.

However, the Government and the tourism industry must be even more proactive. A global tourism promotional campaign will soon be underway. This is essential, given the negative publicity received after April 21. This should include video testimonials from those who toured the country afterwards.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has taken a personal interest in reviving tourism, recently made some valuable suggestions that could rejuvenate the industry. He has urged the airport and aviation authorities to reduce aircraft landing fees and jet fuel prices. These high charges have compelled many international airlines to stay away from Colombo. Other airports in the region charge much less for the same services, which puts the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA, IATA Code CMB) at a huge disadvantage. The Prime Minister has also urged the authorities to reduce the Embarkation Tax to around US$ 40. These initiatives have the potential to bring down air ticket prices and attract more airlines to Colombo. Of course, this will also benefit Sri Lankans travelling overseas.

The proposed “visa on arrival” facility for a range of nationalities, that was temporarily postponed after Easter Sunday due to security concerns, is now likely to go ahead soon. This will be another boost for tourism as tourists do not like to pay additional charges on top of the already high airfares. However, we have argued in these columns previously that this should be offered to Asian and African countries only on a reciprocal basis – i.e. they also have to provide visa-free or online E-Visa access to Sri Lankans.

The task of bringing more tourists to Sri Lanka also falls on the shoulders of SriLankan Airlines, which has undergone a turbulent period and recorded heavy losses. In hindsight, pulling out of all European destinations apart from London was not a wise move. The new management of SriLankan has however indicated a desire to return to European skies, along with additional destinations in Africa, India, Asia and Australia.

A sustained network expansion calls for more brand new aircraft, with the airline now looking at the Airbus A330 Neo (New Engine Option) series, rather than the previous choice of the Airbus A350. This would be a more cost effective option, given the airline’s financial constraints, but expansion is a must. SriLankan should also leverage its Oneworld Alliance membership more effectively to give customers a wider choice, better connections and more affordable fares.

Sri Lanka currently has only one properly functioning international airport – the BIA, which is being expanded to meet the envisaged additional capacity. The second ‘international’ airport at Mattala in the deep South was dead on arrival. Even when the decision was taken to build an airport in Mattala, aviation and travel experts warned that Jaffna would be a much better option. It has the potential to become a regional airport for travel to India and the rest of Asia.

Now the Government has taken the right decision to expand the Palaly Airport in Jaffna to accommodate narrow-body jetliners such as the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737, apart from turboprops such as the ATR 72-600. With game-changing planes such as the Airbus A321XLR, which can fly non-stop up to 8,700 Km, coming up in a few years’ time, Palaly will be in an ideal position to become a hub even for long-haul flights.

The authorities should also focus on expanding Ratmalana too to handle the same categories of jets and turboprops. As demand from leisure and business travellers rises, Colombo will need more than one airport. Most main cities, even those in the developing world, now have two airports and some have as many as five. Ratmalana too will be able to attract regional carriers operating single-aisle aircraft. Once the Palaly expansion project is completed, SriLankan should consider the possibility of commencing scheduled domestic flights between Colombo and Jaffna using the A320 or even a new type of aircraft such as the Airbus A220 or Embraer E190-E2 “Profit Hunter”.

There is no doubt that tourism will bounce back sooner rather than later with all these moves underway. After all, Sri Lanka has bounced back from even worse disasters with aplomb. This time too, it won’t be different. 


 

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