The trade has vowed to fully support tourism to Sri Lanka as it deals with customers affected by the Easter terrorist attacks.
Operators and agencies’ crisis plans were activated as news broke of six explosions, which killed at least 359 people on the morning of Easter Sunday.
The Shangri-La, The Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo were among the locations targeted by the bombers.
Operators and agents issued emotive pleas to champion the destination. Sri Lanka has surged in popularity, particularly in the last year, and was expecting record visitor numbers this year.
London-based independent operator and agency Travel Gallery, run by a family from Sri Lanka, worked over the weekend to help clients while posting messages on social media to support the destination.
Business development manager Oli Dobbs said: “We do not want people to get the wrong idea about Sri Lanka. For the last four years, tourism has been growing and this year was set to be the biggest.”
The operator reported several cancellations, mainly by families booked for this summer.
Mainstream operators were working with hotel and airline partners to help clients who wanted to alter forward bookings, but all pledged support for Sri Lanka.
If Only has more than 50 forward bookings over the next few months, but was confident clients would still travel. Sales and marketing director Gordon McCreadie said: “We need to come together as an industry to keep selling Sri Lanka and never turn our backs on any destination when terrorism raises its cowardly shadow.”
Gold Medal and Travel 2 had more than 200 customers in Sri Lanka, but none were affected. Its crisis team contacted all clients in the destination within 24 hours. Fewer than 100 are due to travel in the next week. Sales director Nick Hughes said: “Speed is of the essence [and] it’s important to be sensitive. It’s too early to say what our long-term strategy will be.”
Kuoni expects a short-term dip in sales to Sri Lanka, its second most-popular destination.
Wendy Kenneally, commercial and operations director, said: “We’ll be doing all we can to rebuild confidence in the destination when the time is right.
“In the short term, while the attacks are still headline news, there is bound to be some impact on sales.”
Inspiring Travel Company said it had no plans to downsize its Sri Lanka programme. Agency sales director Lee Marshall said: “We wish to support our partners in Sri Lanka and the best way is to continue with the same coverage of the destination.”
At a glance
• At least 321 people, including eight Britons, were killed and 500 wounded in the attacks, the deadliest in Sri Lanka since the civil war ended in 2009.
• The initial blasts targeted three churches and three luxury hotels: The Kingsbury, Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand. Two further explosions occurred later on Sunday.
• The Shangri-La, which lost three members of staff in the attacks, hopes to reopen “as soon as possible”. It is providing alternative accommodation for guests.
• The Sri Lankan government said the suicide bombings were a response to the terror attack in New Zealand last month.
• Islamic State claimed responsibility.
• The Foreign Office had not advised against travel as Travel Weekly went to press.
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