Booking cancellations started coming through before the dust had settled on the Sri Lankan targets hit by suicide bombers in Easter’s series of terrorist attacks, according to AFP.
Hotelier Sanath Ukwatte told the news service he lost some 30 percent of his bookings at the Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo within days of the April 21 Easter Sunday attacks that killed 253 people.
Hotels were targeted alongside churches in the attacks centred on the capital, and some are now employing armed guards in their lobbies.
A deadly shoot-out six days later between troops and suspected Islamist militants at Sainthamaruthu on Sri Lanka’s east coast did nothing to allay fears of further unrest.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”37778″ align=”left” padding=”20″]It is a bitter blow for a tourism industry that was just beginning to flourish following the end of a protracted civil war, with Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka the best place to visit in 2019.
Australia is among a host of nations including major markets the US, Britain and India to have issued travel warnings about visiting the island nation.
According to AFP, Sri Lanka’s finance minister Mangala Samaraweera estimates the country will lose up to a third of the projected US$5 billion tourism revenue for 2019 following a bumper first quarter.
“We expect a 30 per cent drop in arrivals and that means a loss of about US$1.5 billion in foreign exchange,” he is reported as saying.
Last year Sri Lanka enjoyed a US$4.4 billion tourism spend and 2019 was expected to break tourism records. Tourism accounts for about 5 per cent of the economy.
Mr Ukwatte, who is also president of the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, says if Sri Lanka can ride out its off-season and restore confidence ahead of an annual influx of visitors in October/November, there is hope of a return to normality.
Minister Samaraweera told AFP other countries like Belgium, France, Spain and Tunisia had all managed to entice tourists back after suffering terror attacks.
“Typically, countries that suffer isolated ISIS-style attacks see tourism recovering within one to two years, as long as root causes are addressed and security measures taken are well communicated,” he said.
For now, however, the US State Department, is warning that terrorist groups are continuing to plot attacks and is urging citizens to reconsider travel to Sri Lanka.
Britain has also warned its nationals to avoid travelling to Sri Lanka unless absolutely necessary, while homegrown rugby legend David Campese, who was set to arrive in Sri Lanka imminently for a coaching programme, has called off the tour.
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